After two decades of studies, researchers have found no evidence that genetically modified crops are unsafe to eat, but said the evolution of resistance in both insects and weeds — caused by growing these crops — could be a serious problem.
According to a new report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, it is not possible to make “sweeping generalizations about the benefits and risks of genetically engineered (GE) crops.”
Committee chair Fred Gould, co-director of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University, said the wealth of data and opinions created a “confusing landscape” and that the new report offers an unbiased review.
“We dug deeply into the literature to take a fresh look at the data on GE and conventionally bred crops,” Gould said.
A long-standing controversy
The study comes after controversial conversations and legislative action on labeling food products that contain genetically engineered characteristics. The committee focused on corn, soybean and cotton, which represent the majority of commercial GM crops grown in the United States.
The 20 committee members reviewed at least 900 publications and heard from dozens of witnesses.
Their report concludes, “While recognizing the inherent difficulty of detecting subtle or long-term effects on health or the environment, the study committee found no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks to human health between current commercially available genetically engineered crops and conventionally bred crops, nor did it find conclusive cause-and-effect evidence of environmental problems from the GE crops.”
The study also found no links “between any disease or chronic conditions and the consumption of GE foods.”
“It was tiring but worthwhile, because it really brought to our attention a lot of studies we would not have looked at," Dominique Brossard, chair of the department of Life Sciences Communication at the University of Wisconsin, told NBC News. “Our process was really, really inclusive and attempted to address as much as possible the concerns that were raised by public comments.”
Experts not involved in the project said the report offers a “sober assessment.”
“The inescapable conclusion, after reading the report, is the GE crops are pretty much just crops,” said Wayne Parrott, professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at the University of Georgia.
Ruth MacDonald, chair of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University, told NBC News that she hoped this new report could “reduce public concern about the safety of GE foods.”
"This is yet another document that adds to the long list of those that have reached the same conclusion, that there is no evidence that GE foods are a risk to human health," she said.