LONDON, UK – Aren’t critics of genetically engineered food anti-science? Isn’t the debate
over GMOs (genetically modified organisms) a spat between emotional but ignorant activists
on one hand and rational GM-supporting scientists on the other?
A new report released today, “GMO Myths and Truths,” challenges these claims. The
report presents a large body of peer-reviewed scientific and other authoritative evidence of
the hazards to health and the environment posed by genetically engineered crops and
Unusually, the initiative for the report came not from campaigners but from two genetic
engineers who believe there are good scientific reasons to be wary of GM foods and crops.
One of the report’s authors, Dr Michael Antoniou of King’s College London School of
Medicine in the UK, uses genetic engineering for medical applications but warns against its
use in developing crops for human food and animal feed.
Dr Antoniou said: “GM crops are promoted on the basis of ambitious claims – that they are
safe to eat, environmentally beneficial, increase yields, reduce reliance on pesticides, and can
help solve world hunger.
“I felt what was needed was a collation of the evidence that addresses the technology from a
scientific point of view.
“Research studies show that genetically modified crops have harmful effects on laboratory
animals in feeding trials and on the environment during cultivation. They have increased the
use of pesticides and have failed to increase yields. Our report concludes that there are safer
and more effective alternatives to meeting the world’s food needs.”
Another author of the report, Dr John Fagan, is a former genetic engineer who in 1994
returned to the National Institutes of Health $614,000 in grant money due to concerns about
the safety and ethics of the technology. He subsequently founded a GMO testing company.
Dr Fagan said: “Crop genetic engineering as practiced today is a crude, imprecise, and
outmoded technology. It can create unexpected toxins or allergens in foods and affect their
nutritional value. Recent advances point to better ways of using our knowledge of genomics
to improve food crops, that do not involve GM.
“Over 75% of all GM crops are engineered to tolerate being sprayed with herbicide. This has
led to the spread of herbicide-resistant superweeds and has resulted in massively increased
exposure of farmers and communities to these toxic chemicals. Epidemiological studies
suggest a link between herbicide use and birth defects and cancer.
“These findings fundamentally challenge the utility and safety of GM crops, but the biotech
industry uses its influence to block research by independent scientists and uses its powerful
PR machine to discredit independent scientists whose findings challenge this approach.”
The third author of the report, Claire Robinson, research director of Earth Open Source, said,
“The GM industry is trying to change our food supply in far-reaching and potentially
dangerous ways. We all need to inform ourselves about what is going on and ensure that we
– not biotechnology companies – keep control of our food system and crop seeds.
“We hope our report will contribute to a broader understanding of GM crops and the
sustainable alternatives that are already working successfully for farmers and communities.”
1. The report, “GMO Myths and Truths, An evidence-based examination of the claims
made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops”, by Michael Antoniou,
PhD, Claire Robinson, and John Fagan, PhD is published by Earth Open Source (June
2012). The report is 123 pages long and contains over 600 citations, many of them
from the peer-reviewed scientific literature and the rest from reports by scientists,
physicians, government bodies, industry, and the media. The report is available here:
A shorter summary version will be released in the coming weeks.
News points from the report
1. Genetic engineering as used in crop development is not precise or predictable and has
not been shown to be safe. The technique can result in the unexpected production of
toxins or allergens in food that are unlikely to be spotted in current regulatory checks.
2. GM crops, including some that are already in our food and animal feed supply, have
shown clear signs of toxicity in animal feeding trials – notably disturbances in liver and
kidney function and immune responses.
3. GM proponents have dismissed these statistically significant findings as “not
biologically relevant/significant,” based on scientifically indefensible arguments.
4. Certain EU-commissioned animal feeding trials with GM foods and crops are often
claimed by GM proponents to show they are safe. In fact, examination of these studies
shows significant differences between the GM-fed and control animals that give cause
5. GM foods have not been properly tested in humans, but the few studies that have been
carried out in humans give cause for concern.
6. The US FDA does not require mandatory safety testing of GM crops, and does not
even assess the safety of GM crops but only “deregulates” them, based on assurances
from biotech companies that they are “substantially equivalent” to their non-GM
counterparts. This is like claiming that a cow with BSE is substantially equivalent to a
cow that does not have BSE and is thus safe to eat! Claims of substantial equivalence
cannot be justified on scientific grounds.
7. The regulatory regime for GM foods is weakest in the US, where GM foods do not
even have to be assessed for safety or labelled in the marketplace, but in most regions
of the world regulations are inadequate to protect people’s health from the potential
adverse effects of GM foods.
8. In the EU, where the regulatory system is often claimed to be strict, minimal pre-market
testing is required for a GMO and the tests are commissioned by the same companies
that stand to profit from the GMO if it is approved – a clear conflict of interest.
9. No long-term toxicological testing of GMOs on animals or testing on humans is
required by any regulatory agency in the world.
10. Biotech companies have used patent claims and intellectual property protection laws to
restrict access of independent researchers to GM crops for research purposes. As a
result, limited research has been conducted on GM foods and crops by scientists who
are independent of the GM industry. Scientists whose work has raised concerns about
the safety of GMOs have been attacked and discredited in orchestrated campaigns by
GM crop promoters.
11. Most GM crops (over 75%) are engineered to tolerate applications of herbicides.
Where such GM crops have been adopted, they have led to massive increases in
12. Roundup, the herbicide that over 50% of all GM crops are engineered to tolerate, is not
safe or benign as has been claimed but has been found to cause malformations (birth
defects), reproductive problems, DNA damage, and cancer in test animals. Human
epidemiological studies have found an association between Roundup exposure and
miscarriage, birth defects, neurological development problems, DNA damage, and
certain types of cancer.
13. A public health crisis has erupted in GM soy-producing regions of South America,
where people exposed to spraying with Roundup and other agrochemicals sprayed on
the crop report escalating rates of birth defects and cancer.
14. A large number of studies indicate that Roundup is associated with increased crop
diseases, especially infection with Fusarium, a fungus that causes wilt disease in soy
and can have toxic effects on humans and livestock.
15. Bt insecticidal GM crops do not sustainably reduce pesticide use but change the way in
which pesticides are used: from sprayed on, to built in.
16. Bt technology is proving unsustainable as pests evolve resistance to the toxin and
secondary pest infestations are becoming common.
17. GM proponents claim that the Bt toxin engineered into GM plants is safe because the
natural form of Bt, long used as a spray by conventional and organic farmers, has a
history of safe use. But the GM forms of Bt toxins are different from the natural forms
and could have different toxic and allergenic effects.
18. GM Bt toxin is not limited in its toxicity to insect pests. GM Bt crops have been found to
have toxic effects on laboratory animals in feeding trials.
19. GM Bt crops have been found to have toxic effects on non-target organisms in the
20. Bt toxin is not fully broken down in digestion and has been found circulating in the
blood of pregnant women in Canada and in the blood supply to their foetuses.
21. The no-till method of farming promoted with GM herbicide-tolerant crops, which avoids
ploughing and uses herbicides to control weeds, is not more climate-friendly than
ploughing. No-till fields do not store more carbon in the soil than ploughed fields when
deeper levels of soil are measured.
22. No-till increases the negative environmental impacts of soy cultivation, because of the
23. Golden Rice, a beta-carotene-enriched rice, is promoted as a GM crop that could help
malnourished people overcome vitamin A deficiency. But Golden Rice has not been
tested for toxicological safety, has been plagued by basic development problems, and,
after more than 12 years and millions of dollars of research funding, is still not ready for
the market. Meanwhile, inexpensive and effective solutions to vitamin A deficiency are
available but under-used due to lack of funding.
24. GM crops are often promoted as a “vital tool in the toolbox” to feed the world’s growing
population, but many experts question the contribution they could make, as they do not
offer higher yields or cope better with drought than non-GM crops. Most GM crops are
engineered to tolerate herbicides or to contain a pesticide – traits that are irrelevant to
feeding the hungry.
25. High adoption of GM crops among farmers is not a sign that the GM crop is superior to
non-GM varieties, as once GM companies gain control of the seed market, they
withdraw non-GM seed varieties from the market. The notion of “farmer choice” does
not apply in this situation.
26. GM contamination of non-GM and organic crops has resulted in massive financial
losses by the food and feed industry, involving product recalls, lawsuits, and lost
27. When many people read about high-yielding, pest- and disease-resistant, droughttolerant,
and nutritionally improved super-crops, they think of GM. In fact, these are all
products of conventional breeding, which continues to outstrip GM in producing such
crops. The report contains a long list of these conventional crop breeding successes.
28. Certain “supercrops” have been claimed to be GM successes when in fact they are
products of conventional breeding, in some cases assisted by the non-GM
biotechnology of marker assisted selection.
29. Conventional plant breeding, with the help of non-GM biotechnologies such as marker
assisted selection, is a safer and more powerful method than GM to produce new crop
varieties required to meet current and future needs of food production, especially in the
face of rapid climate change.
30. Conventionally bred, locally adapted crops, used in combination with agroecological
farming practices, offer a proven, sustainable approach to ensuring global food
About the authors
Michael Antoniou, PhD is reader in molecular genetics and head, Gene Expression and
Therapy Group, King’s College London School of Medicine, London, UK. He has 28 years’
experience in the use of genetic engineering technology investigating gene organisation and
control, with over 40 peer reviewed publications of original work, and holds inventor status on
a number of gene expression biotechnology patents. Dr Antoniou has a large network of
collaborators in industry and academia who are making use of his discoveries in gene control
mechanisms for the production of research, diagnostic and therapeutic products and human
somatic gene therapies for inherited and acquired genetic disorders.
John Fagan, PhD is a leading authority on sustainability in the food system, biosafety, and
GMO testing. He is founder and chief scientific officer of Global ID Group, a company with
subsidiaries involved in GMO food testing and GMO-free certification. He is a director of Earth
Open Source. Earlier, he conducted cancer research at the US National Institutes of Health
(NIH) and in academia. He holds a PhD in biochemistry and molecular and cell biology from
Dr Fagan became an early voice in the scientific debate on genetic engineering when in 1994
he took an ethical stand challenging the use of germ line gene therapy (which has
subsequently been banned in most countries) and genetic engineering in agriculture. He
underlined his concerns by returning a grant of around $614,000 to the US National Institutes
of Health, awarded for cancer research that used genetic engineering as a research tool. He
was concerned that knowledge generated in his research could potentially be misused to
advance human germ-line genetic engineering (for example, to create “designer babies”),
which he found unacceptable on grounds of both safety and ethics. For similar reasons,
around the same time, he withdrew applications for two additional grants totalling $1.25
million from the NIH and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). In
1996 he started Global ID when he saw that GMO testing could be useful to assist industry in
providing consumers with the transparency that they desired regarding the presence of GMOs
Claire Robinson, MPhil is research director at Earth Open Source. She has a background in
investigative reporting and the communication of topics relating to public health, science and
policy, and the environment. She is an editor at GMWatch (www.gmwatch.org), a public
information service on issues relating to genetic modification, and was formerly managing
editor at SpinProfiles (now Powerbase).
Earth Open Source
Earth Open Source (www.earthopensource.org) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to
assuring the sustainability, security, and safety of the global food system. It supports
agroecological, farmer-based systems that conserve soil, water, and energy and that produce
healthy and nutritious food free from unnecessary toxins. It challenges the use of pesticides,
synthetic fertilizers, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture on the grounds
of the scientifically proven hazards that they pose to health and the environment and on the
grounds of the negative social and economic impacts of these technologies. Earth Open
Source holds that our crop seeds and food system are common goods that belong in the
hands of farmers and citizens, not of the GMO and chemical industry. Earth Open Source has
established four lines of action, each of which fulfils a specific aspect of its mission:
• Science and policy platform
• Scientific research
• Citizens’ learning and action
• Sustainable rural development.