Australian Science Academy Endorses GM Crops

Published February 1, 2008

With years of real-world experience showing genetically enhanced crops offer many health and environmental benefits with few if any negative impacts, the Australian Academy of Science (AAS) has made a formal decision to endorse gene technologies and genetically modified plants.

In a December 10 news release and short paper on the topic, AAS noted, “Gene technology can play a role in the alleviation of malnutrition, enhancing sustainability and securing yields worldwide. Its potential must be harnessed.

“Sometimes,” the release continued, “the lack of full certainty, in an environment of manageable risk, should not be used as the reason to postpone measures where genetic modification can legitimately be used to address environmental or public health issues.”

GM Helps Environment

According to the AAS paper, genetically enhanced crops can play a key role in addressing health and environment challenges. “Plant science and plant gene technology will be critical activities of the nation’s response to many challenges it faces in the coming decades,” AAS observed.

“These activities include adapting to and mitigating climate change, the production of food products with preventative health functions, the production of bioenergy, biofuels, and biomaterials from renewable resources as fossil fuels diminish, maintaining efficient and sustainable use of our natural resources while feeding a growing global population, and meeting the increasingly sophisticated market demands as economies emerge in our region,” the paper continued.

Additional Benefits Likely

Genetically modified crops have already benefited the environment, the paper noted. “It is important to consider the wider context in which gene technology may be used. The adoption of GM cotton in Australia has reduced pesticide use, and the adoption of herbicide-tolerant cotton allows the use of more environmentally benign weed management than was previously used in the conventional cotton production system,” reported AAS.

“There are many other potential uses of GM other than herbicide-tolerant crops, including some that can deliver direct health benefits to consumers, such as important drugs, healthier food oils, removal of allergens from food, as well as environmental benefits, for example bioremediation and feral pest control. There is a significant body of research being undertaken to develop the next generation of products that could have significant consumer benefits,” the paper continued.

No Real-World Harm

Importantly, genetically modified crops have had no negative effects on human health or the environment, the paper noted.

“GM products have been in several foods for many years and consumed without any substantiated evidence of ill effects on health, and their safety [has been] confirmed by many peer-reviewed studies world-wide,” AAS stated.

Dr. Henry Miller, a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, endorsed the paper’s findings.

“In much of the world, farmers have no access at all to water for irrigation, so the development of crop varieties able to grow under conditions of low moisture or temporary drought could both boost yields and lengthen the time that farmland is productive,” said Miller.

“Plant biologists already have identified and transferred into important crop plants the genes that regulate water utilization in wild and cultivated plants. These varieties are able to grow with smaller amounts or lower quality water, such as water that has been recycled or that contains large amounts of natural mineral salts,” Miller added.

E. Jay Donovan ([email protected]) is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Florida.

For more information …

The Australian Academy of Science’s Statement on Gene Technology and GM Plants: