Tide Changing on Attitudes About Genetic Engineering?

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Headlines in mainstream news last week declared that genetically engineered (GE) crops are no more dangerous to humans than conventional crops following the release of a major study looking at the risks and benefits of GE crops.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published what many have called the most thorough review to date of genetic engineering technology.

“They reviewed over 900 studies and came to the same conclusions that national and international bodies have continued to come to over decades,” explains Robert Wager of Vancouver Island University in the interview below.

Robert Wager of Vancouver Island University discusses the Academies’ report on GE technology and changing public perception with RealAg’s Shaun Haney.

Some of the media reports trying to summarize the Academies’ in-depth paper have said GE technology has not lived up to its promise of increasing yields, as the report states GE has not had a significant impact on the rate at which corn, cotton and soybean yields in the U.S. have increased. However, Wager cautions against interpreting that to mean GE traits have not helped increase farmers’ yields.

“They really bent over backwards to try to make it sound like there weren’t any yield benefits from this technology,” he says. “Later on they go on to say exactly the opposite, where Bt traits have contributed significantly to the reduction of the gap between actual yields and potential yields. The same thing for herbicide tolerant crops — later on they say HR (herbicide resistant) crops have contributed to greater yields where weed control is improved. Well, where are HR crops used where weed control is not improved?”

While both sides of the GE debate have claimed statements made in the report support their arguments, Wager suggests the Academies’ report, and the media headlines that followed, are helping change societal perceptions about GMOs and GE technology.

“I see a tremendous changing of the tide. It has a lot to do with mainstream media actually reporting what the science says…,” he says. “The fear stories have been going on for 25, 30 years and yet there’s still no evidence that they have come to pass. You can only cry wolf for so long.”

Related: Study Confirms GE Crops are Safe, and Complicated

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