In the wake of prominent media reports about supposed scientific agreement on the safety of genetically engineered food, including a cover story in National Geographic that equates concerns about GMOs with climate change denial, U.S. Right to Know is calling on media to accurately report that the science on GMOs is contradictory, unsettled, and has been largely controlled by corporations that profit from GMO seeds and the pesticides that go with them.
“Unfortunately, many members of the media, and even some scientists, have been snookered by PR firms about a supposed scientific consensus on GMOs that doesn’t exist,” said Stacy Malkan, media director of U.S. Right to Know.
Seedy Business, a recent report by U.S. Right to Know, outlines how agrichemical firms have spent more than $100 million since 2012 on political and PR campaigns to shift the media narrative on GMOs. In a video removed from the Internet, the public relations firm Ketchum bragged about doubling positive media coverage on GMOs.
For an accurate picture of the science, U.S. Right to Know urged journalists to read a January 24 statement published in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe — signed by 300 scientists, physicians and scholars — that asserts there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs.
The claim of scientific consensus on GMOs frequently repeated in the media is “an artificial construct that has been falsely perpetuated,” the peer-reviewed statement said.
Entitled “No Scientific Consensus on GMO Safety,” the statement does not take a position on whether GMOs are unsafe or safe. Rather, it cites a concerted effort by GMO seed developers and some scientists, commentators and journalists to construct the claim that there is a “scientific consensus” on GMO safety, and that debate on the topic is “over.”
That claim “…is misleading and misrepresents or outright ignores the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of scientific opinions among scientists on this issue,” according to the statement.
The statement raises the following points in objection to the consensus of safety claim:
There is no consensus in the science. A comprehensive review of peer-reviewed GMO animal feeding studies found roughly an equal number of research groups raising concerns about genetically engineered foods and those suggesting GMOs were as safe and nutritious as conventional foods. The review also found that most studies finding GMOs foods the same as conventional foods were performed by biotechnology companies or their associates.
There are no epidemiological studies investigating potential health effects of GMO food on human health. With no epidemiological studies, claims that “trillions of GMO meals” have been eaten with no ill effects have no scientific basis. Without such studies, which have been used to determine the effects of factors from fats to smoking, it is not possible to know whether GMOs are causing harm such as increases in known diseases, especially over the long term.
GMO studies are frequently mischaracterized as showing safety. For example, the EU Research Project, which has been internationally cited as providing evidence of GMO safety, was not designed to test safety and provides no reliable evidence of safety. Another example is the false claim that “hundreds of studies” listed on the biotechnology website Biofortified demonstrate GMO safety; in fact, many of the studies on that list do not address safety concerns at all, and several of the studies raise serious concerns.
International agreements show widespread recognition of risks posed by GMO foods and crops. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and UN’s Codex Alimentarius share a precautionary approach to GMO crops and foods, in that they agree that genetic engineering differs from conventional breeding and that safety assessments should be required before GM organisms are used in food or released into the environment.
Claims that government and scientific organizations endorse safety are often exaggerated or inaccurate. For example, an expert panel of the Royal Society of Canada said it is “scientifically unjustifiable” to presume that GM foods are safe without rigorous scientific testing. A report by the British Medical Association concluded that “many unanswered questions remain” about the long-term effects of GMOs on human health and the environment, and that “safety concerns cannot, as yet, be dismissed completely on the basis of information currently available.” Moreoever, the positions of some prominent scientific organizations have been misrepresented or opposed by members, further highlighting the lack of consensus among scientists.
There is no consensus on environmental impacts of GMOs, and many concerns have been raised about increased herbicide use, potential health impacts and the rapid spread of herbicide-resistant weeds.
The joint statement concludes, “…the totality of scientific research outcomes in the field of GM crop safety is nuanced; complex; often contradictory or inconclusive; confounded by researchers’ choices, assumptions, and funding sources; and, in general, has raised more questions than it has currently answered.”
Decisions on whether to continue and expand GMO crops should “…be supported by strong scientific evidence…obtained in a manner that is honest, ethical, rigorous, independent, transparent, and sufficiently diversified to compensate for bias,” rather than based on “misleading and misrepresentative claims by an internal circle of likeminded stakeholders that a ‘scientific consensus’ exists on GMO safety.”