"GM foods could save millions of lives" (18/2/2007)

This article has been published by a leading British newspaper and is apparently based on evidence the author gave before a parliamentary committee in South Africa.

The author suggests that objections to GM crops are grounded in short-sighted "myths" that arise from "ignorance, pseudo-science or plain propaganda".

As many of the claims the article contains have repeatedly been made by pro-GM lobbyists, we thought it worth looking at in detail. Our comments are given in brackets [].

A risk worth taking as GM foods could save millions of lives
TEMBA NOLUTSHUNGU The Scotsman, 16 February 2007

EUROPEAN consumer panic and EU regulations about genetically modified foods threaten millions of starving Africans who need cheap and reliable crops.

[The author needs to explain how EU regulations threaten Africans with starvation. What he does instead is simply assert that GM crops are "cheap" and "reliable". GM seeds are typically more expensive and USDA data supports the view that GM crops far from increasing yield potential may reduce yield.
http://www.btinternet.com/~nlpwessex/Documents/usdagmeconomics.htm ]

Greenpeace has just garnered a million signatures around Europe for a petition to the EU demanding labels for traces of GM organisms in food.

This time last year, Zambia banned famine relief containing GM food. Uganda and Kenya are wavering and millions of people are starving in Africa right now.

[Zambia rejected GM food aid not last year but in 2002 - see below for more on this.]

GM food may not solve malnutrition and starvation by itself, but it would make a huge difference.

[The author simply asserts GM "would make a huge difference" without supporting evidence.]

Remember, we are talking about a product eaten by Americans and Canadians for over a decade without harming anybody.

[There are no mechanisms for monitoring the impacts of GM foods and as Ben Miflin, a well known GM supporter and former director of the Institute of Arable Crops Research, has noted, "any unanticipated health impact of such foods would need to be a 'monumental disaster' to be detectable". Miflin told the journal Nature that under those conditions, "a general increase in gastrointestinal disorders, for example, would be difficult to attribute to a particular food, given the diverse possible origins of such symptoms." That's quite apart from the fact that in the States and Canada foods with GM ingredients aren't normally even labelled. (Long-term effect of GM crops serves up food for thought, Nature, Volume 398:651) http://boston.earthsave.org/Nature042299.htm ]

Even the European Union, while applying many restrictions, accepts it is safer than conventional food.

[This claim is made on the basis of the statement by Philippe Busquin below.]

Fifteen years of tests in 400 European laboratories led the EU Research Commissioner, Philippe Busquin, to say in 2001 that they had not found "any new risks to human health or the environment, beyond the usual uncertainties of conventional plant breeding. Indeed, the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make them even safer than conventional plants and foods".

[Philippe Busquin is a keen GM supporter and as Research Commissioner is anxious not to discourage GM research within the EU. That he is acting as a propagandist in this statement is shown by his description of GM as involving "more precise technology". In fact, gene splicing remains a crude approach that has been cpmpared to adjusting an intricate watch with a sledgehammer.

Documents released to Friends of the Earth in 2006 revealed that behind closed doors the European Commission had serious doubts over the health and environmental impacts of GM crops. In the documents, the Commission admitted that there are "large areas of uncertainty" about GM foods and that "some issues have not yet been studied at all".

This brings us on to the claim by Busquin, and other GM proponents, about hundreds of "tests". This is completely misleading because many such tests tell us absolutely nothing about safety, being focussed on issues like the commercial value of GM grain as animal feed.

The reality is that very few studies relating to GM food safety have been completed, peer reviewed and published. In fact, there has only been one published human health study the Newcastle Study, which was published in 2004. And although this research project was very limited in scope, studying the effects of just one GM meal taken by seven individuals, it nonetheless found GM DNA transferring to gut bacteria in the human subjects.

As for tests looking at the effects of GM crops on animals, there are at most only around 20 published studies that look at the health effects of GM food. And several of these studies found potentially negative effects!
http://www.soilassociation.org/web/sa/saweb.nsf/0/80256cad0046ee0c80256d66005ae0fe?OpenDocument ]

At first sight, the precautionary principle looks reasonable. As children we were warned to "look before you leap". Following that advice will at times have avoided danger. On the other hand, following advice to avoid all risk would keep away a lot of fine opportunities, and carrying out a risk assessment before avoiding an oncoming bus could prove fatal.

[The author dows not explain why this analogy is relevant.]

The precautionary principle requires action to avoid a risk even when there is no evidence of any risk; it demands that new inventions should not be used unless and

Go to a Print friendly Page

Email this Article to a Friend

Back to the Archive