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The Royal Society updates '98 GMO report

(Feb. 4, 2002 – CropChoice news) – Updating its 1998 report, "Genetically modified plants for food use," The Royal Society today determined that safety assessments for transgenic food and crops should be improved before more such products undergo commercialization for human consumption.

Although the updated report continues to support agricultural biotechnology overall, it suggests that "the public debate about GM food must take account of wider issues than the science alone."

The Society also has "concerns about the regulatory processes governing the development and use of GM plants," according to the update. "We agree with the FAO/WHO report that the criteria for safety assessments should be made explicit…"

The Royal Society website is http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk and the full report can be found at http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/files/statfiles/document-165.pdf

E. Ann Clark, a professor of Plant Agriculture at the University of Guelph, touched on the dearth of independent, peer-reviewed studies of transgenic crops in her article, "The lack of scientific credibility of GM food safety tests," available at http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/service22.htm:

"Until recently, people tended to identify most of the concern about genetically modified (GM) agriculture with groups such as the Council of Canadians, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Industry proponents wasted little time in painting these people as misinformed, hysterical greenies. But thanks to those groups, informed citizen opposition has slowed adoption of GM crops to a crawl, providing much-needed breathing space for senior scientists, lawyers, and physicians to reflect upon the issues and begin to speak out.

Proponent efforts to paint the opposition as ill-informed malcontents and luddites sound increasingly silly in the face of the significant doubts now reaching the public media from prestigious scientific analysts.

One common criticism in many such studies is the near absence of credible scientific evidence upon which to assess environmental and food safety risks. Last June, the prestigious journal Science reported a detailed database search by Jose Domingo, who could find a grand total of just eight refereed journal articles dealing with any aspect of the safety of GM foods. The eight included only four actual feeding trials, of which three were from Monsanto teams.

The final report of the elite, hand-picked EU-U.S. Biotechnology Consultative Forum, which came out in December, 2000, stated, "There is a lack of substantial scientific data and evidence, often (presented) more as personal interpretations disguised as scientifically validated statements." The full report is available at http://europa.eu.int

The Royal Society of Canada just came out with a new report entitled The Future of Food Biotechnology. Elements of Precaution: Recommendations for the Future of Food Biotechnology in Canada. This group of distinguished senior scientists identified numerous critical failings in the Canadian GM regulatory process, and were particularly critical of the pivotal role accorded the unscientific concept of ‘substantial equivalence.’ The report is available at http://www.rsc.ca

In another recent issue of Science, U.S. government scientists LaReesa Wolfenbarger and Paul Phifer noted that "key experiments on both the environmental risks and benefits are lacking." They identified numerous critical deficiencies whether GM crops are indeed safe for the environment. Each of these studies calls for substantially increased research to figure out whether any risk exists, let alone how to test for such risk or to do about it.

In effect, governments have authorized the commercial release of almost 50 GM crops, which were sown over 100 million acres in 1999 (71 per cent in the U.S., 17 per cent in Argentina, and 10 per cent in Canada), and yet we still don't know enough even to identify the food safety and environmental risks, let alone tests for them.

In a nutshell, we don't know enough about basic gene function, the complexity of metabolic pathways, and the ecological implications of even modest genetic modifications to be doing what we are doing, commercially. As stated colloquially by Craig Venter, head of the Celera team that recently decoded the human genome, ‘We don't know s--t about biology.’"