The hidden side of clinical trials

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Evidence matters to the public

Join us on 1st November at Parliament to make the case

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Plant Science Panel

Insecticides, biofuels, GMOs …

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'The Ugly Truth'

by Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science

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Safety and regulation of GM

Huw Jones Jonathan Jones

Professor Huw Jones and Professor Jonathan Jones answered your questions on GM trials, super-weeds, and ecosystems on Friday 3rd August 2012. Find out more about Huw and Jonathan here.

If you have a question on a plant science related issue then get in contact with our Plant Science Expert Panel via Twitter, @senseaboutsci using #plantsci, or email us at [email protected].


1. How could we ensure that GM, once widely established, is not released into countries without regulation making it susceptible to bribery and corruption?

JJ: Bribery and corruption are regrettably found everywhere. Existing GM traits (insect and herbicide resistance) and likely pending traits (drought tolerance, nutrient use efficiency, enhanced yield) are unlikely to cause particular problems in more corrupt countries. The main problem would most likely be for trait providers (ie Monsanto et al) who might find it more difficult to successfully charge royalties in more corrupt countries.

2. Could GM make plants flourish in severe droughts?

JJ: No plant will flourish in severe droughts. But there are genes that can enable crops to provide better yields under mild drought conditions; these genes are likely to be deployed over the next 5 - 10 years.

3. What is the process to approve GM crops for use in food? 

HJ: In Europe, an applicant would apply to the EU under regulation EC 1829/2003 for approval to market the GM variety for food and feed uses. The EC requires a risk assessment to be carried out by the GMO panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The assessment includes a comprehensive evaluation of the DNA insertion at a molecular level, toxicity, allergenicity and an environmental risk assessment. The risk assessment is comparative and aims to judge whether the new GM variety is, or is not, as safe as its conventional counterpart (usually the variety that was transformed with the new gene). The outcome of the risk assessment is published in the EFSA journal and authority to import the new variety for consumption in food and feed may be granted by the EU (sometimes after a protracted period of political discussion!). There are more than forty GM crop types that currently have EU approval for importation into Europe for food and feed uses.

4. How would you compare the burden of proof for demonstrating the safety of GM food with that of a new medicine?

JJ: I have no expertise in regulation of new medicines, but regulation of medicines is protracted and expensive. New medicines involve taking into one’s body a novel compound or protein in pure form. In contrast, current GM foods are 99.99% identical to non-GM foods, and there is no plausible mechanism by which a herbicide resistance gene or Bt insect resistance gene could be damaging to human health. So it is right that regulation of GM foods is less onerous than new medicines.



Our Q&As answer the questions people put, which may mean that some parts of a subject are covered well and others not. If there is an issue that you think is not tackled, you are welcome to send a follow up question to our plant science panel