The Debate

The debate about the benefits and risks of GE crops may go on for a long time.  Meanwhile, an entire generation will have grown up consuming them. We should all have a choice about whether we want to participate in this grand experiment with our bodies and our environment. We have a right to know what’s in our food.

Safety

The safety of GE crops for human consumption has not been adequately assured. Several National Academy of Sciences studies have affirmed that genetically engineered crops have the potential to introduce new toxins or allergens into our food and environment.

Yet unlike the strict safety evaluations for approval of new drugs, there are no mandatory human clinical trials of genetically engineered crops, no tests for carcinogenicity or harm to fetuses, no long-term testing for human health risks, no requirement for long-term testing on animals, and limited testing for allergenicity. There have been no epidemiological studies of the possible impacts of the consumption of GE crops on health.

Studies have confirmed that there is reason for caution. For example, scientists recently found that the insecticide in GE corn is now showing up in our bloodstream and the umbilical cord blood of pregnant women. More research needs to be done to confirm these results and determine whether consumption of GE crops is introducing new toxins into our bodies. Until we know without a doubt that GE crops are safe to eat, we should have a choice about whether we want to eat them.

Pesticides

Three-quarters of the GE crop acres around the world are devoted to herbicide tolerant (HT) crops. These genetically engineered crops mean more herbicides can be used without harming the crop. The GE herbicide tolerant crops are patented and sold by the same companies that sell the herbicides. Genetically engineered crops have been credited with an increase of 383 million pounds of herbicide use in the U.S. over the first 13 years of commercial use (1996- 2008). In August of 2011, the US Geological Survey (USGS) reported that glyphosate (the active ingredient in the herbicide “Roundup”) is now a common component of the air and rain in the Midwest during the spring and summer.

As a direct result of widespread use of genetically modified herbicide tolerant crops, populations of weeds (“superweeds”) have developed resistance to herbicides and are now present in 26 states. Not surprisingly, farmers have increasingly needed to revert to using older and more toxic herbicides like dicamba and 2,4-D (one of the ingredients in the Vietnam War era defoliant Agent Orange).  These herbicides are known to cause reproductive problems, birth defects, and increased risk of cancer.

Health Impact

Studies have confirmed that there is reason to proceed with caution. For example, scientists recently found that the insecticide in GE corn is now showing up in our bloodstream and the umbilical cord blood of pregnant women. More research needs to be done to confirm these results and determine whether consumption of GE crops is introducing new toxins into our bodies.

There are no regulatory requirements for long-term testing for human health risks. Until we know without a doubt that GE crops are safe to eat, we should have a choice about whether we want to eat them.

Feeding the World

The PR machines from the biotech industry are performing far better than the actual results of the crops. According to Failure to Yield, a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields.

Alternatives such as conventional breeding and modern non-GE breeding methods that use improved understanding of crop biology, as well as newer production methods, have demonstrated that collectively, they are capable of increasing crop yields far more than GE has yet managed to do.

However, public funding for conventional breeding has not kept up with the need for improved crops as resources have been channeled toward GE research and development.

Globally, a series of recent reports reveal that non-GMO, low input, sustainable farming practices can alleviate hunger, reduce dependency on fossil fuels and chemicals, use resources efficiently, and create healthier communities.

Debates about the benefits and risks of GE crops will continue. Meanwhile, an entire generation will have grown up consuming them. We should all have a choice about whether we want to participate in this grand experiment with our bodies and our environment. We have a right to know what’s in our food.