Anyone interested in food—that should capture most of us—who pays any attention at all to the news is likely to be at least vaguely aware of the controversies about so-called “GMOs” or “GM food” ginned up by professional propagandists and those who profit from fear-based marketing. There is, in fact, among competent scientists, no real controversy. These crops and the feed and foods they provide are every bit as safe, and sometimes safer than foods produced by other methods (e.g., organic) and this is acknowledged by a staggering preponderance of scientific opinion around the world (here’s a lovely graphic summarizing global scientific consensus, and another one). Indeed, the scientific support lined up behind the safety of GM crops and foods makes the support for anthropogenic global warming look weak by comparison.
But the professional opposition to agricultural biotechnology and the vested interests bankrolling it have succeeded in scaring enough scientifically illiterate politicians to lead to indefensible and prejudicial regulations (i.e. impediments to innovation and improvements in agricultural sustainability). There are many examples around the world, but the poster child for this unholy success is the European Union Directives and Regulations governing agricultural biotechnology products. They were ill-considered at birth more than two decades ago, and every day of accumulated experience and data since then has further undermined the sandy foundation on which they were built. They are now, like Wile. E. Coyote, suspended over the abyss, needing only to look down to begin the inevitable plummet.
Though not often given much play by popular media, there is no shortage of authoritative scientific voices that courageously follow the data where they lead. In the United Kingdom, one such Gibraltar of reason is the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE). Well known to those who follow these issues, ACRE is an independent advisory board of leading scientists and technical experts, whose main function is to give statutory advice on the risks to human health and the environment posed by the release and marketing of “GMOs”.
On August 27, ACRE released three studies examining the structure and basis of the EU regulatory system for crops and foods improved through biotechnology.
Taken together, these reports demonstrate the existing EU regulatory system to be without justification in science, data, or experience. ACRE concludes that, as presently administered, this regime is counterproductive to reducing or managing risks, and discourages investment and innovation needed to address challenges to sustainable agriculture. Furthermore, ACRE finds that the assumptions on which EU regulations are based are contradicted by the patterns of genetic variation found abundantly in nature, and by the natural processes of genetic exchange and evolution through which they came to pass.
The three reports are:
- Towards an evidence-based regulatory system for GMOs (http://www.defra.gov.uk/acre/files/Report-1.pdf).
- Why a modern understanding of genomes demonstrates the need for a new regulatory system for GMOs (http://www.defra.gov.uk/acre/files/Report-2.pdf ).
- Towards a more effective approach to environmental risk assessment of GM crops under current EU legislation (http://www.defra.gov.uk/acre/files/Report-3.pdf