Nobel laureates sign letter challenging Greenpeace on GM foods

The champions of genetic modification have been given support by more than 100 Nobel laureates who have signed their names to an open letter challenging Greenpeace to end its opposition to genetically modified food.

The signatories urge Greenpeace to “recognize the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies, and abandon their campaign against ‘GMOs’ in general and Golden Rice in particular”.

The full list of signatories can be found here.

Their letter closes by asking:

“How many poor people in the world must die before we consider this a ‘crime against humanity?’”

The Science Media Centre, reporting on the open letter here, reminds its readers that Greenpeace has campaigned extensively in recent years against the use of Golden Rice as a “poster child for the GE crop industry”. Greenpeace says it has been “hyped as a high-tech, quick fix solution” to nutritional deficiency in an attempt to increase acceptance of genetically modified crops worldwide.

In May, the US National Academies of Sciences released an extensive report on GM crops finding no substantiated evidence of risks to human health.

More information on this report, including New Zealand expert commentary on it, is available here.

The Science Media Centre has gathered the following reaction on the open letter from New Zealand experts:

Prof Peter Dearden, Director, Genetics Otago, University of Otago, comments:

“I agree with the authors of the letter. It is time for us to stop believing that all GM is bad and to see that the benefits can far outweigh the risks.

“This is not to say we should have no regulation, but that such regulation should be evidence based and not coloured by the view that GM is necessarily bad.”

Prof Barry Scott, Institute of Fundamental Sciences, Massey University, comments:

“Endorsement of the US National Academies report on GM crops by over 100 Nobel laureates adds considerable weight to the evidence presented in that report and challenges the extreme view of Greenpeace of total opposition to the use of GM crops.

“The new technologies associated with gene and genome editing further challenges the irrationality of such an extreme view given changes can now be made to the genome that are similar to those made by non-GM methods such as radiation treatment.”

 

 

McGuinness Institute says its time for NZ to revisit the genetic modification debate

The McGuinness Institute’s latest report assesses 40 years of GM public policy in New Zealand and concludes there is more work to do

The report is titled An Overview of Genetic Modification in New Zealand 1973–2013: The first forty years.

The institute’s chief executive, Wendy McGuinness, said the report found New Zealand, strategically, is no further ahead on public policy regarding outdoor use of GMOs than it was when the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification reported its findings in 2001.

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Comparison of agriculture in North America and Europe raises questions about the value of GM

Researchers led by Canterbury University Professor Jack Heinemann have announced further findings that challenge the benefits of genetic modification.

This time their analysis deals with agricultural productivity.

They report finding (see here) that the biotechnologies used in North American staple crop production are lowering yields and increasing pesticide use, compared to western Europe.

A conspicuous difference is the adoption of genetically modified/engineered (GM) seed in North America, and the use of non-GM seed in Europe.

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A new generation of GM crops might fend off Frankenfoods fears

The next wave of genetically modified crops is making its way to market—and might just ease concerns over “Frankenfoods”, according to a report in Nature reproduced in Scientific American (here).

Anastasia Bodnar, a biotechnologist with Biology Fortified, is quoted as saying that when the first genetically modified (GM) organisms were being developed for the farm, they were promoted as futuristic, ultra-nutritious crops that would bring exotic produce to supermarkets and help to feed a hungry world.

But the technology so far has bestowed most of its benefits on agribusiness, largely through crops modified to withstand weed-killing chemicals or resist insect pests. This has allowed farmers to increase yields and spray less pesticide than they might have otherwise.

Some of the new generation of GM crops now making their way from laboratory to market will tackle new problems, from apples that stave off discoloration to ‘Golden Rice’ and bright-orange bananas fortified with nutrients to improve the diets of people in the poorest countries.

Other next-generation crops will be created using advanced genetic-manipulation techniques that allow high-precision editing of the plant’s own genome.

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European food safety authorities reject GM corn that can be used in NZ

Europe’s food safety regulator has rejected a form of GM corn that is legal to use in New Zealand foods, according to a press release from the Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety at the University of Canterbury.

The same product was approved by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) in 2010.

The new GM corn’s rejection by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) upholds a standard set by the international food safety guidance body known as Codex. This requires assessments of GM foods to be made with reference to the conventional food it was derived from.

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UK Govt’s science chief goes out to bat for GM crops to help feed the world

The British Government’s new chief scientific adviser, Sir Mark Walport, says the case for genetically modified (GM) food is getting stronger because of its importance as a tool to feed a growing global population.

One month into his new job, Sir Mark has said he will aim to offer ministers the best and most accurate advice on all aspects of science policy, including the introduction of GM crops.

The Independent reports on what he said here.

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