Biotech crops are proven to be safe and provide many benefits to agriculture and the environment, a new report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) af­­firmed last week.

The NAS report reviewed a broad range of studies and data from North America and Europe to compare food made with genetically engineered (GE) and non-GE crops.

"The committee found no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks to human health between currently commercialized genetically engineered (GE) crops and conventionally bred crops, nor did it ?nd conclusive cause-and-effect evidence of environmental problems from the GE crops," the NAS said.

In addition, the committee found biotech crops generally had favorable economic outcomes for farmers by helping them manage pests and weeds and reduce on-farm inputs.

As new plant breeding technologies emerge, the report said, the regulatory focus for genetically engineered crops should remain on the food, not the method used to produce it.

"All technologies for improving plant genetics — whether GE or conventional — can change foods in ways that could raise safety issues," the NAS said. "Therefore, it is the product that should be regulated, not the process. New plant varieties should undergo safety testing if they have novel characteristics with potential hazards."

Labeling confusion

The report noted that claims and research about both the bene?ts of and risks posed by GE crops and food have created a confusing landscape for the public and policy-makers. A proposed mandatory labeling law scheduled to take effect in Vermont would only add to that confusion by stigmatizing a safe technology, which would be misleading and costly to consumers, said the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food.

"If required to label," the NAS report said, "manufacturers would probably reformulate products to avoid labeling by using non-GE ingredients where possible instead of putting on a label that will lead to a loss of sales. In the EU, most food manufacturers have reformulated their products to avoid having to label their products under the EU mandatory-labeling regime."

Farmers and food manufacturers have been calling on the U.S. Senate to prevent state-by-state labeling mandates like Vermont’s that are not based on science or food safety issues.

"The study gives senators all the evidence they need to support a national, voluntary labeling standard, and we urge them to do so soon — before it is too late to halt the non-science-based labeling mandate in Vermont," said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall, a Georgia farmer.