The regulatory regime for GM crops and foods is weakest in the US, the origin of most such crops, but is inadequate in most regions of the world, including Europe. The US regime assumes that GM crops are safe if certain basic constituents of the GM crop are “substantially equivalent” to those of their non-GM counterparts – a term that has not been legally or scientifically defined. The European regime applies the same concept but terms it “comparative safety assessment”. But often, when a scientific comparison of a GM crop and its non-GM counterpart is undertaken, the assumption of substantial equivalence is shown to be false, as unexpected differences are found.
No regulatory regime anywhere in the world requires long-term or rigorous safety testing of GM crops and foods. Regulatory assessments are based on data provided by the company that is applying to commercialise the crop – the same company that will profit from a positive assessment of its safety.
The regulatory procedure for GM crops is not independent or objective. The GM crop industry, notably through the industry-funded group, the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), has heavily influenced the way in which its products are assessed for safety. ILSI has successfully promoted ideas such as the comparative safety assessment, which maximize the chances of a GMO avoiding rigorous safety testing and greatly reduce industry’s costs for GMO authorisations.
The GM crop industry restricts access to its products by independent researchers, so their effects on human and animal health and the environment cannot be properly investigated. Independent researchers who have published papers containing data that is not supportive of GMOs have been attacked by the industry and pro-GMO groups and individuals. This has had a chilling effect on the debate about GM crops and has compromised scientific progress in understanding their effects.