June 11, 2003

3 Min Read
International Report Outlines the Pros, Cons of GM Crops

PARIS--On June 10, The International Council for Science (ICSU) released a review of the facts behind genetically modified (GM) foods in the hopes of letting the science speak for itself--and helping speed up the international regulatory process needed to break down current trade barriers.

In New Genetics, Food and Agriculture: Scientific Discoveries--Societal Dilemmas (www.icsu.org/events), ICSU reviewed more than 50 science-based reviews published between 1999 and 2002, and assessed the risks and benefits of applying new genetic discoveries to food and agriculture. "This report is based on a thorough examination of reviews prepared by national academies of sciences, international organizations and private agencies over the past three years," said Gabrielle Persley, the report's author and head of The Doyle Foundation, a forum that discusses the role of science in world agriculture. "We've analyzed key issues, identified areas of scientific convergence and divergence, and highlighted gaps in knowledge that need to be addressed through further research."

The report addresses key questions such as who needs GM foods, are GM foods safe to eat, will GMOs affect the environment, are current regulations adequate and will GMOs affect trade?

ICSU admits that definitive answers to the complex questions surrounding GM foods are not available, but there is growing scientific consensus concerning these issues. Who needs GM food? was answered with the facts that water and land are growing scare for growing crops, and more foods need to be grown that require little of each. Are GM foods safe to eat? was met with the information that food safety assessments conducted by national regulatory agencies around the world have deemed currently available GM foods safe to eat. However, Persley recommended an ongoing evaluation of new GM foods in terms of safe human consumption.

Will there be any effects on the environment? was answered with yes; cross-pollination occurs between GM and GM-free crops, but there is also no evidence the environment is impacted by this crossbreeding. Are regulations adequate? Regulatory systems need to be science-based and transparent, the report stated, but having a "zero risk" guarantee is unattainable.

And the million-dollar question that's been on the minds of the European Union, U.S. government and, most recently, the World Trade Organization (WTO), Will GM foods affect trade? ICSU asserted that internationally agreed upon standards will enable trade of GM foods between countries. "Lack of clarity in this area is not only affecting agricultural exporting countries, but is also having an impact on policy-makers in developing countries," Persley wrote. "As standard-setting bodies, the WTO and United Nations are key players in helping to resolve these issues."

Carthage Smith, deputy executive director of ICSU, added, "ICSU recognizes that the safety and environmental concerns associated with GM foods and GMOs are directly linked to issues of food security and poverty, particularly in emerging economies. Putting this material into the hands of people around the globe will help them to understand the issues and inform policy development and future research."

ICSU is a non-governmental organization representing national scientific bodies and international scientific unions.

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