NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Genetically Modified Foods Are Safe

August 6, 2012

The critics of genetic engineering in agriculture -- also known as "genetic modification" (GM) or gene-splicing -- for decades have relied upon and promulgated "The Big Lie."  The lie being that food from genetically engineered crops is untested, unsafe, unwanted and unneeded. This has resulted in a broad-based campaign to smear GM as unnecessary and unsafe. Each of these claims is false, says Henry I. Miller, the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at the Hoover Institution.

With regard to the necessity of GM, it is essential to consider the myriad of beneficial economic impacts that GM has yielded for producers and consumers around the world.

  • According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, from 1996 to 2010, the use of modern genetic engineering technology increased crop production and value by $78 billion.
  • According to that same source, it also obviated the need to apply 443 million kilograms (kg) of pesticide active ingredients to crops and, in 2010 alone, reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 19 billion kg (the equivalent of taking approximately 9 million cars off the road).
  • Furthermore, it conserved biodiversity by saving 91 million hectares of land (non-GM crops require more land per yield).
  • Finally, GM helped alleviate poverty by increasing the agricultural productivity and food security of 15 million small farmers who are some of the poorest people in the world.

Despite this host of economic and environmental benefits, the environmental lobby continues to demonize GM as disruptive to the natural order and potentially dangerous for human consumption. However, this claim has repeatedly been found to be without warrant.

  • There is a long-standing consensus in the scientific community that the newer techniques of genetic engineering are essentially an extension, or refinement, of earlier methods for genetic improvement.
  • As long ago as 1989, a National Research Council analysis concluded that GM plants were no more or less dangerous than their organic competitors.
  • Even the Food and Drug Administration, which is notorious for its high approval standards, has found no fault with GM crops that would necessitate discrimination between them and natural crops.

This repeated assurance of GM crops' safety has fallen on deaf ears in the activist community. Yet businesses still have their own part to play, promising their customers that they will provide them the best agricultural products possible: this will inevitably lead them to GM.

Source: Henry I. Miller, "Organic Is Overrated," Defining Ides, July 26, 2012.

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