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Citizen's View: Lack of scientific consensus creates serious flaw in the debate over GMOs

There is a serious flaw at the center of the current public debate about genetically modified food crops, which is the contention that there is a scientific consensus about the safety of GMOs.

A study published in 2013 and endorsed by 300 scientists, researchers and legal experts analyzed all the research cited by both supporters and detractors of GMO use, and found that no such consensus exists, either for or against GMOs. A summary of this study can be found at www.enveurope.com/content/27/1/4.

Rigorous assessment of GMO safety has been hampered by a lack of funding of independent research. What little has been done has shown toxic effects on GMO-fed animals, but has not been followed up by further research to confirm or refute the initial findings. Independent research has been further constrained by proprietary claims of intellectual property rights and the refusal by biotech companies to grant access to research materials to scientists who would not sign contracts containing unacceptable industry controls over publication of their research.

There is no consensus largely because there is not enough credible scientific research on which to base a consensus.

There are a number of studies that have been done, but they’ve been primarily funded by the companies that market the seeds, and thus are suspect enough that most international scientific and regulatory bodies have recommended that further independent research be done to determine the safety of these products before they are brought to market. But out of this suspect research, the companies that stand to profit from the sales of GMOs have spun a story of consensus that is not supported by research that meets accepted scientific protocol.

This story has been repeated over and over until it has been widely accepted as fact. Despite this, a large percentage of the American public supports the labeling of genetically modified foods. The lack of consensus about the safety of GMOs, plus the desire on the part of the public to know what is in the foods they eat, combine to make the bill that Congressman Kurt Schrader cosponsored, H.R. 1599, premature.

In his recent letter in The Review (“Regulating GMOs,” July 30), Schrader repeats the mantra that “Study after study has shown GMOs to be safe and healthy.” As the analysis cited above demonstrates, this is far from the truth. His bill would nullify existing laws and prevent states from passing legislation to require labeling of GMO foods, while establishing a meaningless voluntary certification process.

The congressman contends that, as a member of the Horticulture and Biotechnology Subcommittee and a former organic farmer, he has done his homework, yet he does not demonstrate an understanding of the difference between hybridization and genetic engineering, or a clear view of the failure of genetically modified crops to live up to any of the advantages that they were developed to provide.

Rather than laws based on fatally flawed arguments and uncritical acceptance of industry contentions, the public deserves independent, transparent research to settle the still unanswered questions about the safety of GMO foods.

Jan Castle is a Lake Oswego resident and co-founder of the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network. This column is a reflection of her own views and not necessarily those of the organization.


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