Jun 2, 2016 by

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The National Academy of Sciences has released a new report declaring genetically engineered food safe for humans and the environment, but is there more to the story?

The debate over genetically engineered or modified foods will likely continue despite a damning new report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine which concluded that genetically engineered (GE) foods do not pose a health or environmental risk. Critics of the report point to conflicts of interests between researchers with the National Academy of Sciences and biotechnology companies involved in the creation of GE crops.

The report,Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects, also acknowledged that the GE crops are also not producing increasing yields of crops, as has been promoted by supporters of GE technology. The Associated Press reports:

“With the line between engineered and natural foods blurring thanks to newer techniques such as gene editing, the 408-page report said, regulators need to make their safety focus more on the end-product of the food that’s made rather than the nuts and bolts of how it’s made.

The report waltzed a bit around the hot political issue of whether genetically modified food should be labeled. The study’s authors said labels aren’t needed for food safety reasons but potentially could be justified because of transparency, social and cultural factors, somewhat similar to made-in-America stickers. That stance was praised by some environmental and consumer groups, but criticized by some scientists as unnecessary because the food poses no unique risks.”

Scott Faber, Senior Vice President for Government Affairs, with the Environmental Working Group, which describes itself as a non-profit, non-partisan organization, said the report “confirms the importance of transparency and the need for mandatory GMO labeling”.

“The report also confirms the need to modernize the GMO regulatory system to better assess the risks posed by rising use of the pesticide glyphosate and to give regulators the power to “require controls” if GMO crops and their associated chemicals pose public health or environmental problems,” Faber said in a statement.

Regarding the effect of GE foods on humans, the NAS report wrote, “the committee concluded that no differences have been found that implicate a higher risk to human health safety from these GE foods than from their non-GE counterparts.”

Although the report states GE foods pose no risk to human health, organizations such as the Institute for Responsible Technology point to studies which have indicated possible health risks for animals.  According to the Institute, “several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system.” The Institute also cites studies which may indicate allergic reactions to GE crops.

Still, the NAS say their research is different from past examinations of GE studies. Fred Gould, professor at North Carolina State University and the academy committee chairman, told AP the report differs from past studies because his team listened to GE critics and examined more than 1,000 studies, and has created a website that allows the consumer to look at the evidence and make an informed choice for themselves.

“To some extent we know more about some genetically engineered food than we do about other food,” committee member Dominique Brossard of the University of Wisconsin also told AP. “There are limits to what can be known about any food. That’s something we’re not used to hearing as consumers.”

The report also denies that GE crops are causing environmental problems, but did admit that crops and insects are becoming resistant to chemicals like Monsanto Co’s Roundup product, which contains the herbicide glyphosate. In September 2014, Truth In Media reported on the USDA’s decision to approve GE corn and soy and how this decision would lead to an increase in the already abundant use of glyphosate-based herbicides, and thus an increase in “super-weeds”, which are immune to the effects of glyphosate.

This leads to an increase in spraying of these chemicals, as well as newer, stronger chemicals to fight the super weeds. The report notes that these effects tend to disproportionately affect smaller, poor farms. The report also states that despite claims by pro-GE researchers that the technology will lead to increased yields, the U.S. Department of Agriculture data doesn’t show it.

The study was funded by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the New Venture Fund, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Academy spokesman William Kearney also said it was peer reviewed by outside experts and committee members are “vetted for financial conflicts of interests”, however not everyone is satisfied with Mr. Kearney’s claims.

Conflict of Interest?

The environmental watchdog organization Food and Water Watch has released their own report, pointing to possible influence from the same organizations that stand to benefit from the growth of Genetic Engineering of foods. The report, Under the Influence: The National Research Council and GMOs, looks at “far-reaching ties” between the National Research Council, its parent organization the NAS, and biotechnology companies and agricultural corporations.

Food and Water Watch claims that the NRC and NAS:

  • takes millions of dollars in funding from biotechnology companies
  • invites sponsors like Monsanto to sit on high-level boards overseeing the NRC’s work
  • invites industry-aligned, pro-GMO scientists to author NRC reports
  • draws scientific conclusions based on industry science
  • operates at times as a private contractor for corporate research

Food and Water Watch also points to the fact that Monsanto, DuPont and other agribusinesses that produce or support GMOs have donated millions of dollars into the NRC’s parent organization, the National Academy of Sciences.The report also alleges that corporate representatives participate in “high-level decision-making processes at the NRC, including sitting on the board that oversees the NRC’s work on GMOs.”

This is not the first time that governmental organizations have been accused of being too close to the biotech industry and purposefully withholding information that would paint GE foods in a negative light. In August 2015, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) for failure to adequately respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests related to genetically engineered (GE) crops. This marks the fourth time the CFS has sued APHIS to force the release of records.

The CFS accuses APHIS of failing to respond within a timely manner to at least 29 of their FOIA requests or appeals. The lawsuit is the center’s latest attempt to force APHIS to respond to FOIA requests and to order the agency to “stop its practice of failing to respond to FOIA requests related to GE crops.”

What are your thoughts on Genetically Engineered crops? Does the National Academy of Sciences report satisfy you?

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