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Crop conundrum

Adrian C Dubock
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2008.00137.x 17-20 First published online: 1 January 2009

The lead review “Risk assessment of genetically modified crops for nutrition and health” by Magaña-Gómez and Calderon de la Barca,1 ends with a common plea: “more research is needed”. It is valid to put both this plea and the justification for other similar research into perspective. How selective are the reviews that lead to the conclusion that more of such research is needed? What comparators are available? Why genetically modified (GM) crops particularly? And what political effect does the science promulgate; to what advantage and to what disadvantage is global society affected?

Magaña-Gómez and Calderon de la Barca1 conclude that at a macroscopic, whole animal level, there is no provable adverse health effect of GM crops, but there is evidence that microscopic and molecular changes may have been induced in animal studies. It is implied that these may be important for safety. But what is the comparator basis for these studies?

Crops and plants, in general, are dynamic and complex. At different growth stages, in different environments, as well as in different varieties (e.g., there are more than 20,000 varieties of rice), there will be variations at the molecular and microscopic levels. Research into normal biological variation for any relevant crop species of the growth stages, environmental effects, and variety differences would be useful so that comparisons of the same data, which need statistical analysis anyway, from any GM crop plant could be made based on properly established, statistically valid, baseline data for that species. Yet such research would be very time-consuming, expensive, and unlikely to receive grant funding, so it will probably not be done. Yet, without having a very firm understanding of the breadth of this variation, a comparison of analytical data (chemical or histological) from any sample of a GM crop may only be a …

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