After analyzing 900 studies, 700 comments from the public and 80 testimonies, the non-partisan National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicines ruled that GMOs appear to be safe for human consumption and for the environment. This decision will likely influence the meeting of G7 countries on May 26-27 when the issues of food security and global nutrition are explored.
The committee of 20 scientists was apprehensive about making sweeping claims, because of how intensely polarizing the topic is, but found no evidence that GMOs pose a risk.
In fact, they said that the current discussion is far too simplistic. The field of GMOs is so vast that the dichotomy of “pro-GMO” and “anti-GMO” overlooks nuance that blurs distinctions.
At its core, “genetically modified organism” means an organism whose genome is altered to produce, or suppress, a specific trait.
This is really not that different from the way farmers have selectively bred (or engineered) plants since the dawn of agriculture--it’s merely an accelerated and more precise form of engineering.
There are GMO plants that receive genes from other species and GMO plants that are minutely altered with no foreign insertions made.
In most cases, only a single gene is altered in a genome that contains thousands of genes.
Plants can be genetically bred to resist pests, reducing the need for pesticides and herbicides.
Plants can be bred to have more nutrients, ensuring that people have healthier diets.
Plants can be bred to better withstand drought or floods, helping farmers cope with climate change.
Most opponents to GMOs have a gut aversion to the concept. The idea of bringing something that happens out in the fields into a sterile lab strikes many as disturbing.
Other opponents think that GMOs will have harmful effects on the environment because they’re new plants that haven’t been grown in the wild before.
Still others fear that GMOs are simply a way for agricultural giants like Monsanto to gain control over all seeds, leading to world dominance and creating a permanently indebted farmer class.
These are all reasonable fears and criticisms--up to a point.
A plant that’s altered in a lab is no more likely to disrupt an ecosystem than a plant that’s altered through selective breeding. Plus, so much of what humans already consume, especially medicine, is rigorously tested and altered in labs.
Many GMOs are funded by NGOs that work towards food security and make seeds freely available. Plus, the emergence of GMOs does not automatically eliminate existing seeds, which hedges against corporate dominance of the market.
And the greatest irony of the entire debate is that while GMOs have been met with unrelenting scorn, consumers still buy foods that are grown soaked in pesticides and herbicides and they still buy processed foods that come from all sorts of laboratory experiments.
Both chemical-soaked crops and processed foods are more harmful than GMOs.
As more scientists come out in favor of GMOs and dispel myths, the global conversation will change.
Currently, many governments restrict the growth and and sale of GMOs.
But when the benefits of GMOs are made clear--greater food security, more nutritious diets--the resistance will fall away.
Further momentum can be added when G7 leaders gather in two weeks.
At the end of the event, maybe the GMO debate will move from whether or not they should be allowed to, instead, how can everyone in the world receive a nutritious diet?