Two papers in the last week contribute data to the discussion about whether GM crops and cloned cows are safe. The answer is affirmative. Sorry, Greenpeace; science trumps ideology, at least in this case. Fortunately, Toto, this isn't Kansas.
"Insect-Resistant GM Rice in Farmer's Fields: Assessing Productivity and Health Effects in China", by Huang et al in last week's Science, describes a controlled study of a field trial that shows clear evidence for a reduction in use of pesticides, higher crop yields, and improved health of the farmers. Receipt of GM and non-GM strains for planting was randomized amongst participating farmers, facilitating analysis of the effects of genetic modification. The results speak for themselves:
This study provides evidence that there are positive impacts of the insect-resistant GM rice on productivity and farmer health. Insect resistant GM rice yields were 6 to 9% higher than conventional varieties, with an 80% reduction in pesticide usage and a reduction in their adverse health effects. Such high potential benefits suggest that produces from China's plant biotechnology industry could be an effective way to increase both competitiveness internationally and rural economies domestically. The benefits are only magnified if the health benefits are added.
There has been considerable discussion about the health and economic impacts of GM food crops, with neither side having much data on their side. This is particularly important for China, because they want to commercialize both strains studied in the field trial, which makes any uncertainty a threat to success in the market. Now, however, the evidence indicates GM food crops are both safe and economically superior.
And it isn't just biotech plants that are proving safe. In a paper in last week's PNAS, Tian et al studied the composition of milk and beef from cloned cattle. Milk from the cloned cattle was virtually identical to control animals as determined by measuring fat content, lactose content, and protein composition. The beef cattle were cloned from a bull chosen because of a high fat marbling score; unsurprisingly the clones demonstrated a high fat content as well.
The authors note that while only small number of animals were studied in this pilot project, "most parameters of the composition of the meat and milk from somatic animal clones were not significantly different from those of their genetically matched comparators or industry beef comparators, and that all parameters examined in this study were within the normal range of beef and dairy products approved for human consumption".