GMO science — consensus says they are safe for humans, animals, environment

I keep reading statements that there is no GMO science that says that they are safe for humans and the environment. And that they harm the productivity of farms. But GMO science says something completely different.

There is a scientific consensus that GMOs are safe and increase the productivity of farming. They help feed and protect humans all across the world. But still many reject this consensus of GMO science and block important foods that could save hundreds of thousands of lives. Just read about “golden rice,” a wonderful development of GMO science but is being blocked by many anti-GMO groups.

I want to review the scientific consensus behind GMO crops for those who think that there is no science supporting its safety and productivity.

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What is a scientific consensus?

scientific consensus is the collective opinion and judgment of scientists in a particular field of study, based on the quality and quantity of evidence. This consensus implies general agreement, and disagreement is usually limited and generally insignificant.

There is no vote to get this consensus. There is not a secret cabal that proclaims a consensus. There are no negotiations behind closed doors. There are no cigar-smoking Big Pharma CEOs demanding a consensus.

The GMO scientific consensus is actually a glacial science process from preliminary observations to a point where scientists accept it as the consensus — there’s never really a moment when it becomes a consensus until you’ve passed that point.

It’s generally based on high-quality evidence, the best out there, like systematic reviews and meta-analyses, which are considered the pinnacle of the hierarchy of biomedical research. It’s evidence that’s been put through the bright lights of criticism. It’s not done in a back room of some ancient ivory tower institution, over champagne and caviar.

The first thing you have to know is that a scientific consensus isn’t even close to a consensus you might find in a political meeting or a business team. In the layman’s use of the term, a consensus is equal to a general agreement to move forward. It may or may not arrive because of good evidence, but it’s mostly a method to come to a decision.

The scientific consensus is a lot less formal, and much more reliant upon the quality and quantity of evidence. There is no “debate” about the evidence.

The scientific consensus is based on the accrued data, but it has been thoroughly scrutinized by experts in the field over time. When we talk about the scientific consensus of climate change (or vaccines or GMOs or evolution), these weren’t made by a bunch of journalists or politicians sitting in that room with food and drinks. It’s made by literally hundreds of thousands of scientists in that field that have many accumulated years of experience and knowledge.

And let me reiterate – this knowledge doesn’t come by hours or days of “research” on Google or reading biased information. If a few thousand geologists, climatologists, and biologists give us a scientific consensus that anthropogenic climate change is real, then that’s solid knowledge.

If you want to dispute this, then you need the accumulated hundreds of thousands of research years of evidence from thousands of real scientists, and then you better be willing to argue your contradicting views in the scientific world, not by being some talking head on Fox News without any real scientific credentials.

Scientific deniers, those who refuse to accept the volume of scientific data without offering the same amount and quality of evidence, are the evil twin of real science.

Now I want to be absolutely clear — the scientific consensus can be overturned because all scientific claims are provisional. But it’s not a vote, nor is it a debate to overturn the consensus of GMO science. It is scientific evidence of equal or better quality and quantity than what established the consensus. And since science is not dogmatic and close-minded, there can be a glacial change from one consensus to another. And it’s rare because arriving at the consensus is based on such huge volumes of evidence, it generally is considered a fact.

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GMO science – the clear consensus

Science deniers use all kinds of silly logical fallacies like cherry-picking studies that support the denialist opinion, appeal to false authority to show off a denialist scientist, and too many more to mention.

Ironically, there is a huge overlap between climate change supporters (who use all of the science in support of their claims) and GMO deniers (who use no science to support their claims). To be fair, it is also ironic there’s a small, but significant, overlap between GMO supporters and climate change deniers.

You cannot pick and chose your science to meet your pseudoscience-based pre-ordained conclusions about GMO crops. It constantly breaks my irony meter. And don’t get me started on vaccine supporters who hate GMOs.

The AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Sciences) has also released a statement regarding a GMO scientific consensus  (pdf):

The science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe … The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.

The American Association for the Advancement of Sciences is an international non-profit organization that has as its stated goals to promote cooperation among scientists, to defend scientific freedom, to encourage scientific responsibility, and to support scientific education and science outreach for the betterment of all humanity. It is the world’s largest and most prestigious general scientific society and is the publisher of the globally respected journal Science

It assembles broad panels of scientists in particular fields of sciences, true experts, to review the scientific data. They then determine if there is a consensus-based a little on where the evidence is published (better journals mean better evidence, usually), the quantity of evidence, and how other research is influenced by the accumulated data.

And it’s not just one American-based scientific organization that has come to a GMO scientific consensus. There are several others that have publicly stated that GMOs are safe for the environment, for human consumption, and for livestock. If there’s some sort of aggressive conspiracy to get all of these American, European, UN, and other organizations to gather in secret to come to some outrageous lie about GMOs, then you’ll have to show that. These are independent scientific bodies that are respected worldwide.

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Evidence of solid GMO scientific consensus

There are literally hundreds of scientific articles, most lacking any conflict of interest with those companies who are considered to be a part of the Monsanto shill gambit, that supports four important conclusions about GMO crops:

  1. GMO foods are safe for human consumption. Of course, this is a ridiculous concern since these genes cannot possibly have any effect on humans, since they cannot be incorporated into the human genome, nor can they have any effect on humans. There is no biological plausibility that GMOs have an effect on any biological organism.
  2. GMO crops are safe for other animals.
  3. GMO corn is safe. Again. Again. Again. And again.
  4. GMO cotton is safe.
  5. GMO soybeans are safe.
  6. GMO crops increase crop yields and reduce pesticide use.
  7. And GMO crops are safe for the environment.

As I’ve said many times, there is a hierarchy of scientific evidence from systematic reviews down to junk pushed on the internet. There are many systematic reviews, which take the best data from all other research and merge it into one giant analysis, which supports the safety and yield from GMOs.

One study, that reviewed over 10 years of research into GMO safety,  found that:

  • The scientific literature was heavily in favor of the safety, to both the environment and to humans, of GM based agriculture.
  • Environmental impact studies are predominant in the body of GM research, making up 68% of the 1,783 studies. These studies investigated the environmental impact on the crop-level, farm-level and landscape-level. The researchers found “little to no evidence” that GM crops have a negative environmental impact on their surroundings.
  • Little to no evidence that GM agriculture harms native animal species.

A recent systematic review on the impacts of GMOs examined over 147 published articles. This meta-analysis concentrates on the most important GM crops–including herbicide-tolerant soybean, maize, and cotton, as well as insect-resistant maize and cotton. These crops represent a sufficiently large number of original impact studies which have been published to estimate meaningful average effect sizes.

The authors’ meta-review provides the following conclusions:

  • GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%.
  • GM technology increased crop yields by 22%.
  • GM technology increased farmer profits by 68%.
  • Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries.

The authors found that:

The meta-analysis reveals robust evidence of GM crop benefits for farmers in developed and developing countries. Such evidence may help to gradually increase public trust in this technology.

The solid GMO scientific consensus is nearly the same as the consensus for anthropogenic climate change. Over 89% of scientists who have some expertise in GMOs accept that GMO crops are safe. So those of you who think that science supports one but not the other — well you’d be wrong.

Summary

There is a solid consensus about GMO science — it shows that GMOs are safe for human and animal consumption, and they are safe for the environment.

As Professor Alan McHughen wrote in his wonderful book “DNA Demystified“:

It may provide some comfort to know that in the quarter century since GMO crops and foods entered our diet, and in spite of dire warnings from various opponents, there remains not one single documented case of harm arising from the consumption of a GMO food.

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The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!