Challenging the claims by the biotech industry that genetically modified foods are safe for human health and the environment, a new report presents evidence to the contrary and stirs up controversy, as its authors are genetic engineers themselves.
Entitled “GMO Myths and Truths,” the report's authors include two genetic engineers: Dr. Michael Antoniou, who uses genetic engineering for medical applications at King’s College London School of Medicine in the U.K. and Dr. John Fagan, the former genetic engineer who returned more than $600,000 in grant money to the National Institute of Health in 1994 over his concerns about the safety of genetic engineering.
Among the study's claims that GMO technology is not safe, the researchers show the harmful effects of genetically modified foods on laboratory animals in feeding trials, as well as damage to the environment in cultivation practices. The authors state that GMOs present greater risks of toxicity, allergic reactions and decreased nutritional value than crops from conventional farming practices. The lack of adequate regulations in the industry makes human safety a near impossible concern to address.
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Some of the biggest claims by the biotech industry are that genetically modified seeds can increase yield potential, and are being used to combat poverty and hunger around the globe, but the authors say it is simply not the case. Yields are consistently falling below expectations, leading already struggling farmers further into debt witht these multinational corporations that hold patent rights on the seeds and demand payment regardless of how well the crops perform. Farmers are also being forced to use more pesticides to deal with resistant weeds and insects that have developed in recent years, mainly to Monsanto's glyphosate-based Roundup pesticide. One of the early promises of genetically modified crops was the decreased use of pesticides over time. And the continual, excessive use of pesticides is causing irreparable damage to water, soil and biodiversity.
On her blog, author and NYU Nutrition professor Marion Nestle says the report "provides plenty of justification for the need to label GM foods." Along with Dr.'s Antoniou and Fagan, the report was co-authored with Claire Robinson, research director at Earth Open Source who says, "We all need to inform ourselves about what is going on and ensure that we – not biotechnology companies – keep control of our food system and crop seeds."
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Image: Idaho National Laboratory