Genetically-engineered crops (GMOs) are crops that have had their genes tweaked so as to facilitate their growth in agriculture and despite the advantages that changes like increased insect resistance offer, many people are worried this genetic tinkering could have catastrophic unintended consequences.
However, a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has found GMOs are safe to eat and do not affect the environment.
The report noted that new methods, such as making small genetic modifications using genome-editing, are clouding the difference between genetic engineering and common plant breeding, making the present regulatory system outdated. The report advocates for a new system that brings more focus on the features of the crop, compared to the way it was produced.
Do GMOs improve crop yields?
The study team also said it isn’t clear just how much genetic technique are increasing farmers’ yields.
“Despite industry claims, these crops are clearly not the answer to world hunger,” Michael Hansen, senior scientist at anti-GMO Consumers Union, said in a statement.
Authors of the new report conceded that the issue of GMOs is highly complex and does not lend itself to easy answers.
“We received impassioned requests to give the public a simple, general, authoritative answer about (GMO) crops,” Fred Gould, chairman of the committee that compiled the report from North Carolina State University, wrote in the report’s preface. “Given the complexity of (GMO) issues, we did not see that as appropriate.”
The study team reviewed over 1,000 research studies, considered accounts from 80 witnesses in public meetings, and reviewed 700 comments sent in by the public.
The committee targeted its review on GMOs that account for the majority of modified plants grown in the United States, like corn containing bacterial genes that make the crops resistant to insects.
The report said foods produced from such crops do not seem to pose health risks, according to chemical studies of the foods and on animal feeding reports, though it said many animal analyses are too small to supply company outcomes.
Many other regulatory, scientific and health organizations have also concluded the foods are safe. A 2010 report by the National Academies, which are scientific groups set up by Congress,, found genetic engineering offers environmental and economic benefits to farmers.
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