An interview by EurActiv with Anne Glover, European Commission chief scientific adviser, on GMO crops triggered a response on EurActiv.fr last week (27 July) from French MEP Corinne Lepage. Lepage says Glover was "wrong" to state there was "no more risk in eating GMO food than eating conventionally farmed food."
Corinne Lepage is a member of the European Parliament for ALDE (Citoyenneté Action Participation pour le 21ème siècle), and rapporteur for the proposal to allow European Union member states to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMO foods on their territory.
Anne Glover, chief scientific adviser of the Commission, said in an interview with EurActiv on 24 July: "There is no substantiated case of any adverse impact on human health, animal health or environmental health, so that’s pretty robust evidence, and I would be confident in saying that there is no more risk in eating GMO food than eating conventionally farmed food." She added that the precautionary principle no longer applies.
The position comes in a particular context, marked by several setbacks for the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) and the Commission in their handling of the GMO issue. In December 2011, the European Ombudsman asked EFSA to strengthen its rules and procedures to avoid potential conflicts of interest in 'revolving door' cases.
This decision recognised shortcomings within the agency following the departure of the head of its GMO panel to a biotechnology company in 2008.
In May 2012, the European Parliament refused sign off on the agency's budget, as a result unsatisfactory conflicts of interest in respect of its GMO panel. Finally, several member states reiterated requests made by the Commission at a Council meeting in December 2008 to improve the functioning of EFSA.
Glover's statement is simply inaccurate. It is all the more surprising that it comes from someone who complains about politicians' lack of trust for scientific evidence. The first requirement to be expected of a scientist, especially one who has the task of advising the European Commission, a risk management institution, is to submit real evidence.
However, regarding the environmental impact of GMOs, the evidence is overwhelming and completely concrete. Not only is the dissemination of GMOs to non-GM plants proven, but the damage caused by regrowth elsewhere, which requires the use of ever more toxic pesticides, has already become a reality.
The resulting loss of productivity, together with unsatisfactory seeds, spell disaster for farmers. These adverse effects mean that farmers, in Burkina Faso for example, are becoming increasingly reliant on the traditional cotton crop, but also to the despair of many Indian farmer, who have gone so far as to commit suicide, unable to pay for patents as a result of their poor harvests.
Add to that the criticisms of the Monsanto company in the United States for damage caused by certain GMOs, and the mutation of the corn borer insect, and other forms of insect attacked by GMO pesticides. Under these conditions, to say that GMOs have no concrete negative consequences on the environment is a fiction.
Regarding health, the situation is much worse, but it is true that it is a lot more difficult to prove. The fact is that GMO producers have worked for several years to impose secrecy on studies on rats fed for 90 days with GMOs, and especially to prevent independent studies.
However, several valuations have revealed that GMOs affect the liver, the kidneys, blood count and weight. Certainly, the debate is open as to whether studies recognised as statistically significant, including those by Monsanto, could indicate pathological effects or otherwise.
But the words of Glover suggest the opposite is true. Furthermore, how can one advocate for research and science, while at the same time not completing the studies on the potentially negative impacts of GMOs on health called for by the Council in 2008?
Weight of responsibility
Glover has as such taken on a heavy amount of personal responsibility, going so far as to say the precautionary principle is no longer applicable. If in the coming years, evidence on the toxicity of GMOs comes to light, European citizens would be entitled to ask her for an explanation.
Only time will tell. Meanwhile, her exaggerated stance is not in keeping with science, which progresses through doubt and research, nor what European citizens expect of the European institutions, in which they must put their trust to protect their health and environment, nor is it in the interest of Europe.