Ban on Genetically Modified Crops Causing Starvation, Food Experts Say

July 7, 2008 - 7:20 PM

Washington (CNSNews.com) - The opposition to genetically modified (GM) food has no scientific basis, is causing continued starvation in the developing world and harming the environment, according to a panel of food policy experts that assembled Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Genetically modified crops are the result of altered seeds designed to increase yields and withstand drought with the use of fewer pesticides.

"No one has gotten so much as a sniffle from consuming GM enhanced crops," said Ronald Bailey, an adjunct scholar at the CATO Institute, the Washington think tank that sponsored the forum titled Food Fight.

"Scientific panel after scientific panel has concluded that current biotech crops are safe," Bailey added.

Bailey blames the continued famine of millions of people in Africa on the opposition to GM food led by the European Union (EU). Many African nations, including Zambia, have cited potential EU trade retaliation as the key reason for rejecting GM food aid, despite the threat from famine.

According to Bailey, the "precautionary principle" is the key reason Europeans justify banning GM foods. The principle allows regulators to ban GM crops without evidence that they are scientifically unsafe. Regulators only need to show that the crops have not been proved harmless, according to Bailey. The EU imposed a moratorium on GM food from the U.S., the world's leading producer, in 1998.

Bailey said the EU's actions amount to a strategy of "regulate first and ask questions later." He said it translated into a "never do anything for the first time" attitude.

"The EU is using the precautionary principle as a political tool," Bailey said.

Alan Larson, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs, said GM technology is proving ecologically friendly. Larson believes expanded use of GM crops will lead to "more [crop] yields, less pesticides, cleaner soil, and cleaner water."

"It's a farmer friendly technology, it's easier to use for many farmers whether they're in the developed or developing countries, Larson said.

He cited the development of a drought resistant sweet potato in Kenya as an example of how GM foods can help nations avoid famine.

GM crops are potentially "very helpful for small and poor farmers," according to Larson.

"GM has tremendous potential in the developing world," he added.

But Simon Harris of the Organic Consumers Association, a group critical of GM foods, said GM has not undergone "adequate safety tests."

"The government and industry's decision has been to not to require any safety testing of these foods, to just foist it on the public and of course other countries around the world, whether they like it or not," Harris told CNSNews.com.

Harris complained that U.S. consumers have been consuming GM foods for the past seven years. "Basically they are using the American public as test subjects without their prior consent," Harris said.

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