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.”
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 [email protected]
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