Genetically engineered crops pose no more risk to human health than conventional crops, according to a long-awaited study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released on Tuesday.
The exhaustive report also concluded that GMO crops also do not increase risk of cancer, type II diabetes, obesity, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses, autism, or allergies for either humans or animals. There was also no evidence found that genetically modified crops have affected the population of monarch butterflies. However, the study also stated that it is not clear whether the technology has increased crop yields.
Work on the extensive, 400-page report began two years ago. It was conducted by a team of more than 50 scientists, including agricultural experts who reviewed more than 900 studies over the past two decades since the introduction of GMOs.
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While this report will hopefully satisfy some when it comes to long-standing concerns and myths about the health and environmental risks of GMOs, the Chicago Tribune reported that the study is likely to fuel both sides of the debate over whether the food industry should label products that contain genetically modified organisms and raise even more questions among both advocacy groups and policymakers.
“There were some fist-pump moments for both sides of the ongoing debate in the food industry on labeling products that contain genetically modified organisms. GMO ingredients are made from crops like corn, soybeans and sugar beets that have been bioengineered to resist herbicides and pests. Those supportive of GMOs lauded the report’s clear message that genetically engineered crops are not a food safety issue; those opposed trumpeted the report’s finding that bioengineered crops have not increased the rate of crop yield in the U.S.”
Overall, GMO crops have decreased pest populations in some areas, particularly in the Midwest, though they have increased the evolutionary resistance by both insects and weeds has become a major problem for agriculture. The review was thorough, scientific, and systematic, and examined a vast amount of research into genetic modification of crops from the past 20 years.
“We took our job very seriously, because we know how contentious this issue is,” Fred Gould, chairman of the 20-person committee that produced the report and professor of entomology at North Carolina State University, told the Tribune.
Genetically modified crops are artificially manipulated on a genetic level in order to give them characteristics, such as pest resistance and ability to withstand herbicides, that they wouldn’t have on their own. Among the benefits GMO crops give to farmers are the ability to spray their fields with herbicides and pesticides in order to kill weeds and pests without harming the crops themselves. Other positive traits include resistance to drought in dry regions and impoverished nations.
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According to U.S. News, in order to determine if genetically modified foods are safe for human and animal consumption, the committee compared reports of certain illnesses in countries where GMOs have been consumed for decades, such as those in North America, to those where they are less frequent, such as countries in Europe.
“We compared the patterns in the U.S. and Canada to the patterns in the U.K. [United Kingdom] and the E.U. [European Union], because in those countries people are not eating genetically engineered foods,” said panel chairman Fred Gould, a professor of agriculture at North Carolina State University. “We did not see a difference [in health risks] in those patterns.”
Overall, no correlation was found between the consumption of GMO crops and diseases such as cancer, type II diabetes, celiac disease, or the wide variety of other conditions GMOs have been accused by critics of causing. Because of these findings, there was “no justification for labeling for food safety purposes,” added Michael Rodemeyer, another member of the committee and a retired food and biotechnology expert from the University of Virginia. The study says that food should be regulated based on the product itself on an individual basis, and not based on the process of production, whether developed through genetic engineering or through conventional breeding techniques.
The study noted that the most common GMO crops in 2015 were soybeans, cotton, corn, and canola, and that genetically engineered crops have been planted on about 12 percent of the world’s total viable cropland.
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