The National Academy of Sciences — probably the country’s most prestigious scientific group — has reaffirmed its judgment that GMOs are safe to eat. But the group’s new report struck a different tone from previous ones, with much more space devoted to concerns about genetically modified foods, including social and economic ones.
The report marks an anniversary. Twenty years ago, farmers started growing soybeans that had been genetically modified to tolerate the popular weedkiller known as Roundup and corn that contains a protein, extracted from bacteria, that kills some insect pests.
In the years since, arguments about these crops have grown so contentious that the National Academy can’t be sure that people will believe whatever it has to say on the topic.
Even before this report came out, an anti-GMO group called Food & Water Watch attacked it. The group accused some members of the committee that prepared the report of receiving research funding from biotech companies, or having other ties to the industry.
“The makeup of the panel is pretty clear. People are coming in with a perspective that is pro-genetically engineered crop,” says Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch.
The preemptive attack frustrates Fred Gould, the North Carolina State University scientist who chaired the committee. Gould has been known in the past as a GMO critic. He has pushed for restrictions on the planting of some GMO crops. “I have not been a darling of the industry. As a matter of fact, they denied me seeds and plants to do my experiments,” he says.
Gould says that over the two years that he and the other members of this committee worked on this report, they had one important rule: “If you had an opinion, you had to back it up with data. If you didn’t have the data, it didn’t go into the report.”
The report tries to answer a long list of questions about GMOs, involving nutrition, environmental effects, effects on the farm economy and monopoly control over seeds.
The most basic conclusion: There’s no evidence that GMOs are risky to eat.