Genetically engineered crops are safe and socially responsible
THE Star-Bulletin rightly called for the governor to seek expert advice to help determine the future of crop biotechnology in Hawaii "Genetically modified crops need scrutiny," Our Opinion, April 6). A gathering of diverse representation from health, agriculture and other sciences would confirm that the adoption of crop biotechnology is socially responsible, beneficial to everyone and, above all, safe.
Unfortunately, the Star-Bulletin's opinion implied the contrary when it incorrectly stated that there is no universal agreement on the claim that "genetically modified products are any different from conventional crops." Apparently the Star-Bulletin overlooked the huge body of knowledge confirming that biotech crops are substantially equivalent to traditional crops.
More than 30 regulatory agencies in 21 countries plus prominent scientific authorities in the United States and throughout the world have stated that biotech crops are as safe as conventional crops. These include the American Medical Association, American College of Nutrition, American Farm Bureau, U.S. Food & Drug Administration, National Academy of Sciences of the United States and seven other nations, French Academy of Medicine, Royal Society representing scientists of the United Kingdom and the World Health Organization, to name a few.
Even a report by the historically skeptical European Commission has come out in favor of biotech crops. Its 2001 report on the safety of plant biotech (summarizing 15 years of research by 400 scientific teams) states, "Research on GM plants and derived products so far developed and marketed, following usual risk assessment procedures, has not shown any new risks on human health or the environment ... indeed, the use of more precise technology and greater regulatory scrutiny probably make them even safer than conventional plants and foods."
The World Health Organization's support of biotech crops is well documented and could not be clearer. As stated on its biotech Web site, "GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. ... No allergic effects have been found relative to GM foods currently on the market. And ... no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved."
Furthermore, WHO stated that "GM foods can increase crop yield, food quality and the diversity of foods which can be grown in a given area. This in turn can lead to better health and nutrition, which can then help to raise health and living standards."
WHO says safety studies must continue, but that's expected of any new food crop being introduced into the market -- conventional or otherwise.
Similarly, the National Academy of Sciences said, "To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population."
Therefore, the Star-Bulletin's inference that crop biotechnology is unsafe is not supported by the prevailing scientific data and basic facts.
It is true that limited, "low risk" errors have occurred, which have been or are in the process of being resolved. However, court rulings confirm that at no point has human health and safety been at risk. The biotech safety record shows the regulatory system is working. It will continually improve as policies and procedures evolve to keep pace with advancements in the technology.
Dissenting opinions are commonplace in all arenas of science. However, the vast majority of scientists draw their conclusions by taking into account the weight of evidence and the prevailing view of experts -- whose research shows that biotech crops are safe as food and feed, and safe for the environment.
The most telling fact is that during the 12 years that biotech crops have been commercially grown, people have consumed more than a trillion servings of food containing biotech ingredients. During this time there has not been one single documented case of an ecosystem being disrupted or a person made ill by these foods -- in Hawaii or anywhere in the world.
This safety record reflects well on industry's commitment to health and safety, as well as the coordinated regulation by the USDA, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Crop biotechnology helps reduce or eliminate the application of crop protection chemicals and increases the productivity of our farmlands and forests. New crops currently in development will help improve nutrition and human health. Those who adopt a zero tolerance attitude toward genetic modification threaten to deny everyone these benefits by playing on fear of the unknown and fear of change despite the huge body of knowledge that supports it.
The Hawaii Crop Improvement Association supports the Star-Bulletin's call for a gathering of experts to provide Gov. Linda Lingle with the criteria to formulate public policy. Meanwhile, the public debate on Hawaii's future for crop biotechnology is best served when the news media ensures accuracy and balance in opinions and news reports.
Sarah Styan is a research scientist at Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc.'s research center in Waimea. The Hawaii Crop Improvement Association is an industry association representing member seed producers.