Genetically modified crops are as safe to eat as their conventional counterparts and have not been proven to negatively impact the environment, according to a highly anticipated report.
However, the study finds the controversial technology has not, as proponents have claimed, increased the rate of crop yields and has resulted in insect and weed resistance that has become a “major agricultural problem.”
So if you’re looking for something that might settle the debate over genetically engineered crops once and for all, keep searching.
“A major sort of message from our report is that it’s not possible to make sweeping generalizations about the benefits and the risks of all GE crops,” said North Carolina State University entomology professor Fred Gould, chair of the 20-person committee behind the study, during a presentation Tuesday.
The report offers “a little something for everyone“ — from the most avid supporters to the harshest critics, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Unsurprisingly, each side was quick to cherrypick the findings.
The roughly 400-page report that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released Tuesday is the result of a two-year study. Gould said it was motivated by “claims and research that extol either the benefits or the risks posed by currently genetically engineered crops,” which has created a “confusing landscape for the public and policy makers.”
“There are people who are saying that without genetically engineered crops, we’re never going to be able to feed the world in 2050 and there are people who say that eating a genetically engineered crop will cause sterility or will cause cancer,” he said. “We hope that at least our study will open up a conversation about the information that’s there and what the evidence is.”
After combing through some 900 publications on technology for genetically modified organisms and reviewing 700 public comments, the committee concluded that the evidence suggests GMOs pose no substantial risk to human or environmental health. However, the committee acknowledged the “inherent difficulty of detecting subtle or long-term effects on health or the environment,” they wrote in an accompanying statement.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a statement to the Chicago Tribune that the report “adds to the long list of research that shows genetically engineered foods are safe.” He also expressed U.S. Department of Agriculture’s willingness to work with Congress to “prevent further confusion” and develop a nationwide system for informing the public about what’s in their food products, without increasing costs or giving a false impression about safety.
The debate over whether genetically engineered foods should be appropriately labeled remains a hot-button issue. Several major food producers have begun labeling products on a national scale in response to a Vermont law, passed in 2014, which requires all genetically engineered food sold in the state to be labeled by July 1.
The U.S. Senate blocked an industry-backed bill in March that would have preempted state laws, specifically Vermont’s, by establishing voluntary standards for labeling genetically modified foods.
The committee opted not to take a firm stance on labeling. Instead, it said that while it “does not believe that mandatory labeling of foods with GE content is justified to protect public health,” the matter “involves social and economic choices that go beyond technical assessments of health or environmental safety.”