NAS Study on GMOS: End of Debate?
Agricultural biotechnology (commonly referred to as “GMOs,” “genetic engineering,” or “biotech”) has been the topic of much debate over the past few years, and most of the discussion has been about whether companies should be required to label products containing GMOs. Congress is currently working to create bipartisan legislation that would require mandatory nationwide labeling, fixing the issue of patchwork individual state labeling laws, such as the one going into effect in July in Vermont, which requires labels on products containing genetically engineered ingredients. The Vermont law – Act 120 –will take effect July 1, 2016. Consumers and legislators have pushed for a GMO label on foods made through biotechnology due to fear of unknown health and environmental effects and the right to know what is in our food, such as infertility or cancer in humans and resistance in plants.
In order to address some concerns and rhetoric around biotechnology, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a report, “Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects,” on May 17. The NAS conducted a retrospective examination of the alleged positive and adverse effects of biotech crops in order to anticipate what emerging genetic-engineering holds for the future. The NAS panel, which was comprised of 200 independent experts with no direct ties to the agriculture industry, reviewed 900 studies comparing the US and EU and found that there is no evidence to suggest GMOs pose any adverse risks to human health or the environment. The report discusses several uncertainties about the economic, agronomic, health and safety impacts of biotech crops and food, while also making recommendations to fill gaps in safety assessments, increase regulatory clarity, and improve innovations in and access to GMO technology.
While the NAS found no adverse environmental or health risks, the study is not meant to end the discussion about biotechnology or its effects on the environment and human health. While there are a couple of varieties of GMOs currently in the marketplace, such as corn, soybeans, and papayas, many biotech traits have not yet left the laboratory. The NAS study stated that, “available in fewer than 10 crops as of 2015, varieties with G.E. herbicide resistance, insect resistance, or both were grown on about 12 percent of the world’s planted cropland.” The NAS, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and other research agencies will need to continue to conduct and review studies regarding the health impact of food biotechnology, as well as its impact on the ecosystem.
As the world population and obesity continue to increase and water supply and farmable land further decrease, researchers and companies will look towards science to help us solve some of these monumental issues. However, it is essential that systems and regulations are put in place to help us continue to assess the safety of scientific innovations, such as food biotechnology, and help consumers better understand what is in their food and help them make informed choices.