New study highlights the failure of an ageing GM technology

GM technology failure

A new US report out yesterday (17 May 16) from the National Academies of the Sciences, Engineering and Medicine suggests genetically modified (GM) crops do not pose a risk to human health and the environment, but that  more research is urgently needed  to test any future GM products to ensure they are safe. The report also reveals there is no evidence GM crops are increasing yields in the US.


The Soil Association commented in The Independent that this does not change anything regarding GM. Emma Hockridge, head of policy for farming & land use said; "This detailed report highlights that GM is an old and failing technology. Despite huge promises of all kinds of benefits, and many years of huge investment, the only genetically engineered characteristics that have been put into widespread use are those that allow a crop to withstand the application of a herbicide or be toxic to insect pests. The only commercial GM crops are still just maize, soybean and cotton.

Golden rice is mentioned as an example of a potentially beneficial GM crop, yet despite 15 years of hype, golden rice is still no-where near ready and cheaper, more effective dietary interventions are already being deployed with success. The report highlights that there have been no long epidemiological studies which have directly addressed the human health impact of GM food consumption.  The report strongly rebuts the argument that GM crops are needed  to feed the world by concluding that there is no evidence that GM crops have changed the rate of increase in yields. The Soil Association agrees with the recommendation for pre-market human and environmental safety assessments for a wider range of breeding techniques.”

Since genetically modified crops were first introduced in the late 1990s, a series of reports from the scientific establishment around the world have been produced – all of which claimed that GM is completely safe, that the public have no cause for concern, and that ‘in future’ GM crops would ‘feed the world’, delivering higher yields and healthier food. The recent report from the US National Academies of Science is the latest in this long line of similar studies.  In fact, we have had nearly 20 years of no increased yields, the development of weeds resistant to multiple herbicides and resistant insects, all grudgingly acknowledged by the report, but it still promises all will miraculously come right in future – a triumph of ideological support for GM over actual experience.

That experience includes the endless promises and the repeated failures of the one ‘healthier’ GM crop that has been in development for nearly 20 years, Golden Rice, with enhanced Vitamin A levels.  This was promised as an immediate cause for blindness in the late 1990s, but is still not working – the latest version yields less than existing rice varieties – and it is still unproven, and years away from possible use according to those developing it. In the meantime other solutions have made huge inroads into curing blindness in countries like the Philippines.

However, this report does differs from its predecessors in some crucial ways. It is much more tentative in its support for GM than we have seen before, and far from ‘leaving the scaremongers nowhere to hide’, it makes important concessions to the case long made by scientists and others opposed to GM crops. Crucially, the report found that there is no evidence to support the pro-GM claim that the technology increases yield - conclusively rebutting the ill-conceived argument that GM is the only way we can feed the world.

For American consumers, an astonishing conclusion of this US study that it is neutral on the labelling of GM foods.  The USA is the only major market for GM food in the world where GM food does not have to be labelled.  The biggest threat to the GM industry would be to allow American consumers to know what they’re eating. GM food sales depend on secrecy, and all previous US reports from similar bodies have argued against labelling.  This report also departs from the usual pro-GM rhetoric by recommending that GM crops must be subject to proper safety testing – something which has never existed in the US, and hardly happens in Europe.

This report reflects what is the emerging consensus outside the scientific establishment - that GM crops have failed, and are on the way out.