AMA Reports GM Crops May Harm Environment, but GM Food is Safe

January 5, 2001

3 Min Read
AMA Reports GM Crops May Harm Environment, but GM Food  is Safe

ORLANDO, Fla.--One of the most reputable medical organizations in America has given its opinion on genetically modified (GM) crops and foods. The American Medical Association (AMA), in a report given at its 2000 Interim Meeting in December, found that bioengineered crops may lead to "detrimental consequences" for the environment, but it found that there is no "scientific justification" to label foods containing these crops.

AMA's Council on Scientific Affairs (CSA) reviewed 11 reports issued over the last two years from various scientific and governmental bodies. In addition, literature was sourced from the MEDLINE online database and Lexis/Nexis GenMed library using search terms such as food microbiology, food technology, agriculture, edible plants, food and agricultural crops. Secondary sources included using the keywords "plants, transgenic" to find articles published between 1995 and 2000. Also, the Internet was combed using the search terms "genetically modified foods" and "genetically modified crops" to find links to other scientific and regulatory sites.

It was found that crops and foods produced through recombinant DNA techniques have existed for approximately 10 years. The collaborative data from these reports showed that more than 40 transgenic crop varieties have been approved through the federal review process that have enhanced agronomic and/or nutritional characteristics or one or more features of pest protection and tolerance to herbicides.

Even though CSA found that genetic engineering may introduce allergens into GM plants, the "overall risks of introducing an allergen into the food supply are believed to be similar to or less than that associated with conventional breeding methods."

The investigators concluded that "genetic modification of plants could potentially lead to detrimental consequences to the environment." The Council also stated that "the use of antibiotic markers that encode resistance to clinically important antibiotics should be avoided if possible." On the other hand, CSA recommended that federal regulations for GM crops and food should be science-based.

The industry is responding favorably to CSA's review. "[Their review of genetic engineering is] good because it presumes that the AMA is thinking about how the environment affects health," said Holly Givens, a spokesperson at the Organic Trade Association.

It was interesting to note that CSA wrote that "there is no scientific justification for special labeling of genetically modified foods, as a class, and voluntary labeling is without value unless it is accompanied by focused consumer education."

Craig Winters, the executive director for The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods, found that CSA's stance on labeling was not surprising. "In the case of biotechnology, you have all these drug companies that are . involved in biotech drugs. The influence [that holds over AMA] is very powerful. To think that [AMA] is going to then be critical of genetically engineered foods would be unrealistic."

In the end, AMA suggested that government, industry and the scientific and medical communities should educate the public about GM crops and foods using "unbiased" information and research statistics. CSA concluded that a broad-based study should be implemented to further delve into the environmental issues associated with genetic engineering. For additional information, visit www.ama-assn.org, www.ota.com or www.thecampaign.org.

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