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Opinion: Don’t Fear GM Crops, Europe!

If the European Union is to have any hope of feeding its population in the future, it must end its illogical aversion to genetic modification.

By , and | May 28, 2013

WIKIMEDIA, BRYAN PREADYResearchers have genetically modified crop plants to grow well in harsh environments where conventional crops cannot flourish due to the prevalence of pests and diseases. They can overcome weeds by allowing the use of environmentally-safe herbicides, and they can overcome insect pests and the diseases they carry by producing very specific toxins that do not affect beneficial insects and are harmless to humans and animals. But there is one environment that seems insurmountably hostile to GM crops—the European Union.

Why is the EU so against GM crops? This is a question that top-level policymakers will likely never answer, even though the EU’s own scientific bodies have demonstrated that GM crops are safe. The EU cannot grow enough food or feed to sustain its own population using conventional agriculture, so banning the growth of GM crops comes at a great expense. There is no rational scientific reason for importing GM foods from abroad when the same plants could be grown at home, so why are these food crops not flourishing in Europe’s rich agricultural lands. Unfortunately, the reason is political expediency.

EU politicians will not come off the fence on the subject of GM crops for fear of upsetting a small but vocal minority. The main opponents are the environmental lobby, who would rather accept the unnecessary use of hazardous chemical pesticides rather than acquiescing to the growth of GM crops, the safety of which has been proven by more than 15 years of cultivation around the world with not a single reported adverse effect. The European organic lobby also opposes GM crops, seeking to protect their price premiums for products which are now known to be no more healthy or beneficial than any other crop. The de facto moratorium on GM agriculture in Europe is an economic issue, not a safety issue as these opponents would like the public to believe.

The evidence from around the world where GM agriculture is accepted is that these crops increase agricultural productivity, reduce environmental damage and the carbon footprint of agriculture, make farmers competitive, and increase the wealth and wellbeing of the poor. Applying the same principles in Europe would allow the farming sector to increase productivity and wealth and free itself from the self-destructive common agricultural policy (CAP) which is widely acknowledged as a millstone around the neck of Europe. The adoption of GM agriculture would also reverse the brain drain and industrial migration seen in recent years, as agriculture technology companies move their research abroad where they are likely to see their products adopted and to get a return on their investment. This could help drive economic growth and generate taxable income that Europe needs to gain momentum and lift itself out of its current financial crisis.

It is hard to see any technology get adopted when faced with the constraints applied to GM agriculture in Europe. Despite the fact that GM crops have illustrated their safety, opponents demand cast iron proof of zero risk—proof that has never been demonstrated for any product or technology in history and that cannot be demonstrated because it is impossible to prove a negative. The EU has granted more than 70 million Euros in research funds to 500 scientific groups over 25 years, yielding one key conclusion: ‘‘Biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies’’ (European Commission, “A Decade of EU-funded GMA Research,” 2010). Yet GM crops have yet to be grown in Europe, although exactly the same products are imported.

Others object to GM technology on the basis that it is controlled by “big business,” but this ignores the fact that agriculture itself is dominated by big businesses that produce and distribute seeds. The business model adopted for GM technology is no different than that in use for conventional agricultural products. The “big business” fear mongering is more straw man than actual bogeyman.

The time has come to fight against this insidious attack on the progress of European science. It is fair to ask questions, demand answers, and ask for evidence of safety. But it is not fair to continue an aggressive campaign of Luddite opposition when all the evidence supports a positive role for GM agriculture in Europe. To rectify the situation we need to remove the political component in the approval process of GM crops and use an objective, science-based, and rational approach based on real evidence rather than short-term political ambitions. If we pander to a vocal but ignorant minority, the EU will end up the poor cousin in a world of growing affluence, where those willing to embrace biotechnology and its ability to address the global challenges of hunger, poverty, disease will become the future’s new economic leaders.

By Gemma Masip, Maite Sabalza, Eduard Pérez-Massot, Raviraj Banakar, David Cebrian, Richard M. Twyman, Teresa Capell, Ramon Albajes, and Paul Christou

Gemma Masip, Maite Sabalza, Eduard Pérez-Massot, Raviraj Banakar, David Cebrian, Teresa Capell, Ramon Albajes, and Paul Christou work in the Department of Plant Production and Forestry Science at the University of Lleida-Agrotecnio in Spain. Richard M. Twyman works at TRM Ltd in the United Kingdom. And Christou also has an appointment at the Institucio´ Catalana de Recerca i Estudis AvanÇats in Barcelona.

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Avatar of: LeeH

LeeH

Posts: 30

May 28, 2013

According to a recent article (May 26, 2013) in NY times citing a study on nutrients, we should be more concerned about the fact that centuries of selection and derivation of current crops has led to nutrient depletion by 10 fold or more for many common staple crops. 

Avatar of: JToeppen

JToeppen

Posts: 27

May 28, 2013

 

 

 

 

GM corn causes an allergic reaction in a friend of mine.  It affects her like it does the worms that can not digest the corn.  A year in Scotland helped her discover the nature of the problem.  General assumptions of safety or lack of safety of a product should be tested.  Once such things are released there is no calling them back.  Or we could simply contaminate all of our crops with questionable genetic modifications by assuming that all modifications are safe.

The US is controlled by its corporate agriculture, and we are willing to sacrifice general health for corporate profits.  And here Europe is dragging its feet.  Why don't they want healthy and strong businesses?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Avatar of: DaveEs

DaveEs

Posts: 1

May 28, 2013

Left wondering about the accuracy of this article. The last name in the byline is Paul Christou, who has been working in the GM field for quite some time. It also echoes an article from last month where Christou criticised the EU for its policies regarding GM seed use - suspect he was simply using information from this paper to illustrate his arguments. The authors of this paper would appear to have certain personal interest in "changing the rules".

http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2013/04/25/European-Union-urged-to-embrace-genetically-engineered-crops/UPI-46691366932387/?spt=mps&or=5

I don't want to suggest that the benefits of GMO should be ignored - just that there are certain groups who are very keen to see the benefits to themselves, not the consumers.

Avatar of: BMH

BMH

Posts: 1

May 28, 2013

The profit-motivated push to allow a few companies to trademark and homogenize the global food supply is as dangerous as it is unlikely to benifit anyone beyond agrobusiness shareholders and the scientists they fund to present their case to the public. 

That Massip's main defence of GMO crop production seems to be vaguely threatening Europe's impending doom rather than addressing the actual issues involved, such as Environmental Sciences Europe's recent study showing more, not less pesticide use by GMO farmers in America (needed to contradict rapid weed and insect resistance) is specieous.

Avatar of: LFP2013

LFP2013

Posts: 1

May 28, 2013

Industry apologist BS.

The evidence actually shows that the effects of GM technology have been mixed, AT BEST. Indeed, there is more and more research demonstrating that GM crops produce the same or lower yields than conventional crops and that their use leads to herbicide-resistant weeds. Not to mention that GMO technology takes control of agriculture away from small farmers and puts it into the hands of centralized, for-profit bureaucracies (ie, Monsanto, Syngenta), which is rarely a good thing in the long-term.

Here is some actual science for you to consider:

GM crops increase, not decrease, toxic herbicide inputs: http://www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/24/abstract

GM corn shows little or no yield improvement: http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v31/n2/full/nbt.2496.html

Organic ag methods can lead to yields similar to conventional methods: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22535250

GMOs negatively impact Third-World farmers: http://artsci.wustl.edu/~anthro/research/stone/annurev%252Eanthro%252E012809%252E105058.pdf

I would suggest to the authors to stop hiding behind industry-sponsored "science," stop claiming that only their side is "rational" and stop exaggerating and simplifying the data. Let's be honest and admit that the research is inconclusive and so we must proceed very cautiously with GM technology.

 

May 28, 2013

Your opinions would bear more substance if you actually provided citations for all the benfits you ascribe to GM crops which we have been hearing for year but actually see very little, if any, evidence for.   And perhaps balance them with a risk benefit analyses, since there clearly are risks to using GM crops that the "pro" people tend to ignore or dismiss.   Please address the fact that pollen from GM crops pass on their traits to other plants and hence risk creating super weeds, the blatant legal bully and intimidation tactics of companies like Monsanto against clearly innocent farmers, that Monsanto appears more interested in buying up the plant genome and putting traditional agriculture farmers out of business, etc would also be good to address.  That the US government and Monasanto routinely trade top executives so there is no "unbiased" review of GM crop decisions in the USA, etc.

Avatar of: Glenn398

Glenn398

Posts: 1

May 28, 2013

There is a lot of false statements being made on comments. Even in the 50s it was know that if crop yields were not increased we would have trouble feeding people in the U.S. must less the world. So you are saying farmers are buying these monified seeds just to spend money with no results. I have some ocean front property in Arizona for those that believe that statement. Jtoeppen so what if a friend had a allergic reaaction, you know how many have it  just with peanut butter. As a matter of fact there are people that are allergic to water and this is not a joke it is a medical condition. So off with the hipe and lets deal with real facts.

Avatar of: JMK-Free

JMK-Free

Posts: 2

May 28, 2013

This appears to be a commercial article than a scientific study. It is true that certain counries in Europe such as the UK are net importers but others like France are net exporters. A better, safer, approach would be to improve 'traditional' agriculture in the newer member states of the EU.

Avatar of: ECMD

ECMD

Posts: 1

May 28, 2013

One would expect a journal called The Scientist to stick to science and not publish an article that could have been written by industry lobbyists. The scientific database by independent researchers on GM crops does not support the glib assertions made, and the current experience where they are being used  raise questions of genuine concern. 

Avatar of: Zurls

Zurls

Posts: 1

May 29, 2013

No "pro-and-con" that is the hallmark of real science writing.  Real scientific studies are raising serious questions as to the long-term safety of GM foods, the crossing over of trans-species genetic material,  and the high absorption of toxins by their plantsGMO's are also cited as a major factor in the worldwide bee decline via neonicotinoidsThe ability to over-poison GMO plants is killing the anaerobic bacteria in farm soil, so these lands will quickly not produce.  GMO food does not deliver on its promise to feed the world - in fact many farmers are finding that with buying the seed each year and the increased need for poisons to keep up with the resultant resistant weeds created - GMO foods are becoming more expensive to produce at less than promised yields. Monsanto alone has former employee in charge of the FDA, the EPA, top people at the USDA, Homeland Security, and dozens of other highly places gov't positions (including the Supreme Court) resulting in no oversight.  There are hundreds of other legitimate facts and concerns about GMO food that need looking into.  But apparently not by this article.  Besides Europe we can add Australia, New Zealand, China, Sri Lanka, Japan, Thailand, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Brazil, Paraguay and nearly all Pacific Island Nations as all countries who currently or soon will ban or limit GMO food.

Avatar of: Up-Coming

Up-Coming

Posts: 1

May 29, 2013

The whole thrust of GMO agricultural business is reckless and dangerous because it is ignorant.  What needs to be understood is the full range of scale, micro to macro, of ecosystem biology in general and how it relates to agriculture in particular.  We could then concievably subtly manipulate existing ecosystem dimensions to mitigate crop pests and diseases. For example diseases of pests are just starting to be investigated.  The balance of beneficial and pathogenic bacteria and fungus and possibly viruses in an actual ecosystem is not understood.  Epigenetic phenomena in general are not well understood, much less in GMO plants in a real ecosystem. We are still very far away from a thorough understanding and that is why the push to GMO agriculture is so dangerous. 

A serious problem is that "Big Ag" has too much financial influence at research universities as well as political influence. The basic research that contradicts (the completely unjustified) claims of GMO crop safety or efficacy is discouraged from publication.  The claims of safety are on their face preposterous.  There is simply not enough understanding of biology to make such a claim. Certainly not at a genetic level nor at an ecosystem level.  There has not been enough time nor deep enough research to make an epidemiological claim of safety.  It also appears there is a lot of handwaving about even medium range prospects for continued high output.

The argument of GM vs "conventional" crops is fundamentally the wrong one.  Both are unsustainable in the long term.  GM crops could make sense in the far future if/when ecosystems are deeply understood, and all the ramifications of a genetic manipulation through the entire ecosystem are understood.  At that point it is unlikely that the thrust  of GM will be to crudely poison the environment like we do now.  We need an entirely different direction in agriculture, a truly science based agriculture focused on balancing dimensions of ecology for maximum sustainable productivity.

 

Avatar of: beesontoast

beesontoast

Posts: 2

May 29, 2013

 

If GM is all you claim it to be, you will have no problem in labeling it, will you?

 

 

Avatar of: beesontoast

beesontoast

Posts: 2

May 29, 2013

I hope your fact-checking is better than your proof-reading. Your opening sentence starts, "Researchers have genetically modified crop plants to grow well in harsh environments..."

The last time I saw a phrase like that it was on the instructions to a device made in China.

 

Avatar of: deegeejay

deegeejay

Posts: 1

May 29, 2013

 . . . and then there was ACTUAL progress but the "progressives" thought it meant something else because they had been been practicing newspeak too long. 

Avatar of: Lane

Lane

Posts: 1

May 29, 2013

Despite the argument that the GM crops are more commercially viable and beneficial for the environment, if the people do not want to eat them, then producing them is not viable. I for example do not wish to eat them, even though there has not been any negative adverse effect directly linked to GM crops. I feel that 15 years is far to short a period in which to evaluate a critical life support system such as food.

Michael Moss, the author of Salt, Sugar, Fat, in his interview on CNN after the recent Monsanto Demonstrations across the world acknowledged, "The fact is there are no studies, as yet, linking GMO to health problems. The flip side of that is that nobody is really looking hard at that and doing that kind of research, and the agency in charge of GMO's is another three letter anacronym, the FDA, which has a real spotty record on food safety, which concerns people.

Avatar of: Ho

Ho

Posts: 1

May 29, 2013

so what's with the bees?

is there something to the toxicity claims?  Has any legit scientist studied this, and what was found.  

anyone with an answer, please give me a link to a real science article, no opinion pieces, please.

Avatar of: Grandpatarquin

Grandpatarquin

Posts: 1

May 30, 2013

This advertisement brought to you by Monsanto and the US Agricultural Industry.

Avatar of: Truth Seeker

Truth Seeker

Posts: 1

May 30, 2013

The big question regarding GM food is why all the secrecy surrounding it?  If the stuff is 'cosher' why so much pressure against independent scientists conducting independent trials on these crops?  If the product is so great why is there so much pressure by the vested interests against labeling products derived from GM crops.  I challenge this band of scientists promoting the article concerned and others involved in this GM, PR job to lobby the GM industry  to stop fighting concerned consumers and responsible organisations and politicians and just label  produce as being GM.  If you guys are right the general public will flock to buy the product.   If you are not prepared to promote labeling - you are a bunch of hypocrites!

Avatar of: U.N.Altre

U.N.Altre

Posts: 1

May 31, 2013

Their source of funding under threat? Let's trash science to save our jobs! Talk about Luddites! Lleida (Lérida)... a backwater in Spain - one of Monsanto's last toeholds in Europe

Avatar of: EdwardWhite

EdwardWhite

Posts: 1

June 1, 2013

Let's remember this is only an opinion piece.  There's no requirment for them to back up their comments, or to present them in a balanced, unbiased way.  Not sure what the motivation for this piece is, but the language is a little exaggerated, sweeping and a little childish.  'Luddite' opposition??  Really?  Just because a lot of people don't agree with their opinion on GM foods? 

Avatar of: TXAggie

TXAggie

Posts: 1

June 2, 2013

Both the article and most of the comments make the same mistake.  They look at GM as a whole instead of realizing that in some cases, like encouraging the use of herbicides, inserting a particular gene is definitely a very bad idea, but that in other cases, like reducing the amount of insecticides sprayed all over, adapting plants to using brackish water rather than needing fresh water, increasing the digestibility of alfalfa, adding Vit A to the standard diet of poor people, nonlegumes that can fix atmospheric N2 and many others, GM most definitely is beneficial.

The majority of the objections to GM as a whole are quasireligious, not backed by any data.  The opposition is based on "it isn't natural" when you strip away the verbiage and get to the common denominator of the objections.  Otherwise the objectors wouldn't accept conventional hybrids that add whole poorly characterized foreign genomes to a crop over just adding a couple of genes.  They wouldn't be ok with crops that are the same as GMO that were produced by conventional methods (herbicide resistant canola).  

The GM deniers really should get actual data that stands the smell test, not that depends on creative statistics or on nonconfirmed horror stories.  I hope that when Carl Sagan said, "In science it often happens that scientists say, "You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken," and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion." he was correct.  Otherwise there is a good argument that the progressives are just as antiscience as the right wing (see vaccine/autism for another example).

Avatar of: HP Pandey

HP Pandey

Posts: 1

June 4, 2013

Dear all,

Genetic change is the slowest process of nature and keeps pace with the change in environment, and it often takes thousands of years to exhibit, however on the other hand transgenesis is the fastest process which has nothing to take with the environment and completed in few years or even in few months.

In deed world is in hurry to make money, in this context the corporate sectores sponsor scientific researches and loudly speak the benefits only which is very unfortunate for the future of the humanity. The value of a GMO can not be assessed in few years and in a short field trial it can not be declared safe for human health, wellbeing of other species and environment.

The entire ecosystem is not only balanced on the biotic and abiotic components but functionally there exists a balanced harmony of genetic interactions and any disturbance in this harmony can collapse the entire system. It is just one aspect of the GMO in the days to come.

In my opinion the next tragedy of humanity is likely to occur due to GMO, which will cause irreparable  loss of health, biodiversity and environment which never happend in the human history. Therefore such propaganda that "GMO is safe for health, environment etc." must be avoided for the sake of humanity.

HP Pandey

Avatar of: ironjustice

ironjustice

Posts: 28

June 4, 2013

Using  logic and science , one sees in , GM phytic acid reduced corn , there may be a problem which could causeincreased  liver cancer rates. Phytic acid is shown to protect a seed from aflatoxin, removing , chelating the metal iron , which aflatoxin uses in order to proliferate on the grain.

"Evaluation of the effect of phytic (inositol phosphate) and linoleic acids on the biosynthesis of aflatoxin" "The role of InsPs and linoleic acid on the
overall risk posed by AFB1 occurrence is important since they comprise more than 1% of the dry weight of cereals, oilseeds and nuts."

Removing phytic acid therefore may increase the incidence of aflatoxin on the grain , leading to higher aflatoxin , aflatoxin causes liver cancer , a noticeable increase in liver cancer should become apparent in those underdeveloped countries not capable of controlling the sale and consumption of dated GM phytate reduced corn ?

 

Avatar of: Bob C

Bob C

Posts: 1

June 4, 2013

This article was not science.  It was like a commercial from Monsanto.

To change the food supply so dramatically without any long term research, or practically any research at all is dangerous.

The reason GMO foods by Big Aggie are so cheap is that they are heavily subsidized by the government to produce excessive amounts of products like Star Link Corn.    They end up putting the excess junk products, like corn syrup into our foods arguably being the primary cause of increased obesity.

And, they feed cattle for the last three months of their lives Star Link corn, which changes the lipid profile and marbleizes the meat with fat.  Only because the corn gets government welfare as does big oil, can McDonalds produce a meal cheaper than buying real food.

And we are finding other dangers.  B2 is used to have plants produce a pesticide.  It turns out that many of the super healthy phytochemicals are actually what organic plants produce as a pesticide.  And, there have been many new cases of gastronomic problems never seen before.

A great documentary available on Amazon Instant Video is Genetic Roulette.  Well worth watching.

We should be subsidizing healthy foods, like leafy greens and fruits rather than Big Aggies grains, most not made for human consumption.

Follow the money.

 

 

 

Avatar of: kpetrak

kpetrak

Posts: 7

June 9, 2013

I keep looking but cannot find a single peer-reviewed, controlled-study report on "unhealthy" effects of genetically modified food.

Could one of the readers be kind enough to share with me such references?

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