The Union of Concerned Scientists and Scientific Consensus

posted in: Commentary | 31

ucs-logo-questionDoes The Union of Concerned Scientists concur with the broad scientific consensus that GE crops currently on the market are safe to eat? And 9 other points.

In the last few days, Margaret Mellon and Doug Gurian-Sherman have clarified the position of the Union of Concerned Scientists on various blogs and forums. Their responses are often quite lengthy so I will summarize my understanding here of the UCS position based on their responses:

UCS concurs with the broad scientific consensus (see main articles for citations) that:

1. Each GE crop must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
2. In the case of GE cotton, the technology has enhanced yields in many parts of the world.
3. The planting of GE cotton has reduced the use of sprayed insecticides.
4. GE papaya has enhanced yields.
5. GE crops currently on the market are safe to eat.
6. The GE crops themselves are safe for the environment. However overuse of herbicides or pesticides on any type of farms (GE, nonGE or organic) can leads to herbicide resistant weeds or insects that tolerate the pesticide.
7. GE crops are just one of the many tools that can be used to enhance the sustainability of farms.
8.  Enhanced public funding for breeding is needed
9. The planting of GE corn in the US has benefited growers of non-GE corn
10.  The technology of GE has not solved all agricultural problems. But we should not throw out the technology for that reason. (Just as we do not consider vaccination as a technological failure because there are still diseases for which we don’t yet have vaccines)

I am glad to see that UCS has come forward to clarify their position.

The other points that Gurian-Sherman and Mellon raise (e.g. the relevance of peer review, the relative merits of breeding and GE to address diverse agricultural problems etc.) will be taken up in a discussion on in the near future.

Update: Quite puzzling, even though they have said essentially these same things in their discussion with me, Margaret Mellon and Doug Gurian-Sherman now say that the only point they agree with is that public support of plant breeding is needed.

Pam Ronald’s statements above do not represent positions of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
If anyone wants to know our views about agriculture, we urge them to read our blogs, our website and our reports.
Margaret Mellon and Doug Gurian-Sherman

We do support increased funding for public breeding programs. But on other points, as noted above, please see our web pages and reports.

To resolve this issue I will update this post with links to their statements supporting this summary above, with the hope of moving the discussion forward to what aspects of scientific consensus on GE crops the UCS agrees with and what they dispute, and why.

Follow Pamela Ronald:
Pamela Ronald is Professor of Plant Pathology at the University of California, Davis, where she studies the role that genes play in a plant’s response to its environment. Her research focuses on the genetics of rice. With her husband, she co-wrote Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics and the Future of Food. She writes a blog of the same name.