In discussions with friends who have only vague ideas about all the GMO (genetically modified organisms) controversy, I have often wished for a handy guide to the main arguments, pro and con. Now I finally have it, thanks to a new report: “GMO Myths and Truths: An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops.”
The report’s authors include two genetic engineers and a writer and editor with extensive knowledge of the issues. They have clustered the main arguments used by supporters of genetically modified crops into seven areas and then deconstructed each of them.
For those wanting to dive into the technical issues and academic studies, dozens of references are provided for every section. Those preferring an easily understood summary will be pleased by the simple language used to explain complex issues.
The summary of claims made by the GM crop industry and its supporters will sound familiar to most people. According to those promoting the crops, they:
- Are an extension of natural breeding and do not pose different risks from naturally bred crops
- Are safe to eat and can be more nutritious than naturally bred crops
- Are strictly regulated for safety
- Increase crop yields
- Reduce pesticide use
- Benefit farmers and make their lives easier
- Bring economic benefits
- Benefit the environment
- Can help solve problems caused by climate change
- Reduce energy use
- Will help feed the world.
The authors of GMO Myths and Truths refute those claims point by point and conclude GM crops:
- Are laboratory-made, using technology that is totally different from natural breeding methods, and pose different risks from non-GM crops
- Can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than their natural counterparts
- Are not adequately regulated to ensure safety
- Do not increase yield potential
- Do not reduce pesticide use but increase it
- Create serious problems for farmers, including herbicide-tolerant “superweeds”, compromised soil quality, and increased disease susceptibility in crops
- Have mixed economic effects
- Harm soil quality, disrupt ecosystems, and reduce biodiversity
- Do not offer effective solutions to climate change
- Are as energy-hungry as any other chemically-farmed crops
- Cannot solve the problem of world hunger but distract from its real causes – poverty, lack of access to food and, increasingly, lack of access to land to grow it on.
With battle lines drawn, the pro- and anti-GMO sides face each other across a deep chasm of mistrust. Lined up in favor are such formidable proponents as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (major investor in Monsanto), many governments, the biotech industry and a cadre of scientists (not all of them industry supported). On the other side are nervous consumers, a lot of farmers, and an increasing number of independent researchers.
The report lobs the ball into the pro-GMO court by refuting its claims one by one. In the face of a growing body of research that raises red flags, proponents of the technology have an opportunity to present evidence for their claims instead of the usual huffy dismissal of very real concerns.
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