Eighty-five scientists have released a statement challenging claims from biotech companies and the UK government that GM crops are safe for human consumption.
DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson wants Britain to be at the forefront of a GM farming revolution across Europe.
Mr Paterson believes the use of GM crops has the potential to reduce fertiliser and chemical use and improve the efficiency of agricultural and post-harvest losses.
Supporters of GM crops argue they could be a vital tool to help feed an increasing global population, which is expected to reach nine billion by 2050.
Mr Paterson has insisted that claims GMs pose a risk to the environment and human health were not true and the science “does not support this”.
Last week he branded opponents to GMs as “wicked” and said the technology could be used in Africa and Asia to enhance rice with vitamin A and prevent tens of thousand of children from blindness or death.
However, a group of 85 scientists, academics and physicians has questioned claims of a “scientific consensus” that GM foods are safe for human and animal health and the environment.
The European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) released the scientists’ statement in the week after the World Food Prize was awarded to employees of GM seed giants Monsanto and Syngenta.
Signatories of the statement include prominent and respected scientists, including Dr Hans Herren, a former winner of the World Food Prize and an Alternative Nobel Prize laureate, and Dr Pushpa Bhargava, known as the father of modern biotechnology in India.
Professor Brian Wynne, of Lancaster University, who signed the statement, said: “There is no consensus amongst scientific researchers over the health or environmental safety of GM crops and foods, and it is misleading and irresponsible for anyone to claim there is.
“Many salient questions remain open, while more are being discovered and reported by independent scientists.”
Another signatory, Professor C. Vyvyan Howard, a medically qualified toxicopathologist based at the University of Ulster, said: “A substantial number of studies suggest that GM crops and foods can be toxic or allergenic, and that they can have adverse effects on beneficial and non-target organisms.
“It is often claimed that millions of Americans eat GM foods with no ill effects. But as the USA has no GMO labelling and no epidemiological studies have been carried out, there is no way of knowing whether the rising rates of chronic diseases seen in that country have anything to do with GM food consumption or not. Therefore this claim has no scientific basis.”
Claire Robinson, research director at Earth Open Source, a global collaborative non-profit organisation focused on solving the world’s problems, said: “We have to ask why these people are so desperate to prevent further exploration of an issue that is of immense significance for the future of our food and agriculture.
“We actually need not less, but more, public debate on the effects of this technology, particularly given the proven effective alternatives that are being sidelined in the rush to promote GM.”
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