Enough known to prove GM foods are safe, claims Glover

By Ewan Pate, 21 September 2013 9.00am.

Describing the rejection of GM foods as a “form of madness I don’t understand,” the European Commission’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Anne Glover, used the issue as a prime example of evidence not being properly considered.

Professor Glover made the comments after delivering a keynote address in Aberdeen to the European Network on Soil Awareness.

Appointed last year, the former Dundee High School pupil is the first ever EC chief scientific adviser, and spoke of the challenges of bringing 28 member states to a point of consensus.

She stressed that she was not a politician, but spent much of her time presenting MEP’s and European commissioners with scientific evidence.

“I tend to get a good audience in the Commission but less so in the European Parliament, where the views are often more philosophical”

Few subjects were as influenced in this way as the production of GM foods.

“I think we need to be more aggressive when people say there is not enough evidence to support GM.

“People need to be more transparent and say why they are rejecting the evidence,” she said.

“I have a clear scientific view on GM and have used the technology in my own research work,” said Professor Glover, who also holds the chair of molecular biology at Aberdeen University.

“The point about GM is that no other range of products or foodstuffs has been so thoroughly researched, with not one single piece of evidence emerging that would show GM as being more risky than conventional plant breeding methods.

“There has been a lot in the media over the last 15 years about possible dangers, and it is fair and right to be curious or cautious — but we have now spent so much time gathering evidence to the contrary, it is time to say we know enough to prove GM foods are safe,” she said.

“Personally, I would rather eat GM food produced with less intervention than is used in conventional crops in terms of fertilisers and crop chemicals,” she continued.

Apart from anything else, the production of these conventional inputs required a huge amount of energy.

Asserting she was “pro-evidence”, Professor Glover did admit there was a need to explain the issues more to those who had ethical objections to GM production.

In her view many of the objections stemmed not so much from concerns about the technology but the way in which it was delivered.

For instance there were concerns about seed companies exerting too much control to the detriment of producers.

However, these objections should not be allowed to stop GM technology being adopted.

As an example she cited the production of GM ‘golden rice’.

This new crop had enhanced vitamin levels and, if adopted, could save countless cases of blindness in the developing world.

“Who are we to say that people cannot have access to golden rice?” she asked.

The media bore some responsibility, Professor Glover said.

It should be a case of striving to achieve balance and, although 99.99% of scientists now agreed there was no foo safety danger associated with GM foods, it was possible for media sources to find the one or two scientists who thought otherwise and blow their concerns out of proportion.

guest More than 1 year ago
What we don't know about GM produce is the impact on the environment in the long term. Or what to do when insects and disease evolve rapidly, as they do, to attack the GM crops. The whole point of GM is to make big bucks for Monsanto, not feeding the world. It was the use of a single crop which was susceptible to blight which cause the Irish Famine - if all we have is GM, when that fails because of disease, there will be much bigger famines than that of Ireland! GM seeds have to be bought from the GM producers. It's all about creating a monopoly, making big bucks for big business, with no thought for anybody's future.
Eddie More than 1 year ago
If it makes all the animals feed it ill, why is it not going to make us ill? We don't even need GM, we just need proper farming methods,a little innovation to work more with nature rather than exploit nature for more and more profit and more and more control over the food chain itself.
Rick More than 1 year ago
Why do you assume economic irrationality on the part of producers. If feedstuffs derived from crops whose genetic endowment has been determined in part by modern biotech methodology was making animals ill, why would producers continue to grow and feed them? If they were making animals ill and infertile, how could there be any animals left to feed to begin with. Your assertion just cannot be. Please explain the voodoo -- What if we can find a weedy relative of rice with a gene that causes beta carotene to be present in the endosperm (seed) and transfer that quality through conventional crossbreeding with existing commercial varieties so that the resultant variety has changed only in that the beta beta carotene protein is expressed in the (seed) and there has been no other changes (which is not correct in that in crossbreeding you would have multiple changes in the genome throughout the plant's DNA that may or may not have detrimental human health or agronomic implications that there is currently no regulatory requirement to look for. Breeders typically have to have multiple generations of backcrossing to eliminate collateral undesired changes that occur with methods other than biotech). On the other hand, we can identify a gene in corn that expresses beta carotene in the seed, and directly integrate that into the genome of rice through genetic splicing methods, and the result is no changes in the plant DNA except for the addition of the beta carotene gene (which the regulatory process requires to be confirmed both by complete mapping of the genome as well as analysis of the proteins expressed in the edible seed to verify that there are no material changes in the levels of nutrients, whether any allergens or toxins have been introduced or changed, whether any anti-nutrients are found, etc. Plants that have been endowed with biotech traits require far less backcrossing, if any, to remove undesired collateral genetic changes) Please, for the love of God, educate me why the first, non biotech rice is automatically safe, while the latter rice is mysteriously dangerous and has not been "proven safe", when we know way more about the qualities of the latter, and have far more evidence of its safety, than we do of the first example. I agree with the author, the anti-crowd has for too long dominated the public square and insulted our collective intelligence. The gmo skeptic movement has not even come close to "proving" that there is any reason to suspect that plant improvement through genetic engineering is any more detrimental to human health or the environment than any other method of plant improvement other than a handful of poor quality research that it is evident were undertaken for propoganda value, not any serious effort at advancing scientific understanding. The more I learn about this subject, the more it is evident that the issue is not really abut the science or the actual risk, whether GMOs do actually present a novel food safety risk is ultimately irrellivant, the issues are more fear and hatred of Monsanto and ideological puratanism.
Rick More than 1 year ago
I dispute it is a given that any and all feedstuffs derived from plants whose genetic information has been changed in part through biotech methods cause ill effects in animals. You made the assertion, what is the evidence that backs it up. Here is another question, what if the onlytrait added through biotech methods endowed a corn plant with a gene that gave the growing corn plant resistance to a fungal disease. The harvested corn kernals were unaltered in their starch, protein and any other nutritional component. Would this corn harm cattle. What if the only trait added through biotech was a gene that enables the corn to achieve the same yield with half the amount of applied fertilizer, or enabled the corn to acquire sufficient nitrogen scavenged from cover crops and green manure crops. Would that cause animals to become ill. Since you seem to be so certain, it would be helpful to understand the mechanisms that cause this phenonominon.