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Reader feedback: Letter to the editor

Re: You are what you eat, Volume 11, Number 33, August 29 - September 4, 2005

Foods produced through genetic modification (GM) technology are accepted by the scientific community around the world. They are transparently and extensively tested prior to any human consumption. As a result, they are beneficially and safely used by people worldwide. Unfortunately, the recent Spectator article on this topic appears to have relied on fact-twisting and scare tactics contrary to the scientific realities regarding GM foods.

The benefits of GM technology have been consistently recognized by global scientific organizations. In a June 2005 study, the World Health Organization concluded: "The development of GMOs offers the potential of increased agricultural productivity or improved nutritional values that can contribute directly to enhancing human health and development. From a health perspective, there may also be indirect benefits such as a reduction in agricultural chemical usage, enhanced farm income, crop sustainability and food security, particularly in developing countries."

As the WHO study shows, acceptance of GM products is not just an American position. The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) determined recently that EU member states had NO scientific basis for enacting safeguard measures against GMOs.

In 2000, the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences stated, "Enhanced production of qualitatively improved food under sustainable conditions could greatly alleviate both poverty and malnutrition. These are goals that will become even more urgent as our numbers increase by an estimated two billion additional people over the next few decades. Modern science can help meet this challenge if it is applied in an appropriately constructive social and economic context. Genetically modified plants can play an important role in alleviating world food problems."

Contrary to Greenpeace's assertion in the article that the Monsanto Corporation was hiding studies and documentation about its GM product MON 863, the entire report was already in the possession of many countries, including those in Europe. In fact, the EFSA released the following statement after Greenpeace announced its "discovery":

"The GMO Panel has given careful consideration to the arguments set out in the report. Following its investigation of the report, and of the retrospective evaluation of renal tissues and data derived from the 13-week rat feeding study performed by independent peer reviews, the GMO Panel concludes that there is no evidence presented in the report that changes the conclusion already reached by the GMO Panel earlier this year in its Opinions on the safety of the insect-protected genetically modified maize MON 863 (EFSA 2004a, b). These opinions state that the results of the rodent toxicity study with MON 863 maize did not indicate concerns about its safety for human and animal consumption."

The Slovak Spectator article also presents the inaccurate view that farmers planting GM insect-resistant crops increase pesticide usage.

In fact, farmers who use GM crops are able to increase their use of non-toxic phytocides. The use of caustic pesticides has dropped substantially as a result of GM crops. The increased use of these phytocides allows farmers to decrease tillage, save money on fuel, reduce tractor emissions, and save soil that would otherwise have been lost.

Finally, Greenpeace claimed that the recent visit to Slovakia of Madelyn Spirnak, Senior Advisor on Biotechnology to the United States Department of State, was nothing more than a lobbying effort on behalf of U.S. corporations. In fact, Ms Spirnak visited with Slovak government officials, NGOs, scientists, and lawmakers in order to better understand how the country is implementing EU and WTO requirements and what role biotechnology will play in Slovakia's economic future.

GMOs have been used in agriculture for over ten years without a single health problem of any kind. The reality is that they have brought great benefits in needy areas, for example, substantially raising productivity among smallholder farmers in South Africa and vastly increasing cotton production in India. Eighteen countries around the world, including Spain and Germany in the EU, the United States and Canada in North America, and Argentina in South America, are leading the way in implementing this technology. These countries are not interested in coercing others to employ the technology, but simply want fair access to markets based on established scientific principles instead of artificial political barriers and alarmist rhetoric.

Lawrence Silverman
Deputy Chief of Mission
US Embassy,
Bratislava, Slovakia

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