Earth Open Source press release 17 June 2012
Aren’t critics of genetically engineered food anti-science? Isn’t the debate over GMOs (genetically modified organisms) a spat between emotional but ignorant activists on one hand and rational GM-supporting scientists on the other?
A new report released today, “GMO Myths and Truths”, challenges these claims. The report presents a large body of peer-reviewed scientific and other authoritative evidence of the hazards to health and the environment posed by genetically engineered crops and organisms (GMOs).
Unusually, the initiative for the report came not from campaigners but from two genetic engineers who believe there are good scientific reasons to be wary of GM foods and crops.
One of the report’s authors, Dr Michael Antoniou of King’s College London School of Medicine in the UK, uses genetic engineering for medical applications but warns against its use in developing crops for human food and animal feed.
Dr Antoniou said: “GM crops are promoted on the basis of ambitious claims – that they are safe to eat, environmentally beneficial, increase yields, reduce reliance on pesticides, and can help solve world hunger.
“I felt what was needed was a collation of the evidence that addresses the technology from a scientific point of view.
“Research studies show that genetically modified crops have harmful effects on laboratory animals in feeding trials and on the environment during cultivation. They have increased the use of pesticides and have failed to increase yields. Our report concludes that there are safer and more effective alternatives to meeting the world’s food needs.”
Another author of the report, Dr John Fagan, is a former genetic engineer who in 1994 returned to the National Institutes of Health $614,000 in grant money due to concerns about the safety and ethics of the technology. He subsequently founded a GMO testing company.
Dr Fagan said: “Crop genetic engineering as practiced today is a crude, imprecise, and outmoded technology. It can create unexpected toxins or allergens in foods and affect their nutritional value. Recent advances point to better ways of using our knowledge of genomics to improve food crops, that do not involve GM.
“Over 75% of all GM crops are engineered to tolerate being sprayed with herbicide. This has led to the spread of herbicide-resistant superweeds and has resulted in massively increased exposure of farmers and communities to these toxic chemicals. Epidemiological studies suggest a link between herbicide use and birth defects and cancer.
“These findings fundamentally challenge the utility and safety of GM crops, but the biotech industry uses its influence to block research by independent scientists and uses its powerful PR machine to discredit independent scientists whose findings challenge this approach.”
The third author of the report, Claire Robinson, research director of Earth Open Source, said, “The GM industry is trying to change our food supply in far-reaching and potentially dangerous ways. We all need to inform ourselves about what is going on and ensure that we – not biotechnology companies – keep control of our food system and crop seeds.
“We hope our report will contribute to a broader understanding of GM crops and the sustainable alternatives that are already working successfully for farmers and communities.”
The report, “GMO Myths and Truths, An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops”, by Michael Antoniou, PhD, Claire Robinson, and John Fagan, PhD is published by Earth Open Source (June 2012). The report is 123 pages long and contains over 600 citations, many of them from the peer-reviewed scientific literature and the rest from reports by scientists, physicians, government bodies, industry, and the media. The report is available here:http://earthopensource.org/index.php/reports/58
A shorter summary version will be released in the coming weeks.
Michael Antoniou, PhD is reader in molecular genetics and head, Gene Expression and Therapy Group, King’s College London School of Medicine, London, UK. He has 28 years’ experience in the use of genetic engineering technology investigating gene organisation and control, with over 40 peer reviewed publications of original work, and holds inventor status on a number of gene expression biotechnology patents. Dr Antoniou has a large network of collaborators in industry and academia who are making use of his discoveries in gene control mechanisms for the production of research, diagnostic and therapeutic products and human somatic gene therapies for inherited and acquired genetic disorders.
John Fagan, PhD is a leading authority on sustainability in the food system, biosafety, and GMO testing. He is founder and chief scientific officer of a GMO testing and certification company. He is a director of Earth Open Source. Earlier, he conducted cancer research at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and in academia. He holds a PhD in biochemistry and molecular and cell biology from Cornell University.
Dr Fagan became an early voice in the scientific debate on genetic engineering when in 1994 he took an ethical stand challenging the use of germline gene therapy (which has subsequently been banned in most countries) and genetic engineering in agriculture. He underlined his concerns by returning a grant of around $614,000 to the US National Institutes of Health, awarded for cancer research that used genetic engineering as a research tool. He was concerned that knowledge generated in his research could potentially be misused to advance human germline genetic engineering (for example, to create “designer babies”), which he found unacceptable on grounds of both safety and ethics. For similar reasons, around the same time, he withdrew applications for two additional grants totalling $1.25 million from the NIH and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). In 1996 he founded one of the pioneering GMO testing and certification companies after realising that this could be useful to assist industry in providing consumers with the transparency that they desired regarding the presence of GMOs in foods.
Claire Robinson, MPhil is research director at Earth Open Source. She has a background in investigative reporting and the communication of topics relating to public health, science and policy, and the environment. She is an editor at GMWatch (www.gmwatch.org), a public information service on issues relating to genetic modification, and was formerly managing editor at SpinProfiles (now Powerbase).