Judge GM on a case-by-case basis: experts

Lucy Sharratt and Robert Wager don’t agree on much.

Sharratt spends most of her time opposing genetically modified food, while Wager is a vocal defender of the technology.

However, they do see eye to eye on one matter: it’s wrong to make blanket statements about the safety of GM food.

“Each GM food needs to be assessed on its own merits,” said Sharratt, co-ordinator with the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, which is a group of 17 organizations with “serious concerns” about crop biotechnology.

“Each GM food or each GM crop is assessed for safety because each one poses a different set of safety questions.”

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Wager, a biologist at Vancouver Island University and social media advocate of GM food, said basically the same thing: each GM crop should be assessed individually.

“If you are introducing a new trait that has no history of being in the food supply, then rigorous testing, beforehand, is essential.”

However, when it comes to GM crops already in the food system, such as B.t. corn, Wager said there are no doubts about their safety.

“(It) has been very well documented from decades of research,” he said. “And, of course, trillions of meals with no evidence of harm.”

Most experts would agree with Wager:

  • A 2015 Pew Research Centre survey found that 88 percent of scientists believe GM food is safe to eat.
  • A U.S. National Academy of Sciences report on GMOs, released this May, “found no substantiated evidence that foods from GE (genetically engineered) crops were less safe than foods from non-GE crops.”
  • The National Academy of Sciences went even further, saying: “There is also nothing about the current processes used to generate GMOs that would theoretically pose a unique health risk…. (And) over the last two decades, animals and humans exposed to GMOs have not experienced any relative increase in any major disease.”

Seeing how membership in the National Academy of Sciences is one of most prestigious honours in the scientific world and 200 of its members have earned Nobel Prizes, a layman might assume that such a report would settle the matter.

Nope.

After pornography, Donald Trump and Justin Bieber, it seems like the remainder of the internet is dedicated to angry debates over GM food.

The online divide does translate into the real world. Public opinion polls consistently show that half or a majority of Canadians and Americans think GM food is unsafe.

Proponents of GM food say junk science and the power of social media have skewed public opinion against the technology, but Sharratt sees it differently.

A 2015 Ipsos Reid survey, conducted for CBAN, found that 57 percent of Canadians don’t trust the regulatory system that oversees GM crops and food.

Sharratt said much of the skepticism stems from the process.

Corporations that want to commercialize a GM crop provide Health Canada with safety studies on their technology. Experts say the corporate-funded studies are comprehensive, independent and of the highest quality.

However, Sharratt and others say the industry science isn’t transparent and cannot be trusted.

“If the Canadian government is relying on industry data … then the question of ‘are they safe’ becomes more complex,” she said.

“That’s an ongoing problem in discussing safety.”

Wager agreed that transparency is an issue, but it’s the GM haters who aren’t transparent.

“The critics of the technology are demanding 100 percent transparency on those who support this technology,” he said “But they themselves are hiding behind all manners of facades to not let the public realize how big and how much money is being put forward by the anti- (GM) industry…. The reason the public has anxiety towards this is because of a massive multibillion-dollar, multi-decade fear campaign designed to generate that anxiety.”

  • There is a diversity of opinion on the safety of GMOs in the scientific community. The biotechnology industry has a vested interest in promoting the incorrect idea of a scientific consensus.
  • Even after 20 years, the scientific literature on GM food safety is inconsistent and far from robust.

Quick facts

In a chapter of a 2015 report called GMO Inquiry, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network said:

  • There is a diversity of opinion on the safety of GMOs in the scientific community. The biotechnology industry has a vested interest in promoting the incorrect idea of a scientific consensus.
  • Even after 20 years, the scientific literature on GM food safety is inconsistent and far from robust.

Source: CBAN

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