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Overview

Massive Reviews Find An Overwhelming Consensus On GM Food Safety

Systematic reviews were performed to determine the consensus among health experts on the safety of GM foods currently on the market. Based on the results of these systematic reviews a clear consensus amongst health groups and individual health professionals emerged. The consensus among health experts is that GM foods currently on the market cannot presently be considered as safe as their conventional counterparts. This is either due to lack of evidence of safety, or because of evidence that at least some GM foods currently on the market may be unsafe compared to their conventional counterparts. These reviews find 75.5% of health groups(Report 1) with statements on GMO safety and no known conflicts of interest, and the majority of health professionals in at least 92% of surveys(Report 2) agree about GM food safety concerns. The majority of health professionals and health students surveyed either believe GM foods have health risks, or are unsure about the safety of GM foods. This is also supported by a systematic review of the scientific evidence(Report 3). In about 88.5% of all relevant animal feeding studies using the popular GM soy GTS 40-3-2, considered to be the most tested GM food, adverse effects or biomarkers indicative of adverse effects were observed. These systematic reviews indicate there has been a failure to identify studies suggesting adverse effects in reports used to claim a consensus on GM food safety and other aspects related to GM food and crops. Therefore, the database https://gmoresearch.org/ , which provides references documenting potential and actual harmful effects from GMOs, should be used by all looking to report on GM foods and crops.

Genetically modified(GM) foods and crops are a controversial subject. There is controversy in many regards including the safety of GM foods, if the current regulations are sufficient, whether or not GM foods should be labeled and if there should be a moratorium on GM crops. GM foods are also referred to as genetically engineered or bioengineered foods. These include foods modified through techniques such as transgenesis, intragenesis, cisgenesis, zinc finger proteins, transcription activator-like effector nucleases, and clustered, regularly interspaced, short, palindromic repeats. The process of genetic modification can result in unexpected consequences, potentially causing the plant to produce toxins, create foreign proteins, or other unanticipated results (Ho 2013, Wilson 2006, Dona 2009, Rang 2005, Mesnage 2016, Eckerstorfer 2019).

GM foods are generally intended to be consumed for a lifetime by humans and animals of different ages, sexes, and with different medical conditions. Therefore, many health practitioners have concluded that these novel foods should be tested in long-term studies before approval.(See Report 1) However, GM foods are not tested long-term before deregulation. Despite the lack of long-term testing, the claim has been made that there is a worldwide consensus in the health and scientific communities that GM foods currently on the market are as safe or healthy as their conventional counterparts. (Gostin 2016, Leshner 2015) The 3 lines of evidence primarily used by those making this consensus claim are:

  1. Select statements or endorsements by groups and professional organizations or working groups from these organizations.
  2. A single survey of some AAAS members.
  3. Select narrative reviews which cite some studies on GM foods.

The references used by those claiming consensus, however, have been selected in an arbitrary manner.  As far as we are aware, no attempt to systematically review these lines of evidence to come to an evidence-based conclusion has ever been conducted.  We, therefore, have conducted a systematic review of these lines of evidence to determine if the claim that GM foods currently on the market are as safe or healthy as their conventional counterparts can be accepted or rejected.

Report 1 overview

For line of evidence 1 we examined position statements, reports and other documents from medical and public health groups around the world between the years 1996-2019 to determine if a consensus of opinion on GM foods and crops exists. Using the history of harm from tobacco as a basis it would be expected that if harm from GM foods were to be found it would be first identified by the independent medical and public health community. Although plant scientists and agricultural scientists studied tobacco for many years it was the medical and public health community that first identified harm from tobacco use. (Proctor 2012) Following the history of harm to health from tobacco, the following are unlikely to find harm from a product even when overwhelming evidence exists from independent health groups and professionals published in peer reviewed journals: 1. companies involved in selling a product, 2. universities or groups receiving funding from industry, 3. individual scientists and health professionals affiliated with industry, 4. politicians receiving contributions from industry, 5. related government agencies (Brownell 2009, Brandt 2012). The Pew Research Center survey of AAAS scientists also considers those in the field of health to be the experts on GM food safety. (Pew Research Center 2015)

Data Sources and Selection:

Electronic literature systematic search using Google search engine and manual reference checks of all articles related to public health group statements on genetically modified foods and crops.

Data Extraction:

88 medical and public health groups, representing 22 countries, with related statements on GM foods and crops were found.

Results:


53 groups had statements on GMO safety of which 69.8% of the groups with statements on GMO safety indicated there was not enough evidence to c

onclude that GM foods were safe.

When groups with a known conflict of interest were eliminated: 75.5% of the groups with statements on GMO safety indicated there was not enough evidence to conclude that GM foods were safe,

30 groups had statements on the current GM food regulatory process, of which 80% indicated the current regulatory process for GMOs is insufficient.

When groups with a known conflict of interest were eliminated: 82.8% indicated the current regulatory process for GMOs is insufficient.

63 groups had statements on GM food labeling, of which about 93.7% believed GM food labeling should be mandatory.

19 had statements on GM food or crop moratoriums, of which about 63.2% believed there should be a moratorium on all or some GMOs.
To see all of Report 1 click here.

Report 2 Overview

For line of evidence 2, surveys of individuals from 2009 to 2019 in the fields of medicine or public health and students in such fields from around the world were also used to determine the consensus of opinion.

Data Sources and Selection:

Electronic literature systematic search using Google Scholar and Google and manual reference checks of all articles related to surveys of health professionals’ opinions on genetically modified foods and crops.

Data Extraction:

Relevant surveys of health professionals were found between the years 2009 to 2019 representing 8 countries. These surveys included opinions about GM food safety, GM food labeling, willingness to consume GM food, the regulatory process or agencies that regulate GM foods.

Results:

25 relevant surveys of health professionals were found for opinions about GM food safety between the years 2009 to 2019 representing 8 countries. In at least 92% of surveys about GM food safety the majority of health professionals and health students either believe GM foods have health risks, or are neutral or unsure about the safety of GM foods.

11 relevant surveys of health professionals were found for opinions about GM food labeling between the years 2009 to 2019 representing 4 countries. In 100% of surveys about GM food labeling the majority of health professionals and health students believe GM food products should be labeled.

16 relevant surveys of health professionals were found for opinions about willingness to consume GM food between the years 2009 to 2019 representing 6 countries. In 87.5% of surveys about the willingness to consume GM foods the majority of health professionals and health students were unwilling or unsure about consuming GM foods, or would choose non-GM foods over GM foods.

10 relevant surveys of health professionals were found for opinions about support for GM food and crop production between the years 2009 to 2019 representing 4 countries. In at least 80% of surveys the majority of health professionals and health students either do not support GM foods or GM crop production in their respective countries, or are unsure.

4 relevant surveys of health professionals were found for opinions about the regulatory process or agencies that regulate GM foods and crops between the years 2009 to 2019 representing 3 countries. In 100% of surveys the majority of health professionals and health students either do not believe the regulatory process is adequate for GM foods and crops or were unsure about the adequacy.

To see all of Report 2 click here.

Report 3 Overview

For line of evidence 3, we examined animal feeding studies using animals comparable to humans fed single event 40-3-2 glyphosate tolerant soy foods, and health parameters reviewed by Nicolia e al. and Sanchez et al. Since the claim is that all GM foods currently on the market are as safe as their conventional counterparts, if even 1 GM food on the market is determined to be less safe then this claim will have been demonstrated to be false. We chose GM soy with event 40-3-2 as it is the most grown, has the most animal feeding studies according to Sanchez et al. and is one of the most approved GMOs internationally.

Data Sources and Selection:

Review of all sources used by Nicolia et al. and Sanchez et al. pertaining to relevant animal feeding studies using GM food GTS 40-3-2.

Data Extraction:

Relevant studies were identified using GTS 40-3-2.

Results:

Nicolia et al.

Only 1 relevant animal health study specifically mentions, or provides a reference that specifically mentioned, the feeding of 40-3-2 is used by Nicolia et al. which the authors claim has no adverse effects. 8 studies using 40-3-2 are used by Nicolia et al. in which the authors claim adverse effects or biomarkers indicative of adverse effects were observed. This represents 88.9% of the relevant 40-3-2 studies used by Nicolia et al. reporting adverse effects or biomarkers indicative of adverse effects.

Taking into consideration the numerous studies which Nicolia et al. missed that appear on the GMO Free USA, GMWatch and Coalition for GMO Free India websites or social media posts: 17 relevant animal health studies specifically mentioning the use of 40-3-2 have authors claiming adverse effects or biomarkers indicative of adverse effects. This represents 94.4% of the relevant event 40-3-2 studies that should have been used by Nicolia et al. reporting adverse effects or biomarkers indicative of adverse effects.

For the medium and long-term studies, of 6 months feeding duration or longer, 100% of the GTS 40-3-2 studies used by Nicolia et al. indicate adverse effects or biomarkers indicative of adverse effects from the GM soy 40-3-2 diet.

Taking into consideration the numerous studies which Nicolia et al. missed that appear on the GMO Free USA, GMWatch and Coalition for GMO Free India websites or other internet posts: 100% of the GTS 40-3-2 medium and long-term studies, of 6 months feeding duration or longer, indicate adverse effects or biomarkers indicative of adverse effects from the GM soy 40-3-2 diet.

Sanchez 2015 and 2017

Only 3 relevant animal health studies specifically mentioning, or providing a reference that specifically mentioned, the use of event 40-3-2 are used by Sanchez 2015 in which the authors claim have no adverse effects. 9 such relevant animal health studies are used by Sanchez 2015 and 2017 which the authors claim adverse effects or biomarkers indicative of adverse effects were observed. Therefore, 75% of these relevant animal health studies indicate adverse effects or biomarkers indicative of adverse effects from the GM soy 40-3-2 diet.

Taking into consideration the numerous studies which Sanchez et al. missed that appear on the GMO Free USA, GMWatch and Coalition for GMO Free India websites or social media posts: There are 23 relevant animal health studies specifically mentioning, or providing a reference that specifically mentioned, the use of 40-3-2 which the authors claim adverse effects or biomarkers indicative of adverse effects. Therefore, about 88.5% of relevant animal health studies show adverse effects or biomarkers indicative of adverse effects from the GM soy 40-3-2 diet.

100% of the rodent and select non-rodent medium or long-term feeding studies using GTS 40-3-2 soy observed potential adverse effects in the GM soy fed groups.

Taking into consideration the numerous studies which Sanchez et al. missed that appear on the GMO Free USA, GMWatch and Coalition for GMO Free India websites or social media posts:  100% of the GTS 40-3-2 medium and long-term studies, of 6 months feeding duration or longer, indicate adverse effects or biomarkers indicative of adverse effects from the GM soy 40-3-2 diet.

To see all of Report 3 click here.

Report 4 Overview

Report 4 is a literature review where we compare the consensus observed in our systematic reviews presented in Reports 1, 2 and 3, to the consensus on climate change. It also discusses why the claim of, “worldwide consensus in the medical, public health and scientific communities that GM foods currently on the market are as safe or healthy as their conventional counterparts” should not have been made in the absence of a systematic review on the subject.  We also present evidence that as with other health related topics, such as the coronavirus, artificial trans fats, etc., a precautionary approach should be taken with GM foods. This approach should be taken especially since there is now a consensus amongst health groups and individual health professionals that GM foods currently on the market cannot be currently considered as safe as their conventional counterparts.

Results:

Large sums of money have been spent by GM food proponents to promote the idea of a consensus that GM foods are as safe as their conventional counterparts. This appears to have perpetuated the idea of such a consensus despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Proponents of GM foods have largely engaged in various types of science denial. These include reliance on fake experts, cherry-picked supportive facts, belief in conspiracy theories, impossible expectations of what research can deliver, as well as attacks on science and scientists.

A precautionary approach should be taken with GM foods. This should be done to avoid repeating the mistakes made by failing to respond quick enough to prevent substantial harm such as what happened with artificial trans fats and the coronavirus epidemic of 2019-2020.

Health professionals generally agree with climatologists on climate change.

Farmers and agriculture experts appear far less likely to agree with climatologists on climate change when compared to health experts.

Environmental groups often agree with climatologists on climate change and health professionals on GM food safety.

To see all of Report 4 click here.

GMOResearch Database

The results of our systematic review clearly indicate that previous reports have failed to indicate a large body of evidence that indicates problems with GM foods, crops, regulations and other aspects related to the subject.  Therefore, the database GMOResearch should be used as a resource for all who are looking to report on areas related to GM food and crops.  GMOResearch should be used along with other search engines to ensure that the reports cannot cherry-pick only references that fit a particular narrative.

References

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Brownell, K. D., & Warner, K. E. (2009). The perils of ignoring history: Big Tobacco played dirty and millions died. How similar is Big Food?. The Milbank Quarterly, 87(1), 259-294. https://scholar.google.com/scholar?cluster=36342925663854805&hl=en&as_sdt=0,10

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Pew Research Center, July 2015, “An Elaboration of AAAS Scientists’ Views”  https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2015/07/23/an-elaboration-of-aaas-scientists-views/

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