Absence of proof
The new study analyzes a dossier by the agribusiness conglomerate Monsanto, submitted to the Brazilian government, and also carries out a comprehensive review of the scientific literature available from other sources.
His focus is on Monsanto's GM soy known as Roundup Ready 2 Intacta Pro, which is grown in Brazil, and also licensed in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, and which is probably also present in Bolivia due to illegal introductions from neighbor countries.
The report, entitled "Assessment of the Sustainability of Roundup Tolerant Genetically Modified Crops" concludes that, due to large gaps in the scientific literature, it is not possible to give a scientific verdict on their safety.
Monsanto's file, the report concludes, demonstrates a number of methodological weaknesses, and highlights the problem of incomplete information and research on GM crops in the available literature.
According to Monsanto, genetically modified organisms do not harm human or animal health, and therefore do not have any adverse effect on crops and the environment.
But according to the new Norwegian study:
"Contrary to this assertion, the literature offers indications of harmful and damaging effects for the environment and for health (both animal and human), as well as for socioeconomic conditions, especially in the medium and long term."
The new study is written by Georgina Catacora-Vargas, a researcher at the Agroecology Center (AGRUCO) at the Faculty of Agriculture, Livestock and Forest Sciences of the Universidad Mayor de San Simón, Cochabamba, Bolivia. Catacora-Vargas was until recently a technical biosafety advisor to the Vice Ministry of Environment, Water and Forest Management of Bolivia.
"The safety statements of GM crops are based primarily on the absence of evidence of harm in specific research tests, rather than actual evidence of safety," said Catacora-Vargas: "The absence of evidence of harm is too low a standard for adequate protection of human health and the environment ... Moreover, today, a large part of the research on transgenic crops is based on short-term studies that have inherent methodological weaknesses to detect subtle but significant effects that materialize in the long term.
Another common weakness - as indicated in my report - is the lack of sufficient analytical rigor to draw meaningful conclusions ”.
According to their report, the large number of studies that indicate positive impacts of transgenic crops are questionable due to these “methodological limitations”, which are largely ignored
"Possible long-term effects" and use a "reduced and repeatable set of indicators." Most of this research does not compare transgenic crops with other production systems, such as IPM (integrated pest management), organic and agroecological; Rather, it focuses exclusively on “single trait” transgenic plants rather than “the combinatorial and additive effects of multiple traits of transgenic crops”; and it is based on experiments that do not adequately consider "real field conditions." "These limitations," the Norwegian report concludes, "partly explain the types of findings reported by the applicant [Monsanto]: all of them without showing possible adverse effects in contrast to a significant body of literature."
Monsanto spokesman Marcos Buckingham rejected the report's findings.
"We are confident that GM crops can be and are being properly evaluated for their safety and that GM crops used by farmers are just as safe and in some cases safer than conventional crops and foods," he said.
According to an EU-funded research compendium published by the European Commission in 2010, “there is, to date, no scientific evidence that associates GMOs with greater risks to the environment or to the safety of food and plants and conventional organisms. "
Buckingham added that GM crops are "designed to be safe" by scientists and plant breeders, and that national and international regulators whose job it is to "check that a crop is safe to protect consumers" have certified GMOs.
“Since GM crops were first grown on a large scale 19 years ago in the mid-1990s, billions of foods, including ingredients from these crops, have been consumed by people around the world. No health effects have been observed - GM crops have a safety record, "the Monsanto spokesman said.
The author of the new study, however, disagrees. At the request of the Norwegian Environment Agency, the report focused on the analysis of herbicide-tolerant traits of Monsanto's Intacta crops.
"The literature contains a number of recent scientific studies that indicate possible adverse effects," Catacora-Vargas said, noting that the insect resistance in Monsanto's comment only refers to Intacta products.
By selectively focusing on studies of only a few impacts of the harvest, Monsanto and other biotech companies are misleading the public. He added that a 2010 EU compendium, which is also cited in the new Norwegian study, “is one of the few with specific research on Intacta. These few documents are insufficient to affirm that Intacta is safe for the environment and human health. If the comprehensive analysis of the sustainability of transgenic crops' is incomplete, it is only because the available knowledge about the safety of transgenic crops and sustainability is also incomplete. There are more unknowns than evidence about the safety of transgenic crops. "
Monsanto badge condemned by WHO
The launch of the new report from Norway coincided with a wave of bad news for the biotech food industry. A costly two-year research trial to test the ability of GM wheat to repel aphids (also known as aphids), conducted by Rothamsted Research, failed spectacularly to produce the desired results. Most GM crops contain Monsanto's proprietary Roundup Ready trait.
But in March, an evaluation by the WHO, published in The Lancet, found that Roundup is "probably carcinogenic to humans."
The study evaluated the evidence for human exposure to Roundup since 2001, largely from agricultural workers in the US, Canada and Sweden.
It found "limited evidence of human carcinogenicity for Hodgkin lymphoma," along with "compelling evidence that glyphosate can also cause cancer in laboratory animals." According to Dr Helen Wallace of the Genewatch UK group, Monsanto's GM crops "are now failing in the field due to the growth of RoundUp herbicide resistant super weeds that are sprayed on these genetically modified plants."
Despite the "high failure rate of experimental GM crops," Genewatch UK notes ongoing efforts in "collaboration between government funded scientists, ministers and industry on a public relations strategy for try to rehabilitate GM crops in Britain and weaken regulations. " Large amounts of public money and industry incentivize scientists and academics to produce research on transgenic crops that favors the industry, while minimizing the contrary evidence.
The author of the new Norwegian study, Catacora-Vargas, said that given the current level of knowledge “it is premature to say that GM crops are safe. Currently, the more research we do on transgenics, the more questions and uncertainties appear ”.
He added that non-GMO-based practices such as low-input agriculture, different agroecological approaches and even peasant and family farming are not receiving enough attention from governments.
These non-genetically modified production systems “have demonstrated their ability to produce adequate volumes of healthy and safe food, as well as being less demanding on energy and resources.
We still have a long way to go in designing the scientific research that will provide the necessary evidence to make justified claims of the safety of GM crops and their benefits compared to other production systems. "
These results add to growing public concern about the addition of GM crops to the food chain, and the role of industry in suppressing scientific research that contradicts their claims.
This article in its English version was published by Nafeez Ahmed on Medium.com Insurgence Intelligence.