Report recommends premarket safety assessment for new gene editing techniques and admits GM doesn’t increase yields
A new National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report, "Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects”, released today, recommends premarket safety assessments of GMOs and cites consumers' social and economic choices as issues that policymakers should consider when debating mandatory labelling for GMOs.
Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports, agrees.
Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist with Consumers Union, said, “When it comes to GMO labels, the NAS report points out that there are value choices that consumers want to make when they shop for food. We're pleased to see that the report cites the wealth of polling data showing consumers want GMO labelling.”
The NAS report notes that "mandatory labelling provides the opportunity for consumers to make their own personal risk-benefit decisions," but says ultimately decisions in this area are matters for policymakers and the public.
Consumers Union also praised the report for recommending premarket human and environmental safety assessments for a wider range of products than are currently getting regulatory attention. The report found that genetic engineering already employed in food crops, new "gene editing" techniques such as "CRISPR", and older techniques such as mutagenesis, create similar changes in plant DNA, including off-target effects, and that their safety should be assessed.
"We need FDA, USDA and EPA to step up and look carefully at all these gene altering techniques," said Hansen.
The European authorities should also take note, as they are due this year to issue an opinion on which new GMO techniques should be classified as GM – and which products should carry a GMO label. Environmental NGOs, inlcuding GMWatch, believe that all the new techniques lead to GMOs which should be regulated and labelled as such.
On allergenicity, the NAS notes that genetic engineering could introduce new allergens into foods which would be hard to detect in premarket safety testing. Although the NAS doesn't say so, this is another good reason for mandatory GMO labelling, since if someone had an allergic reaction to a GM food, a label would allow them to know what cause it.
The NAS report endorses government oversight, stating, "Not having government regulation of GE crops would be problematic for safety, trade, and other reasons and would erode public trust." NAS even calls for governmental agencies to have the authority to require post-market monitoring of environmental risks and to take action if problems develop. Again, although the NAS report doesn't say so, it seems obvious that this should be true for human health risks as well.
The report also strongly rebuts the notion that GM crops are needed to feed the world, since it could find no evidence that GMO crops have improved yields. The report found "no significant change in the rate at which crop yields increase could be discerned from the data”.
Hansen said, "Despite industry claims, these crops are clearly not the answer to world hunger. It’s equally clear that consumers deserve an informed choice about the products in the marketplace.”