5.2 The scientific and economic strands
5.2.1 The GM Science Review
The review was undertaken by the GM Science Review Panel, chaired by the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King. Its role was to assess the evidence available in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. The panel produced two reports, the first in July 2003 and the second in January 2004. The main conclusions of these reports are listed below.
The risk to human health is very low.
There is little likelihood of such plants invading the countryside and becoming a significant problem.
For herbicide-tolerant GM crops, there is insufficient information available to predict with certainty the long-term environmental effects on wildlife.
Genetic modification is not a homogeneous technology, and therefore its applications needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Both reports highlighted areas of scientific uncertainty - for example, relating to the ease with which GM plants were able to invade new habitats. In neither report is there any claim that GM foods are absolutely safe. However, the panel pointed out that there 'has been no verifiable untoward toxic or nutritionally deleterious effects resulting from the cultivation and consumption of products from GM crops'.
How much credibility do you personally attach to such a reassurance about safety?
You explored in Sections 2 and 3 the difficulty of assessing safety, and a degree of ambivalence is perhaps inevitable. Commentators sympathetic to GM technology often emphasise the fact that millions of people, particularly in the US, have been eating GM food products for many years, with no apparent deleterious health effects.
How convincing do you find this argument about the lack of long-term influence on exposed populations from ingesting GM products?
The notion of 'the absence of evidence' of harm should not be seen as equivalent to evidence of the absence of harm.
A credible argument might be that any deleterious effects from GM products are masked by ongoing improvements in healthcare and environmental standards.
Some GM critics have alleged that there is a link between consumption of GM products and an increase in the incidence of food-borne illnesses in the US. Proving such a theory would require thorough epidemiological studies -systematic monitoring of individuals consuming GM foods. These are the type of studies that first highlighted the risks of smoking, for example.