London, July 21 (Reuters): Genetically modified crops pose a very low risk to human health and foods derived from them are probably as safe as those made from conventional varieties, a major British scientific study has concluded.
“On balance, the panel concludes that the risks to human health from GM crops currently on the market are very low,” the report of the government-backed study, published today, said.
The report said “there have been no verifiable untoward toxic or nutritionally deleterious effects” on human health, but did not say all biotech crops were completely safe.
The 24-member scientific panel responsible for the “GM Science Review” said more research was needed, particularly as new varieties entered the market.
“It is clear that gaps in our knowledge and uncertainties will become more complex if the range of plants and traits introduced increases,” the GM Science Review Panel, led by chief government scientist David King, said.
The report largely dismissed arguments by green groups that GM crops would cross-pollinate with conventional plants to create “superweeds” that would blight the countryside and taint organically-grown varieties.
GM crops are “very unlikely to invade our countryside or become problematic plants,” it said.
Some other scientists, not directly involved in compiling the study, backed its findings.
“This report is yet another piece of scientific evidence that shows GM food is safe,” Johnjoe McFadden, a specialist in molecular genetics at UK-based Surrey University, said.
But opponents of the technology say they want more evidence before the government decides whether the gene-spliced crops should be grown in Britain.
“The limited evidence available indicates that there could still be negative effects,” Gundula Azeez, policy manager at organic lobby group the Soil Association said. “It would be irresponsible of the government to expose the public to these risks by approving GM crops.”
Britain’s consumer watchdog, the Consumers’ Association, agreed.
“Today’s findings are not a clean bill of health for GM,” a spokeswoman said. “While the report says risk to human health of existing GM crops is low, it highlights that risks remain for future products,” she added.
Environmental lobby group Friends of the Earth also called for more research. “There are considerable scientific uncertainties about the long term effects that GM food and crops may have on human health and the environment — this is because there has not been enough research into the potential impacts,” the group’s GM campaigner Pete Riley said.
The commercial benefits of GM crops were largely dismissed in a government Strategy Unit study published last week, which concluded that there were few economic reasons for introducing them into Britain, at least over the short term.
Controversy surrounding the technology is unlikely to fade away soon, with the results of field-scale trials of GM crops and the outcome of a government-sponsored public debate expected in September.