The science and politics of GMO labelling

August 2016
Photo Creative Commons
The 2016 Report of the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) titled "Genetically Engineered Crops: Experience and Prospects" dropped the hot potato of GM food labelling by pronouncing it a political issue not a scientific one. But, as agricultural economist Chuck Benbrook* said "It is obviously both". 

Politically speaking, labelling is essential to consumer trust and for access to overseas markets.

Scientifically speaking, without labelling the entire medical community is effectively kept on the sidelines neither aware of the possibility of allergic or toxic reactions to GM foods, nor capable of doing anything about them. Faced with unusual symptoms, doctors, patients and the carers of patients can only identify or eliminate dietary factors as a cause of the problem if they know what has been consumed.

What the NAS said was:
"Though long-term epidemiological studies have not directly addressed GE food consumption, available epidemiological data do not show associations between any disease or chronic conditions and the consumption of GE (GM) foods". 
 As a result, it argued there was no reason to label foods which contain GM ingredients.

Read that again.

Doesn't it say that NO population studies, designed to reveal health effects of GM food have been carried out, but that studies NOT designed to show associations between disease and GM consumption (unsurprisingly) don't show any associations between disease and GM consumption?

Since population studies (a.k.a. science) to reveal health effects of GM food could only be done if people know what they've actually eaten, enabling the absent science is a prime reason for GM labelling.

One biotechnologist summarised the NAS 2016 Report as saying "there's a lot we don't know, which isn't surprising, because no one is looking." But then, no matter how hard you look at a human population where no one knows what they're eating, you're unlikely to figure out if there's anything in their food that's making them sick.


Remember that politically speaking you can play with words to your heart's content, but scientifically speaking if an experiment isn't designed to show something it won't show it.

The NAS 'National Academy of Spin"? Surely not. 

*Charles M. Benbrook was director of the NAS from 1984 to 1990, and a professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University. He currently serves on the US Department of Agriculture's 'AC21 Agricultural Biotechnology Advisory Committee'. 

  • Chuck Benbrook, NAS Report on GMOs Gives Spin New Life and Pulls Too Many Punches, 18.05.16
  • Sean Poulter, GM farming is creating superweeds and resistant butgs: Controversial technology has created a 'major agricultural problem' Daily Mail, 18.05.16

No comments:

Post a comment

Thanks for your comment. All comments are moderated before they are published.