Leading scientists say fears about GM products are unjustified

August 21, 2019
Genetic modification booklet cover
GM technologies used to date pose no greater risk to human health or the environment than similar products derived from traditional breeding and selection processes.

It was a stunning admission by one of the leaders in the global fight against genetically modified food.

“As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counterproductive path and now I regret it completely.”

The dramatic about-face by leading British author, journalist and environmental activist, Mark Lynas, who is now a Visiting Fellow at Cornell University, was brought about by understanding the science.

To help more people understand the evidence, the Australian Academy of Science is today releasing a Q&A on genetic modification (GM) that tackles some of the big questions.

The release of the booklet comes as South Australia plans to lift its ban on growing GM crops on the mainland, and Tasmania extends its moratorium for another 10 years. Meanwhile, the Australian Greens have moved to disallow proposed amendments to the Gene Technology Regulations 2019.

The Academy has written to the crossbench, Greens, Labor and Government MPs to indicate it does not support the disallowance motion, which is expected to come to a vote in the September sitting weeks.

Academy Fellow and plant scientist, Dr TJ Higgins, said many in the Australian community are looking for answers to the questions about the science of genetic modification.

“The latest research by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator found knowledge about what foods in Australia are genetically modified is generally poor. A simple google search demonstrates just how much conflicting and inaccurate information there is out there on genetic modification,” said Dr Higgins.

“This research also shows that while only 13% of Australians said they supported GM foods, 50% also gave conditional support. The conditional support of those who stated ‘Yes but…..’ relied on a desire to be assured GM products are regulated, or to know whether they have environmental or health benefits.”

The booklet provides a clear, concise description of genetic modification technology and draws on the knowledge and expertise of the Academy’s distinguished Fellows and the Australian science community.

It highlights the benefits of GM products which include: a significant reduction in the use of chemical insecticides and improved productivity of existing agricultural land, which both contribute to reduced CO2 emissions; improved nutritional value from enriched crops; and increased farm incomes.

Academy Fellow and biochemist Professor Marilyn Anderson said one of the most common questions around genetic modification covered in the booklet is ‘are GM products safe?’

“The international scientific consensus is that after 20 years of commercial use, GM technologies used to date pose no greater risk to human health or the environment than similar products derived from traditional breeding and selection processes,” said Professor Anderson.

“Regulators are confident that the GM organisms and products approved so far are as safe as their conventional counterparts.”

Read the Q&A here: www.science.org.au/genetic-modification

© 2022 Australian Academy of Science