U.S. experts say Genetically Engineered crops safe to eat


 U.S. panel of experts said the Genetically Engineered (GE) crops are safe to eat, and do not harm the environment.
This is contained in a 408-page report, issued by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on Wednesday in Washington.
The report, entitled Genetically Engineered Crops, Experiences and Prospects, was written by a committee of 20 experts, all from universities and research institutes.
The committee examined almost 900 studies since the 1980s, heard from 80 speakers at three public meetings and 15 public webinars, and read more than 700 comments from members.
The report, however, cautioned that the technology does not, as many supporters claimed, lead to higher yields.
Fred Gould, Chair of the panel, said it found no substantiated evidence of linking GE food consumption to higher incidence of specific health problems including cancer, obesity, gastrointestinal tract diseases, kidney disease and such disorders as autism and allergies.
"We have 20 years of people in the U.S. and Canada eating genetically engineered crops, but we didn't see any evidence of that higher health risks.
"We compared the patterns in the U.S. and Canada to the patterns in the U.K. and the EU, because in those countries people are not eating genetically engineered foods.
``We did not see a difference in health risks in those patterns," he said.
Gould, also a professor and co-director of the Genetic Engineering and Society Centre at North Carolina State University, said there is evidence that GE insect-resistant crops have had benefited human health by reducing insecticide poisonings.
He added that several GE crops are in development that are designed to benefit human health, such as rice with increased beta-carotene content to help prevent blindness and death caused by vitamin A deficiencies in some developing nations.
The co-director said the report also found no conclusive cause-and-effect evidence of environmental problems from the GE crops.
He, however, said it did find that evolved resistance to current GE characteristics in crops is becoming a major agricultural problem, including both insect and weed resistance.
Gould said generally, GE crops have had favourable economic outcomes for producers.
He noted that the technology has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields, an apparent blow to supporters of GM crops.
Gould disclosed that the committee examined changes over time in overall yield per hectare of maize, soybean, and cotton reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) before, during, and after the switch from conventional to GE varieties of these crops.
"No significant change in the rate at which crop yields increase could be discerned from the data.
"Although the sum of experimental evidence indicates that GE traits are contributing to actual yield increases, there is no evidence from USDA data that they have substantially increased the rate at which U.S. agriculture is increasing yields.
Wayne Parrott, Professor at the University of Georgia said the report presents a sober assessment of GE crops.
He said the report also found that new technologies in genetic engineering and conventional breeding are blurring the once clear distinctions between these two crop-improvement approaches.
Parrott said as a result, the committee recommended that regulating new crop varieties should focus on a plant's characteristics rather than the process by which it was developed.
"New plant varieties that have intended or unintended novel characteristics that may present potential hazards should undergo safety testing.
``Regardless of whether they were developed using genetic engineering or conventional breeding techniques," he said.
Many outside experts in the field have lauded the report as "thorough and objective."
They agreed that the inescapable conclusion, after reading the report, is that the GE crops are pretty much just crops.
The experts concluded that they are not the panacea that some proponents claim, nor the dreaded monsters that others claim. 

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