Nina Fedoroff delivering a lecture on the role of technology in feeding 10 billion people at NYU Abu Dhabi Institute. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Despite the controversy surrounding it, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) used for food can play a big role in meeting the world’s future food security needs, with scientific studies thus far showing that genetically modified foods pose no harm to humans, said a distinguished researcher in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

Held at New York University Abu Dhabi, the talk was given by Nina Fedoroff, a molecular biologist who has served as science adviser under former US secretaries of state, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. During her talk, Fedoroff acknowledged that a public mistrust towards GMO foods existed, but pointed out that the use of GMOs was growing around the world.

“Genetically modified (GM) crops have been adopted by farmers faster than any crops in the history of humanity, [and] they’ve had a significant impact both economically and environmentally,” she said.

“GM crops were grown by roughly 18 million farmers in 26 countries on 457 million acres [of land in 2016],” she added, highlighting an official study that was carried out by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.

“More than 90 per cent of the farmers growing [GM foods] are resource-poor farmers in developing countries, [and] the overall profits were roughly equally divided between the developed and the developing world. So it’s not a simple case that this only benefits big farmers,” she said, highlighting how farmers were also benefiting.

Fedoroff also commented on the positive environmental aspects with GMOs, specifically in reducing the use of pesticides, which she said was down by more than a third from 1996-2014.

Fedoroff criticised the arguments used against GMOs calling them fake science, and pointed to commissioned studies on GMOs, which concluded that they pose no harm to humans or animals.

“There is a growing body of what can only be called in contemporary terminology [as] fake science around GM food. The European Union issued a report in 2010 … [and its main] conclusion [is that] crops modified by GM techniques are no more dangerous than crops modified by other methods … There is nothing that has surfaced in all of this time that would suggest that using these techniques is dangerous,” she added.

“Every credible scientific body that’s looked at the evidence have the same conclusion … [that] today’s GM crops are harmful to neither humans or animals, [there is] no evidence of harm,” she said.

GM foods defined

Genetically modified (GM) foods are foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, e.g. through the introduction of a gene from a different organism. Currently available GM foods stem mostly from plants, but in the future foods derived from GM microorganisms or GM animals are likely to be introduced on the market. Most existing genetically modified crops have been developed to improve yield, through the introduction of resistance to plant diseases or of increased tolerance of herbicides.

—World Health Organisation