GMOs: What the Experts Actually Said
After an expert panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences issued a long-awaited report on genetically engineered foods, much of the news coverage said it gave GMOs an unqualified seal of approval. In fact, the report pointed to an array of concerns and unanswered questions. Here are the top ten findings of the report that most traditional and social media missed – or got plain wrong.
- You can’t generalize about GMOs. The panel was careful to say you can’t generalize about genetic engineering, and we should instead be looking at each product (or new trait) to assess the benefits and costs, not the process. The report warns against making sweeping generalizations, such as assuming all GMOs are safe.
- Some traits may not be safe. While the report found no evidence that a handful of currently commercialized traits pose food safety risks, the panel was careful to say other traits could pose risks.
- Allergens are hard to detect. In particular, the panel found that technology providers and regulators could miss potential allergens and called again for post-market testing.
- The GMO regulatory process is broken. The report found many flaws in the GMO regulatory process and called for regulatory reforms as well as more research.
- GMO crops do not increase crop yield. The panel explained why GMOs don’t – and never were designed to – increase yields, and also found no evidence that GMO crops are actually increasing yields.
- Herbicide use is up and headed higher – Although insecticide spraying has gone down on Bt corn and cotton, the use of herbicides on GMO crops (some of which are engineered to withstand applications of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsnto’s Roundup) has been going up and will keep increasing. In recent years, farmers have been forced to turn to mixtures of weed killers as weed resistance spreads.
- Herbicides may be dangerous. Though the panel said herbicide toxicity is more important than volume, the panel punted on the question of whether glyphosate or other weed killers increase the risk of cancer and other health problems.
- Regulators should have more power. To address rising herbicide use and help manage weed resistance, the panel said regulators should be able to impose requirements on farmers to address unforeseen risks.
- GMO labels make sense. Without GMO labels, consumers can not make food choices that reflect their values, the panel found. The consumer’s right-to-know is ample reason to require a mandatory GMO label.
- Environmental impacts could be big. Are GMO crops affecting monarch butterflies and other species? More research is needed, including a life-cycle analysis of the monarch butterfly. Future GMO crops could also lead farmers to plow up grasslands, increasing carbon pollution.