The Flawed Science Behind GM Crops
The debate over the safety of foods made from Genetically Modified (GM) crops has been raging bitterly since GM crops were first introduced in the early 1990s. As expected, the companies that engineer GM crops (such as Monsanto, Bayer, and DuPont) argue that GM crops pose no health risks at all, while others are skeptical at the very least or vehemently opposed.
A recent article by Jill Richardson on AlterNet took a close look at the science used by biotech companies to vouch for the safety of GM crops, and she looked at the most cited study refuting the claims for safety. In these studies scientists feed rats food produced from GM crops and examine the rats for health consequences such as cancer development. Richardson’s analysis of those studies reveals that most of this research is flawed by inconsistencies: each uses different sample sizes, different variable, and go on for different durations of time. Richardson basically reveals that accurate comparisons between these studies can hardly be made and, consequently, any arguments based on either study is weak. So far, there are almost no scientifically valid studies of GM crops by impartial investigators.
The necessary scientific studies of GM crops are not going to be done anytime soon, either. Monsanto uses its intellectual property rights to prevent others from studying its products, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that Monsanto only to make periodic checks on product safety. However, these checks are not stringent and require Monsanto do to little more than tell the FDA that their products are safe.
There is more at stake here than whether GM crops are safe or not. This debate also asks exactly what type of science can prove that GM crops are unsafe, unsafe to whom or what, and in what way? Laboratory studies (if done properly) could provide important information regarding consequences of GM crops to animal and human health. The controversy over GM foods is also about the health of the ecosystems into which GM crops are planted, including the preservation of biodiversity. The types of studies conducted by Monsanto to prove GM crop safety cannot even come close to addressing questions about the effects of GM crops on local ecology. Humans live immersed in ecological environments, and we are affected in diverse ways by environmental and climactic changes. We need science premised on the idea that humans are connected to nature and science that considers nature’s own right to survive with limited human impact.
The type of science we need is not going to come from biotech industries, from the FDA, and probably not even from well funded universities. It’s going to have to be done by farmers themselves, the people who see and live with the consequences of GM crops. Biotech industries and even universities they fund do not hold a monopoly on legitimate science. Science is a method, not a commodity, and with a little collaboration and skill-sharing, farmers themselves can produce the science that could to demonstrate the real dangers of the GM industry.