Food and agriculture

On GM foods, evidence shows the jury is still out

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 May, 2018, 9:17am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 May, 2018, 9:58pm

I refer to the letters from Alan Crawley (“GM food is not proven to be unsafe, so stop the fearmongering”, April 17) and Simon Chung (“GM crops can help tackle world food shortage”, April 21).

The World Food Programme’s report on severe hunger in the world said about 124 million people last year faced crisis levels of food insecurity. Genetically modified food is often cited as one possible solution to this acute world food crisis. However, GM food and crops are not without their share of controversies.

One of the most controversial factors relates to health. Supporters of GM foods vouch for their safety, citing scientific consensus, including a study published in the Journal of Animal Science, which reviewed over 30 years of livestock feeding to show no comparable health differences between livestock fed genetically engineered (GE) feed and others fed conventional feed. 

Similarly, institutions like the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association and National Academies of Sciences have declared that there is no link between GE foods and bad health outcomes in humans. 

However, opponents point to the statement signed by over 300 scientists and published in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe, which disputes that consensus view on genetically modified organisms (GMO). They point out that pro-GMO advocates often overstate both the support they received from organisations like the World Health Organisation and the results of studies claiming to prove GMO safety. 

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Apart from the health issue, there is the environmental ramification. GM crops are often sprayed with powerful pesticides and herbicides, and involve the use of chemical fertilisers, which can contaminate the environment by travelling through the air. They also leach into the ground and end up in freshwater sources.

Weeds can develop a resistance to some of these chemicals, and so it may become more difficult to control noxious plants. Pollen from GE crops can be carried by winds to neighbouring farms where seed stock may be then cross-contaminated with GM pollen. Over time, this can lead to a reduction in the biodiversity of crop strains. 

Therefore, GM food has its pros and cons. The key is to make an informed choice.

Benson Wong Tat Hin, Tseung Kwan O