National Public Radio focuses on 10 years of GMOs

The debate over genetically modified foods was the focus of a recent edition of National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation-Science Friday. The program, “10 Years of GMOs,” featured Michael Fernandez, Executive Director, Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist, Center for Food Safety, and Martina Newell-McGloughlin, UC Systemwide Biotechnology Research and Education Program, University of California, Davis.

Americans eating in the dark
After 10 years of GM crop production, most Americans know little about them, said Fernandez. “Most US consumers are unaware that this technology is ubiquitous in agriculture.” A 2005 survey by the Pew Initiative found that 58 percent of Americans remain unaware of GM foods. Americans that are aware of GM foods are cautious about them. “They have reservations and wonder if it’s a good idea,” said Fernandez.

If Americans were more aware of GM foods, they would have concerns about them, said Gurian-Sherman. In particular, US government oversight of GM crops and foods is inadequate. While proponents of biotechnology often say, “no one has gotten sick eating GM foods,” Gurian-Sherman said the reality is that no one is looking to see if GM foods are harming consumers. “There is no monitoring (of GM foods) to protect people from harm,” he said.

Newell-McGloughlin claimed that GM crops are “the most highly regulated crops ever.” She also referred to a study conducted in the European Union stating that GM technology is more precise than conventional breeding and produces food that is more safe than conventional.

“Very scary”
A caller into the program asked about the long-term environmental impacts of GM crops. Gurian-Sherman said field trials approved by the US Department of Agriculture do not report environmental impacts unless something is noticed. “I think it’s very scary,” responded the caller.

Another caller raised concerns about biotechnology companies suing organic farmers if patented GM seeds are found in their field. Newell-McGloughlin said that no US organic farmers have lost organic certification due to adventitious presence of GM material in their crops. She also said that many people focus on fear rather than the benefits of GM crops.

Gurian-Sherman said consumer concerns are justified because the US Food and Drug Administration does not assess the safety of GM foods and the technology is risky.

“When you insert genes from different organisms (into food plants), you don’t know how the genetic changes will work out.”

Copyright 2006. The Organic & Non-GMO Report.
(June 2006.)