An article in The Ecologist on 15th of July 2015 reported that a study commissioned by the Norwegian government, and conducted by a nationally recognised scientific authority on the safety of biotechnologies, concluded that available scientific data on GM crops was inadequate to prove their safety.
The scientific report was commissioned by the Norwegian Environment Agency and completed in 2014, before being publicly released in June 2015 by the Genok Centre for Biosafety, located in the Arctic University of Norway. The Genok Centre was a nationally-designated centre of competence on biosafety issues.
The study analysed a dossier by giant agribusiness conglomerate, Monsanto, submitted to the Brazilian government, and conducted a comprehensive review of the available scientific literature from other sources.
Its focus was on Monsanto's GM soybean Intacta Roundup Ready 2 Pro, which was grown in Brazil, and also authorised in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, and probably also present in Bolivia due to illegal introductions from neighbouring countries.
The report, titled 'Sustainability Assessment of Genetically Modified Herbicide Tolerant Crops' concluded that due to major gaps in the scientific literature, it was not possible to give a scientific verdict on their safety.
Monsanto's dossier, the report concluded, demonstrated a range of methodological weaknesses, and highlighted the problem of incomplete information and research on GM crops in the available literature.
According to Monsanto, genetically modified organisms did not harm human or animal health, and therefore did not have any adverse effects on crops and the environment. But according to the new Norwegian study:
"Contrary to this assertion, the literature provides indications of harmful and adverse effects to the environment and to health (both animal and human), as well as to socio-economic conditions, particularly over the medium- and long-term."
The new study was authored by a researcher at the Agroecology Centre (AGRUCO) at the Faculty of Agricultural, Livestock and Forestry Sciences, University Mayor de San Simon, Cochabamba, Bolivi, who had also been technical biosafety advisor at Bolivia's Vice-Ministry of Environment, Water and Forestry Management.
"Statements of the safety of GM crops rely principally on the absence of evidence of harm in specific research tests, rather than actual evidence of safety", she said. "Absence of evidence of harm is a too low standard for adequate protection of human and environmental health ...
"Moreover, today, a large portion of the research on GM crops is based on short-term studies that have inherent methodological weakness for detecting subtle yet significant effects that materialise in the long-term. Another common weakness?-?as indicated in my report?-?is the lack sufficient analytical rigour to derive any meaningful conclusions."
According to her report, the large number of studies which indicated positive impacts of GM crops were questionable because of such "methodological limitations", which largely ignored "possible long-term effects" and used a "reduced and repetitive set of indicators."
"These limitations", the Norwegian report concluded, "partially explain the kinds of findings reported by the applicant [Monsanto]: all of them showing no possible adverse effects in contrast to a significant body of literature."
A spokesman for Monsanto, dismissed the report's findings: "We are confident that GM crops can be and are being properly assessed for safety and that GM crops being used by farmers are just as safe and in some cases safer than conventional crops and foods."
He added that GM crops were "designed to be safe" by scientists and plant breeders, and that national and international regulators whose job was "to check that a crop is safe and to protect consumers" have certified GM:
"Since GM crops were first grown on a large scale 19 years ago in the mid 1990's, billions of meals including ingredients from these crops have been safety consumed by people around the world. No health effects what so ever have been observed?-?GM crops have a track record of safety."
The author of the study, however, disagreed. At the request of the Norwegian Environment Agency, the report focused on analysing the herbicide tolerant trait of Monsanto's 'Intacta' crop.
"The literature contains a number of recent scientific studies which do indicate potential adverse effects", she said, and noted that Monsanto's comment solely concerned Intacta's insect resistance. By selectively focusing on studies of only certain impacts of the crop, Monsanto and other biotechnology companies were misleading the public.