GE crops safe for food, environment, scientific review says
Pons M. Abatayo (The Philippine Star) - May 26, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Genetically engineered crops are safe for human consumption and the environment, an independent scientific assessment has concluded.

The US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine said it has found “no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks to human health between currently commercialized genetically engineered (GE) crops and conventionally bred crops.”

No “conclusive cause-and-effect evidence of environmental problems from the GE crops” has been found, it said.

The findings were released mid-May by the academy, one of the highest independent scientific bodies in the United States, in a report, “Genetically Engineered Crops: Past Experience and Future Prospects” written by its Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Division on Earth and Life Studies.

GE crops are plants whose genetic composition has been altered using biotechnology. Biotechnology includes techniques that precisely cut and insert DNA material in a plant to enhance a trait already carried by the plant or to introduce a gene (or genes) that confer a valuable trait from another plant or organism.

Bt corn is the only GE crop commercialized in the Philippines; about 700,000 hectares are planted to the insect-resistant Bt corn, so called because it contains genes from Bacillus thuringiensis. Bt is a soil bacterium that gives the corn a built-in insecticide that can kill specific insects that ingest them, in this case the corn borer.

In 2015, some 350,000 poor Filipino farmers planted Bt corn, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). The Philippines and Vietnam are the only countries that plant Bt corn in Southeast Asia.

“The US Academy of Sciences report confirms what the mainstream scientific community has been stating,” Paul Teng, ISAAA chairperson, told SciencePhilippines in an email. “There has been a clean record on food and feed safety of these crops when used for food, feed and processing.”

He said the report affirms what ISAAA had reported in April to commemorate the 20 years of commercialization of biotech crops, “that these crops have been safely planted by farmers and have conferred substantial economic benefits to millions of farmers worldwide and additionally benefited the environment by reduced use of insecticides and reduced need to clear new land for agriculture.”

The new report builds on previous academy reports over the last two decades between 1987 and 2010. It is based on more than 900 research and other publications, the opinion of 80 experts at three public meetings and 15 webinars and more than 700 comments from the public.

GE crops and foods derived from them are tested in three ways: animal testing, compositional analysis and allergenicity testing and prediction. Although the design and analysis of many animal-feeding studies were not optimal, the report observed that many available animal experimental studies taken together “provided reasonable evidence that animals were not harmed by eating foods derived from GE crops.”

“Data on the nutrient and chemical composition of a GE plant compared to a similar non-GE variety of the crop sometimes show statistically significant differences in nutrient and chemical composition, but the differences have been considered to fall within the range of naturally occurring variation found in currently available non-GE crops,” the academy said.

It said many people are concerned that GE food consumption may lead to higher incidence of specific health problems including cancer, obesity, gastrointestinal tract illnesses, kidney disease and disorders such as autism spectrum and allergies.

In the absence of long-term, case-controlled studies to examine some hypotheses, the academy examined epidemiological datasets over time from the United States and Canada, where GE food has been consumed since the late 1990s, and similar data sets from the United Kingdom and Western Europe, where GE food is not widely consumed.

“No pattern of differences was found among countries in specific health problems after the introduction of GE foods in the 1990s,” it concluded.      – SciencePhilippines

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