Expert Scientists Don’t Agree On Cancer-causing Potential of Glyphosate
Tuesday, one of the nation’s scientific bodies said it found no evidence that GMO crops are bad for human health.
In its 400-page report the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says its review of Key studies and years of disease data showed no increase in health risks due to the consumption of GE genetically engineered foods.
The group noted that expert scientific bodies do not agree about the cancer-causing potential of glyphosate, an herbicide that is often paired with GE engineered crops.
It also pointed out the use of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, has led to increases in weed and pest resistance and called for incentives and regulations to push farmers toward practices to delay the evolution of resistance in weeds and pests.
The report advocated for similar regulatory treatment of plants whose genes have been altered in any way, either through genetic engineering or conventional breeding techniques.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) partially decide which plants to regulate based on the process by which their genes were altered, the report says, and new methods of genetic manipulation may fall outside existing regulatory regimes.
Any genetic alteration has the potential for unintended consequences, the report said, and the product, not the process, should be the driver behind regulatory review.
Genetically modified crops were widely adopted in U.S. agriculture in the 1990’s, mainly by incorporating genes resistant to pests and herbicides. Creve Coeur, Missouri-based Monsanto (NYSE:MON) was one of the early developers of genetically modified crops, engineering Soybean and Corn to be resistant to glyphosate, sold under the brand Roundup.
As their use has grown, concerns over their safety has persisted, leading some food manufacturers and restaurants to disclose their use or herald products free of GMOs.
Vermont will begin requiring labeling of GMOs this Summer, and other states have tried to enact similar laws.
Monsanto and other big agriculture and food companies have fought and continue to fight the efforts, arguing that labeling food would confuse consumers and lead to an expensive patchwork of state regulations.
Many people, me included, are concerned that GMO’s are partly to blame for cancer, obesity, gastrointestinal tract illnesses, kidney disease, allergies and autism spectrum disorders, the National Academies said.
It reviewed disease registries in the US and Canada, where GMO’s have been a regular part of the diet since the 1990’s, and the United Kingdom and Western Europe, where GMO’s are not widely consumed.
It found no difference in the increase or decrease of specific health problems after the introduction of GMO foods and the associated increase in glyphosate.
Even without evidence of health effects from existing GMO use, the study committee’s Chairman, North Carolina State University entomology professor Fred Gould, said continued scrutiny is necessary because of the possibility of “subtle” effects showing up later. He compared it to changing consensus over the years on dietary guidelines. “It’s been 20 years, maybe it will take 40 years to show up,” he said during a briefing on the report Tuesday.
The report acknowledged there is “ongoing debate about potential carcinogenicity of glyphosate in humans.” While a report in March 2015 from the International Agency for Research on Cancer listed the herbicide as “probably” carcinogenic to humans, other regulatory agencies have not found a link to cancer, including the EPA, Canada’s health agency and the European Food Safety Authority. Monday, experts from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization concluded a review that found glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans.”
I do not see this report swaying skeptics of GMO’s, affecting consumer demand or influencing debates on state labeling laws. Critics will point to their pairing with herbicides, so this debate will continue for a long, long time.
Of course Monsanto, in a statement, said the report “underscores” the “science and safety” behind genetically modified crops.
“We believe this was a valuable analysis that brought together parties on all sides of the science who share different viewpoints about its promise and potential,” the company said.
The report dampen one of the Key talking points espoused by Monsanto and other seed companies, namely that their GMO technologies are necessary in order to keep up with population growth.
Even though pest-resistant crops have reduced farmers’ crop losses, there is no evidence that the adoption of GMO’s in the 1990’s sped up farm yield improvements beyond the pace they had been on in the preceding decades, the report found.
“With the advent of GMO crops, we’re not seeing that all of a sudden we’re increasing the rate of increase.”
The report’s authors recommended investing in a number of different approaches, not just genetic engineering, to continue the improvements in farm yields.
While the report said it found no evidence of “cause-and-effect relationships” between genetically modified crops and environmental problems, it said “the complex nature of assessing long-term environmental changes often made it difficult to reach definitive conclusions.”
For instance, it said the scientific literature has not found a definitive link between the decline of Monarch Butterfly populations and glyphosate suppression of milkweed. Yet it noted that there is no consensus among researchers that “increased glyphosate use is not at all associated with decreased Monarch populations.”
The National Academies, regarded as one of the US’s prestigious scientific bodies, drew criticism from groups opposed to the use of genetically engineered food.
Advocacy group Food and Water Watch released a report Monday that accused many of the study committee members of having worked with Monsanto or other companies with an interest in GMO use over the years. It said “millions of dollars” go to the National Academies from Monsanto and similar companies and questioned whether the public should trust the review.
“Corporate agribusinesses pour millions of dollars into our public universities, play a heavy hand in peer-reviewed scientific journals and seek to influence prestigious scientific bodies like the National Research Council,”
Food and Water Watch wrote in a blog Monday about the soon-to-be-released report. “We’ve asked the (National Research Council) many times to remove itself from this broken system of science, to step up and be a leader on the issue of conflicts of interest in GMO research.”
The funding for the report is said to have come from non-industry sources and pointed to a special disclosure section, “It’s important that groups like Food and Water Watch “keep pushing us to be as transparent as possible,” but the authors worry that some of the accusations would hinder dialogue about costs and benefits of GMO use.
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