Anne Glover, EU chief scientific advisor: “No risk with GMO food”

Jeremy Fleming at Euractiv.com recently posted a remarkable interview with University of Aberdeen biologist Anne Glover – who was appointed the European Commission’s Chief Scientific Advisor Jan 1, 2012. Dr. Glover certainly does not sound like any EU official that we have heard – she is talking evidence-based policy! I will speculate that the EU politicians are not going to like listening to Glover one bit. We sure hope they do listen and that she keeps her appointment!

EXCLUSIVE: Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are no riskier than their conventionally farmed equivalents, the European Commission’s Chief Scientific Advisor Anne Glover has told EurActiv in an exclusive interview, calling for countries impeding GMO use to be put to proof.

The endorsement of GMO safety will rattle member states where bans are in place (see background), and represents the CSA’s highest-profile policy intervention since Glover became Commission President José Manuel Barroso’s scientific advisor last December.

“There is no substantiated case of any adverse impact on human health, animal health or environmental health, so that’s pretty robust evidence, and I would be confident in saying that there is no more risk in eating GMO food than eating conventionally farmed food,” Glover told EurActiv, saying the precautionary principle no longer applies as a result.

Glover said she was not promoting GMOs, and added that “eating food is risky”, explaining: “Most of us forget that most plants are toxic, and it’s only because we cook them, or the quantity that we eat them in, that makes them suitable.”

Scarce resources

But she said that scientific evidence needed to play a stronger role in policymaking, firing a warning shot at countries that have banned GMOs. “I think we could really get somewhere in Europe if when evidence is used partially, there were an obligation on people to say why they have rejected evidence,” she said.

GMOs and other scientific advances must be explored in order to head off the increasing scarcity of energy and other resources and competition for land use, Glover suggested.

“If we are using land to produce biofuels, we are not producing food, and that that means we have to intensify food production,” she said.

Glover, a former professor of biology at the University of Aberdeen, served as chief scientific advisor for Scotland before from 2006-2011. She joined the Commission on 1 January.

Her role is to bolster scientific evidence by saying things that politicians and officials are sometimes uncomfortable with, she said, adding: “The evidence with which I work is independent, the evidence with which I work does not change according to political philosophy. And that should give people a lot of confidence.”

Glover said that discomfort around the subject of GM crops in the 1980s and 1990s was “a generation ago, we’ve moved on and the challenges are completely different”.

She said that the precautionary principle was appropriate when applied properly, but added: “We should not … somehow tie our hands behind our back in such a way that we will be so precautionary that we will wait for everyone else to use our knowledge before we use it.”

“That would be my worry, because knowledge is an international currency, and we are amongst the slowest in taking advantage of the knowledge we create, and that cannot be right.”

(…)

Please read the entire interview. Then read the comments. The vast majority are content-free Greenpeace talking points. There was one important exception I noted, by Melinda Miller 24/07/2012. She is commenting on the weak reference posted by one of the anti-GMO types:

As a Scientist and a family Farmer I am always interested whenever someone posts a research paper to defend their viewpoints. I took time to go directly to the research itself (Spiroux de Vendômois1, et al, A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health, Int’l Journal of Biological Sciences, 2009; 5(7):706-726) and reviewed their findings. I thought it was striking that the Authors themselves repeatedly admitted in the paper that they did not have enough information from the study groups of rats to draw statistically relevant conclusions. Even more shocking was that while they used a control group of over 300 rats, their experimental group (being fed GM-corn) was only 80 rats and of those animals they only included 10 into their data. Why not use all 80 animals since they were already starting with a shockingly low numbered group study?

Being open-minded, I assumed that since this article is already outdated in the scientific community (3 years), I searched for more recent works by the Authors. Perhaps they have filled in some of the blanks in their research since such a simple feeding study should be easily replicated in 3 years time to include more animals? I could find none, but I did discover that Greenpeace was the original study’s funding source.
As a Scientist, it is critically important that research be done through an independent, peer-reviewed system. It maintains an objective viewpoint which reduces chances of data being used to further any specific predetermined viewpoint. I am open to looking through any other studies that I can find that meet these requirements. Unfortunately, none of the previous links provided meet those standards.