The number of scientists who have signed onto a statement challenging the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has climbed to more than 230 today.
The list is expected to continue growing as more scientists are given the opportunity to weigh in on the safety of the organisms, which were quietly introduced into the US food supply in the late 1990s with no labeling requirement.
More than 60 countries require labeling of genetically modified crops that make their way into the food supply, which has largely limited the exposure of much of the world outside of the United States.
The vast majority of GMOs are engineered to either withstand large applications of agricultural chemicals without dying (which allows farmers to indiscriminately dump chemicals over their crops), or have been altered in a lab with a bacterial gene to produce an insecticidal toxin in every cell of the plant. This toxin has been shown to destroy red blood cells in humans, among other health safety concerns.
One new signature on the list in particular stands out: Dr. Belinda Martineau, a former member of the Michelmore Lab at the University of California Davis Genome Center, who helped commercialize the world’s first GMO whole food, the Flavr Savr tomato.
Dr. Martineau issued a statement along with her signature:
I wholeheartedly support this thorough, thoughtful and professional statement describing the lack of scientific consensus on the safety of genetically engineered (GM/GE) crops and other GM/GE organisms (also referred to as GMOs). Society's debate over how best to utilize the powerful technology of genetic engineering is clearly not over. For its supporters to assume it is, is little more than wishful thinking.”
Another signatory, Dr. Judy Carman, director of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research, Adelaide, and adjunct associate professor, health and the environment, Flinders University, South Australia, said:
Of the hundreds of different GM crops that have been approved for human and animal consumption somewhere in the world, few have been thoroughly safety tested. So it is not possible to have a consensus that they are all safe to eat – at least, not a consensus based on hard scientific evidence derived from experimental data.”
A third signatory, Professor Elena Alvarez-Buylla, coordinator of the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics of Plant Development and Evolution, Institute of Ecology, UNAM, Mexico, said that given the scientific evidence at hand, sweeping claims that GM crops are substantially equivalent to, and as safe as, non-GM crops are not justifiable.
We must be especially cautious in the case of proposed release of a GM crop in the centre of genetic origin for that crop. An example is the planting of GM maize in Mexico. Mexico is the centre of genetic origin for maize. GM genes can irreversibly contaminate the numerous native varieties which form the genetic reservoir for all future breeding of maize varieties. In addition, maize is a staple food crop for the Mexican people. So GMO releases can threaten the genetic diversity on which food security depends, both within Mexico and globally."
Professor Alvarez-Buylla Such went on to say that decisions with broad implications for society should not be made by a narrow group of self-selected experts, many of whom have commercial interests in GM technology, but must also involve the millions of people who will be most affected.
As things stand, in Mexico we have an ongoing uncontrolled experiment with no independent scientific or popular mandate, in which GM genes are allowed to crossbreed with native maize varieties. The inevitable result will be genetic alterations with unpredictable effects.”
A fourth signatory, Dr. Joachim H. Spangenberg, faculty member at the UFZ Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Leipzig, Germany, said:
Researchers in ecology and relevant environmental sciences have predicted negative environmental impacts from GM crops for around 25 years. Over the years, many of these impacts have been empirically documented. One example is the development of pest resistance to GM Bt insecticidal crops and weed resistance to the required herbicides for GM herbicide-tolerant crops. These resistance problems are now an increasing problem for farmers – to the benefit of the GM seed and agrochemical corporations – and are forcing farmers back to older, even more toxic chemical pesticides.
Twenty years ago, the international academic associations of ecologists and molecular biologists met at the International Council for Science. The two groups agreed that their fields of expertise were complementary and that they needed to cooperate in order to assess the ecological impacts of GM crops in a systematic way. However, many molecular biologists involved in GM crop development today persistently ignore their own blind spots and the science emerging from the complementary environmental segments of the science community, turning the application of GM technology into a social risk."
The number of initial signatories stood at 93 on the day the statement was released, 21 October. It has more than doubled since.