Genetically Modified Crops: Assessing Safety

By Keith T. Atherton | Go to book overview

safety. Of course, all methods used need to be subjected to rigorous validation. Studies that result in data of questionable value or that could be subject to misinterpretation should be avoided. Aside from the scientific rationale for taking this approach, a reason for doing this is that many individuals and environmental groups are opposed to Bt crops simply because they object to the use of genetic engineering technology to modify crops. A good example of this sort of thinking comes from Lord Peter Melchett, a former Labour Minister in the United Kingdom, and a leader in Greenpeace's effort to stop the use of biotechnology in agriculture. Lord Melchett opposes the use of science to make decisions on food consumption, preferring that selections be made on an emotional basis (Specter, 2000), stating that 'If its acceptable to choose your car based on emotion and not science, why should it be wrong to choose your food that way?' The public cannot afford to let this sort of thinking dominate or influence views and decisions on what is safe to eat. Therefore, to counter such thinking and avoid the misuse of data, meaningful short- and long-term studies like those carried out by Noteborn et al. (1995) should be the type used to evaluate Bt crop safety. Such studies should detect any adverse effects of natural or modified proteins synthesized by crop plants. In addition, the same rationale is relevant to justifying long-term, i.e. studies of several years, on the effects of Bt crops on non-target organisms, including soil microorganisms to assess any potential ecological effects, be they positive, neutral or negative. The results of initial studies indicate that Bt crops will be much safer for non-target organisms, especially beneficial insects, than chemical insecticides. If long-term studies confirm these initial results, dissemination of this knowledge should improve public confidence in this new and important crop protection technology.

In summary, Bt crops are one of the first practical examples of new and powerful pest-control technologies emerging from the results of decades of basic research and recombinant DNA technology. An overwhelming amount of evidence based on studies of Bt Cry proteins indicates these crops are safe for consumption by humans and other vertebrates, and are much safer for non-target invertebrates and the environment than synthetic chemical insecticides. Based on the scientific evidence supporting these conclusions, the US Environmental Protection Agency will continue to register Bt crops for use in the United States (US EPA, 2001). While additional direct testing of Bt crops is warranted to further assess their safety, there is no reason at present to think that these crops present risks greater than those associated with the consumption of non-Bt crops. In fact, Bt crops may be safer for human consumption than conventional crops because they contain lower levels of mycotoxins and residues of chemical insecticides.


References
Aronson, A.I. (1993) 'The two faces of Bacillus thuringiensis: insecticidal proteins and post-exponnential survival', Molecular Microbiology 7: 489-96.
Baumann, L., Okamoto, K., Unterman, B.M. et al. (1984) 'Phenotypic characterization of Bacillus thuringiensis (Berliner) and B. cereus (Frankland & Frankland)', Journal of Invertebrate Pathology 44: 329-41.
Becker, N. and Margalit, J. (1993) 'Use of Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis against mosquitoes and blackflies', in P.F. Entwistle, J.S. Cory, M.J. Bailey and S. Higgs (eds) Bacillus thuringiensis,

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