Syngenta researcher says GMO labels create unnecessary fears

Experts say more than a trillion meals including genetically modified foods have been eaten, with not one instance of adverse health effects. | File photo
Joseph Byrum, Syngenta's senior research, development and strategic marketing executive in Life Sciences at Global Product Development, Innovation and Delivery, considers the genetically modified organism label a misnomer. 

“The science shows that biotechnology reduces pesticide use,” Byrum recently told Crop Protection News. “In a 2014 meta-analysis in the journal PLOS One on the environmental impacts of biotechnology used in soybean, corn and cotton crops, it was determined that while yields increased by 22 percent, pesticide use was reduced by 37 percent.”

Byrum explained that the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications conducted a 17-year study on biotechnology crops’ effect on the environment and concluded, in part, that, “one of the significant environmental benefits of GM crops is the dramatic reduction in pesticide use, with the size of the reduction varying between crops and introduced trait.”

Byrum also explained that the study showed how the global economic and environmental impacts of biotech crops for the first 17 years (1996-2012) of adoption showed that the technology has reduced pesticide spraying by 503 million kilograms and has reduced environmental footprint associated with pesticide use by 18.7 percent.

“The technology has also significantly reduced the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture equivalent to removing 11.9 million cars from the roads,” Byrum said. “The study found that in the USA, adoption of GM crops resulted in pesticide use reduction of 46.4 million pounds in 2003.”

Despite these studies, there still seems to be skepticism among certain groups of people who question the safety of genetically modified organisms.

“I think people can be fearful of the technology,” Byrum said. “As an industry, we didn’t do a good job explaining how the technology works when crops were first introduced utilizing modern biotechnology.”

Because of this lack of explanation early on, Byrum said it has created the ability for misinformation and scare tactics.

“There is small segment that capitalized on this fear of technology when they coined the term 'GMO' to scare people into believing the science behind this breeding process isn’t safe,” he said. “What they’re talking about from a scientific and agricultural perspective is a crop produced with a novel breeding process.”

Byrum has to regularly defend the process and explains that there are many misconceptions with Syngenta, which is a provider of innovative solutions and brands to growers, and the food and feed chain. 

“More than a trillion meals have been eaten, with not one instance of adverse health effects,” he said. “Crops developed through modern biotechnology methods are tested more heavily than pharmaceuticals before they can be commercially planted, grown or harvested. They have to pass a rigorous battery of more than 80 safety tests to ensure they’re safe for human and animals to eat, and safe for the environment. All of the testing shows that when a corn crop is developed through modern biotechnology methods (for example), it's just corn.”

Byrum said many opponents of the technology are often strong believers in global warming, because of the science.

“It’s difficult to understand how believing in the science on global warming is OK, when not believing in the science of the safety of biotechnology is also OK,” he said. “We need a willingness on all sides to have dialogue about food security. There is a disconnect, and we’re working to address that as an industry through the site Ultimately, farmers and society need and deserve to have technologies to increase their yields and profits, while also increasing environmental sustainability.”

Byrum argued that creating technological limitations due to a lack of understanding or misinformation is damaging to much-needed food resources.

“I absolutely believe that limiting famers’ access to the technology is not in the best interest of anyone – farmers, consumers and every global citizen,” Byrum said. “We need a willingness on all sides to have dialogue about food security. The preponderance of scientific evidence, along with the fact that trillions of meals have been eaten with GM crops as ingredients without one instance of harm, makes it almost illogical to deny farmers the use of this technology.”

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Syngenta Basel, Switzerland

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