GM foods are safe for humans and the environment, top scientists say

Genetically Modified (GM) crops are safe for both human consumption and the environment, according to a report by top U.S. scientists on Tuesday.

Neither pest-resistant nor herbicide-resistant crops — the two widespread GM varieties — appeared to pose a threat, the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) said in the report. This was based on a review of more than 900 reports and other research over two decades.

"While recognizing the inherent difficulty of detecting subtle or long-term effects in health or the environment, the study committee found no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks to human health between currently commercialized genetically engineered (GE) crops and conventionally bred crops, nor did it find conclusive cause-and-effect evidence of environmental problems from the GE crops," the scientists said in a summary of the report.


Biologists began genetically engineering crops in the 1980s, largely with the intention of increasing yield through characteristics such as resistance to common pests. GM foods became commercially available in the 1990s.

Around 12 percent of commercial crops planted last year were GM, amounting to almost 180 million hectares, according to NAS. They are viewed as particularly useful in harsh climates and are widespread across the Americas, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Brazil — but still fairly rare in Europe.

Herbicide-resistant varieties include maize, soybean and cotton; insect-resistant crops include eggplant and poplar.

The global market for GM food-safety testing is expected to reach $1.9 billion by 2020, according to a report last month from Research and Markets, a market research provider.

Slow adoption in Europe is in part due to public concern that GM crops cause environmental damage, such as decreased insect and plant populations, and human health problems on consumption, such as higher cancer risks and allergies.

"Regulating authorities should be proactive in communicating information to the public about how emerging genetic-engineering technologies or their products might be regulated and how new regulatory methods may be used … Policy regarding GE crops has scientific, legal, and social dimensions and not all issues can be answered by science alone," the NAS report summary said on Tuesday.

Concerns for policymakers include if and how to support farmers of GM crops.

"GE crops have generally had favorable economic outcomes for producers in early years of adoption, but enduring and widespread gains will depend on institutional support and access to profitable local and global markets, especially for resource-poor farmers," NAS concluded.

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