Assessment of GM Crops in Commercial Agriculture

  • E. Ann Clark
  • Hugh Lehman

DOI: 10.1023/A:1011321103091

Cite this article as:
Clark, E.A. & Lehman, H. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics (2001) 14: 3. doi:10.1023/A:1011321103091


The caliber of recent discourse regarding geneticallymodified organisms (GMOs) has suffered from a lack of consensuson terminology, from the scarcity of evidence upon which toassess risk to health and to the environment, and from valuedifferences between proponents and opponents of GMOs. Towardsaddressing these issues, we present the thesis that GM should bedefined as the forcible insertion of DNA into a host genome,irrespective of the source of the DNA, and exclusive ofconventional or mutation breeding.

Some defenders of the commercial use of GMOs have referred to thescientific work of GMO critics as ``junk science.'' Such a claim isfalse and misleading, given that many papers critical of both theutility and safety of GMOs have been published in peer reviewedjournals by respected scientists. In contrast, there is a dearthof peer reviewed work to substantiate the frequently heardassertions of either safety or utility in GMOs. The polarity,which now characterizes much of the public discourse on GMOs,reflects not simply scientific disagreement, but alsodisagreement in underlying value assumptions. Value differencesstrongly affect the assessment of both benefit and harm fromGMOs.

The concept of substantial equivalence occupies a pivotalposition in the GMO risk assessment process that is used in bothCanada and the US. A GMO judged to be substantially equivalent toa conventional product – as have all submissions to date – ispresumed to be safe enough for commercialization. The conclusionof safety – from both human health and environmental perspectives– should be based on scientific evidence, corroborated by actualexperimentation. However, regulators infer safety largely fromassumptions-based reasoning, with little or no experimentalvalidation. The judgement of safety because of substantialequivalence is a dubious argument by analogy.

biotechnology genetic engineering junk science risk assessment substantial equivalence 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. Ann Clark
    • 1
  • Hugh Lehman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Plant AgricultureUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada

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