The European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility has come out to strongly criticize the assertion that genetically modified crops are now safe. This is after the biotech giants Syngenta and Monsanto were awarded the 2013 World Food Prize.
The coalition brings together over 90 academics, scientists and physicians. In a statement, the network seeks to address widespread claims in circulation purporting that the GMO debate is now over.
The statement quotes a number of recent studies which have suggested that genetically modified foods are either allergic or toxic. The scientists also assert that there has not been adequate testing of GMOs to warrant any definitive claims about their safety.
Controversy was stirred up when winners of the World Food Prize, reputed to be the Nobel Prize equivalent in agriculture, were announced last week. Robert Fraley of Monsanto was one of the three researchers who were recognized in the award.
Immediately after the award was made public, advocates of genetically modified foods came out to laud the recognition as a major step in ending world hunger. However, there were dissenting voices who consider the technology as under-tested, unsustainable and unjustifiably hyped. The critics were quick to point to recent developments where nine countries have either placed restrictions or issued outright bans on the commercialization and field-release of some GM crops.
GMO critics went as far as to question whether the prize committee itself can be trusted to be neutral. They claim that a substantial part of the funding comes from private and corporate donors including Syngenta and Monsanto.
Lucy Sharratt, a coordinator at CBAN (Canadian Biotechnology Action Network) insisted that there is a concerted effort to ignore important questions about GMOs. She attributes this to the fact that GMO companies have put in a lot of money which they can potentially lose if the technology is discredited.
Ms. Sharratt asserts that an intensive campaign mounted by GMO backers has eroded public awareness of what scientific issues were at play in the controversy.
Monsanto: no Evidence GMOs are harmful
In a rebuttal to the criticism, Monsanto insists that its GMO products are completely safe. The company argues that its genetically engineered seeds have been subjected to the most extensive and intensive tests ever performed on crop products in history. In all these tests, the company insists there has never been any evidence that harm was posed to human beings or even animals.
Trish Jordan, the director of Industry and public Affairs at Monsanto Canada detailed how the company has carried out a comprehensive set of tests on the effect of GMOs on humans and animals. She insists the company is driven by a regard for the safety and quality of their products above all else.
Ms. Jordan insisted that the company performs their tests and develop their products based on well established techniques and methods with widespread acceptance across the entire global scientific community.
Research carried out in 2011 at University of Sherbrooke found evidence that expectant women fed on meat from livestock reared on genetically modified corn retained the poisonous pesticides which had been genetically implanted in the corn in their umbilical cords.
In Canada, most of the genetically modified corn grown has been used as animal feed but some has gone to the production of ingredients used in processed foods as well as in bio fuels. However, some unlabelled GM corn has been found in store shelves.
CBAN found some genetically modified sweet corn on sale at grocery stores and roadside stores as well as in farmers markets in British Columbia, Ontario, Alberta and Nova Scotia.
CBAN purchased 43 samples of sweet corn. Of these, 15 tested positive for GMOs which means that about 35% of the sweet corn on sale is genetically modified. All the samples bought at Walmart and Sobeys tested negative though.
These findings are worth noting as consumers could be unknowingly buying genetically modified sweet corn. CBAN insists that companies dealing with genetically modified corn should label their products clearly to enable consumers to make informed choices.
According to CBAN, sweet corn is the first Canadian grown, genetically modified whole food.