Across Regions

Viewpoint: Dissecting the fear-based case against gene-edited crops in organic farming

For nearly 25 years, an allianceof high-profile environmental groups and organic food proponents have waged an effective scare campaign against transgenic (GMO) crops.

Foods derived from these crops, the public was told, could cause food allergies, sterility, liver problems and even cancer. A 2016 report by the US National Academy of Sciences conclusively debunked such speculation, finding there is “no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks to human health between current commercially available [GMO] crops and conventionally bred crops.”

Today, more than 280 scientific institutions around the world maintain that GMO crops that don’t present a unique health risk to humans.

With the advent of gene-editing techniques — CRISPR-Cas9 being the best known — the social and political controversy surrounding agricultural biotechnology has shifted in recent years. These new breeding techniques (NBTs) allow scientists to develop crops that are more nutritious or possess useful traits like disease-, drought- and blemish- resistance, without inserting DNA from other species.

Since the anti-GMO movement’s chief complaint about transgenic crops was that they contained “foreign DNA,” you might think activists would be ecstatic about this development. But that’s not the case.

Anti-GMO campaigners have attacked new breeding techniques as fervently as they did genetically modified crops, alleging these next-generation plant breeding tools are just “GMO 2.0” and pose a threat to human health and the environment.

By trying to lump genetic modification and gene editing into the same amorphous category, anti-GMO activists have exposed the inconsistent nature of their ideological movement and are trying to stifle technology that is advancing sustainable farming.

Read this article on Genetic Literacy Project here. The article is part one of a four-part series on the organic food industry’s reaction to the introduction of gene-edited crops. Read part two here – titled Organic food movement ‘shoots itself in the foot’ by rejecting CRISPR gene editing