Food

Published on February 18th, 2013 | by Michael Ricciardi

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Food Science Expert Claims that Genetically Modified Crops Are 'Over-Regulated', Cites Public Fear, Misinformation

February 18th, 2013 by

University of Illinois professor emeritus of the department of food science and nutrition Bruce Chassy

There is little doubt that genetically modified (GM) crops will play an increasingly crucial role in global agriculture in the coming decades — especially as the world grapples with the challenges of providing food, and food security, for an estimated 9 billion people by 2050.

GM foods have been around for more than 20 years and, in the U.S. at least, nearly everything we eat has some GM-derived substance or additive in it, if not being entirely GM (such as corn).

Nevertheless, deep concerns about the safety of GM foods are growing. In many European countries, anti-GM food sentiment is quite pervasive and vocal in its opposition. Concern and opposition is growing here in the U.S. as well.

Into the fray has stepped food science expert Bruce Chassey, professor of food science and and human nutrition at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, who spoke recently on this topic (‘Regulating the Safety of Foods and Feeds Derived from Genetically Modified Crops’) at the annual Science (AAAS.org) conference in Boston, Massachusetts, Sunday, Feb. 17.

Addressing the pressing global need for food and the “regulatory environment” that delays their introduction, Chassy stated in a press release:

“With more than half of the world’s population now living in countries that have adopted GM crops, it might be appropriate to reduce the regulatory scrutiny of GM crops to a level that is commensurate with science-based risk assessment.”

Chassy notes numerous advantages to using GM crops, such as increased yields (and profits), decreased labor, energy consumption, pesticide use and (he claims) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Despite these claimed universal benefits of GM crops, government regulatory agencies require rigorous testing of newly developed GM crops. this testing includes molecular characterization, toxicological evaluation, allergenicity assessments, compositional analysis and feeding studies — all of which can take five to ten years, costing tens of millions of dollars. This testing time and cost “wastes resources and diverts attention from real food safety issues.”

In his talk, Chassy stated that this “over-regulation” of GM foods is not a response to scientific evidence (which he asserts is lacking), but rather, it is in response to a “global campaign that disseminates misinformation and fear about these food sources.”

Chassy referred to “thousands of studies and observations of extensive GM plantings” around the globe showing that GM crops “do not present risks to consumers or the environment.”

Author Comment:

While I am not opposed to all GM food in all cases — and i believe that global food security can only be adequately addressed through their use — I do support adequate testing and ecological assessments of these crops. Chassy’s talk is somewhat curious in that he seemed to be arguing against testing (at least the time and money it takes) but claims that thousands of studies support his view (studies which took time and money to achieve), but, he did not not mention industry efforts to quash (Congress-funded) long-term studies of [the impacts of] GM crops, or give serious consideration to study claims of health or environmental/ecological risks (such as cross-pollination of GM crops with non-GM or wild-type crops). Nonetheless, many of his opinions were persuasive and seemed to be well-buttressed by science. If you would like citations (concerning claims of safety of GM crops) and/or more information, you can contact the press liaison Chelsey Coombs at diya@illinois.edu

Top Photo: University of Illinois professor emeritus of the department of food science and nutrition Bruce Chassy presented a talk in which he argued genetically modified foods are safe for consumption and overregulated. Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

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About the Author

Michael Ricciardi is a well-published writer of science/nature/technology articles as well as essays, poetry and short fiction. Michael has interviewed dozen of scientists from many scientific fields, including Brain Greene, Paul Steinhardt, Arthur Shapiro, and Nobel Laureate Ilya Progogine (deceased). Michael was trained as a naturalist and taught ecology and natural science on Cape Cod, Mass. from 1986-1991. His first arts grant was for production of the environmental (video) documentary 'The Jones River - A Natural History', 1987-88 (Kingston, Mass.). Michael is an award winning, internationally screened video artist. Two of his more recent short videos; 'A Time of Water Bountiful' and 'My Name is HAM' (an "imagined memoir" about the first chimp in space), and several other short videos, can be viewed on his website (http://www.chaosmosis.net). He is also the author of the (Kindle) ebook: Artful Survival ~ Creative Options for Chaotic Times



  • Dave Sansone

    Well funny you ask about Chassy’s funding. He was quoted in the Hawai’i Tribune Herald as saying that ~ “most scientists believe the studies that are showing gmo-related health effects are junk”. Bruce Chassy’s
    department at the University of Illinois received $250k in funding from
    Monsanto in May 2012 for an initiative that partners the colleges of
    agriculture and media to improve “communications” regarding biotech. Chassy is a front man who sounds like an unbiased professor emeritus. Perhaps its time to create a dirty dozen list–Michael Taylor tops the list so far.

    • http://www.chaosmosis.net Michael Ricciardi

      hi Dave

      Thanks for your comment, and the background info. I suspected as much.

      Sadly, this (pro-GMO) bias is rampant in the field and in the politics of Science journals too (and we have the right wing complaining about “politicizing” science!).

      This (uncritical) bias was evident at the 2012 Science Conference, where one key note speaker boldly proclaimed that there is no evidence of harmful health impacts from eating GM crops/foods.

      Afterwards, a journalistic colleague, rightfully skeptical, wondered aloud how much this person was receiving from Monsanto (or some other bio-tech agri-business).

      Now, most of the existing studies are correlation studies (as critics will point out), but, although “correlation is not causation”, it IS cause or reason to investigate further TO DETERMINE IF THERE IS A CAUSAL LINK.

      So, where are the causal studies? Should we not investigate this possible link (if only to dispel the public fears)? What is preventing more extensive study of this issue? Hmmmm?

  • http://www.chaosmosis.net Michael Ricciardi

    Thanks for all these comments folks.

    First, as to the French (Salini et al) GMO study, the European body that oversees GMO/agriculture policy has claimed that the science (and statistics) used in the study are questionable, and had chosen to ‘review’ the study before making any policy decision (I do not know what the current status of this study is vis a vis agriculture policy in Europe).

    That said, I must say that both “sides’ of this debate use studies and data that serves their purposes…there is no definitive, long-term, comprehensive study on the impacts of GMO crops, world-wide; this is where I take issue with Chassey: he claims thousands of studies (an exaggeration, to say the least), but opponents of GM foods have their list of studies, too — most of which are correlation studies. What is needed is a long-term study conducted by an independent panel / consortium (verified no conflicts of interest on either side of the debate), and, of course, the funding to make this happen.

    This is another issue with which I depart from Chassey’s view: Big Agri spends big bucks to prevent such funding…if it were so certain of the safety of its product, why block funding of a long-term study that would / might verify this claim? The answer (from Chassey) seems to be that any such study is “wasteful” and unnecessary (because we already “know” they’re safe! That’s just bad thinking, in general, never mind the science).

    Sadly, our Congress seems wholly indifferent, or wholly owned, by big business of every kind, and caters to its needs, public health or interest be damned. The problem with a mass media society is that we get mass disinformation or misinformation along with the ‘information’.

    Even a simple compromise such as labelling GM foods — so that people can make their own informed decisions — is voted down (California)…we have to keep trying. just like with marriage equality; keep at it until the momentum gets too big to fail.

    And, we need to stop voting incumbents back into office and demand public financing of political campaigns (which big business undermines by throwing enormous amount of cash into the political arena).

  • somebody

    “Paul Buhler” is completely out of it. Wake up, buddy. Do I have to repeat myself? Please, “Paul Buhler”, don’t tell me you’re one of those trolls Monsanto hires to spread disinformation on message boards. Because you sound like one.

    If you weren’t so mentally weak, you would have noticed I wasn’t just recklessly name-dropping. Mind you, if it turns out you are indeed a hired troll, I guess you can’t be blamed. Anyway, you might have noticed the recent longitudinal French study I cited in my intro? Independent scientists have shown links between a GMO diet and cancer in rats. Does that mean I should assume they are safe for humans?

    Furthermore, there are plenty of case examples of genetic contamination of crops (for example the ‘Frankencorn’ of Mexico), legal abuse of farmers by armies of agribiz lawyers (Paul Buhler has never heard of Percy Schmeiser), not to mention the revolving door between Monsanto execs and government ministers of agriculture in both the US and Canada (as reported in several documentaries by former Monsanto employees). Agribiz is a prime example of modern corporatocracy. Watch out people. Beware your food supply.

  • somebody

    This angers me. This is DISINFORMATION. Look at the longitudinal French study that was just published. It drew a link between consumption of GMOs and certain types of cancer in rats. Monsanto’s scientists would not have found such a link because the longest trials they have done have been much shorter than this.

    In the world today I wouldn’t be surprised if you could find literally thousands of farmers who would take issues with sweeping and unsupported assertions that GMOs are in any way more efficient to grow. There are plenty of cases that have already been thoroughly documented demonstrating incidents of INCREASED costs and INCREASED and MORE FREQUENT need for application of herbicides.

    Since we’ve been eating GMO products for twenty years means we should therefore take a more liberal and less critical stance on this earth-shatteringly revolutionary new technology? There is no relationship between cause and effect in this author’s words. Since twenty-something Nancy has been smoking since she was a teenager and shows no signs of ill health, let’s conclude that smoking is not a health risk to anyone.

    You know what really boils my blood? Sure, the science is debatable. There might even be some points in favor of GM techniques. But take a look at the rapacious ETHICAL track record of a company like Monsanto, the most powerful one of them all, and ask yourself if you think all that power and influence is in the right hands. Documentary films have captured Monsanto employees cackling ironically about the manipulative ‘feeding the world’ adds they have created, and interviewed insiders on film illustrating the company’s dishonesty.

    This is DISINFORMATION people. And that is real and that is a fact. Don’t believe everything you read!

  • Nathan

    Decreased pesticide use because of GMOs? Yeah right. There have been many studies done showing that after only a few years of “Roundup Ready” GMO crop use, considerably MORE pesticides and herbicides are required to achive the same crop yields as regular crops do.

    Monsanto and most agricultural companies are all about short term profit. The motives of companies like that are about gaining further control of the market. And that occurs at the expense of necessary genetic diversity, the independence of farmers, and the flexibility of a decentralized system. Intensified use of GMOs will make agriculture more vulnerable than it already is.

  • http://bobhiggins.wordpress.com/ Bob Higgins

    One question leaps to mind: What is the source of Chassy’s funding?

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