GM Science Review: Press Release, 21 July 2003


The GM Science Review Panel today published the results of its full, open and independent review of current scientific knowledge on GM crops and foods.

The report by a panel of experts has found no scientific case for ruling out all GM crops and their products, but nor does it give them blanket approval. It emphasises that GM is not a single homogeneous technology and its applications need to be considered on a case-by-case basis. The Panel also emphasised the importance of GM regulation keeping pace with new developments.

Worldwide there have been no verifiable ill effects reported from the extensive consumption of products from GM crops over seven years by humans and livestock. Some argue that this, combined with the testing required for regulatory clearance, provides important assurance of safety. But others argue for additional research including epidemiological surveillance. Such surveillance is very difficult for any whole food, GM or otherwise, although work is being taken forward in this area.

On balance, the Panel concludes that the risks to human health from GM crops currently on the market are very low. But depending on the crops developed GM may present greater challenges in risk management in the future. It is important to continue to develop safety assessment technologies, effective surveillance, monitoring and labelling systems.

The Panel also found that, for the current generation of GM crops, the most important issue was their potential effect on farmland and wildlife. This is currently being investigated with the examination of the impact of herbicide tolerant crops on the environment in the Farm Scale Evaluations.

Detailed field experiments on current generation GM crops show that in a range of environments they are very unlikely to invade the countryside and become problematic plants. Nor are they likely to be toxic to wildlife. But it is clear that gaps in our knowledge and uncertainties will become more complex if the range of plants and traits introduced increases.

The report identifies areas where more scientific research is needed including allergenicity, soil ecology, farmland biodiversity and consequences of gene flow. It also calls for companies to make good choices in terms of gene design and plant hosts, and to develop products that meet wider social wishes. Finally, the regulatory system in the UK should continue to operate so that it is sensitive to the degree of risk and uncertainty, recognises the distinctive features of GM, divergent scientific perspectives and associated gaps in knowledge, as well as taking into account the conventional breeding context and baselines.

The Government's Chief Scientific Adviser Sir David King who chaired the panel said:

"GM is a subject of intense debate and attracts a wide range of views; from supporters who point to potential benefits to opponents with significant concerns. The GM Science Review published today has been unique in the way it has considered in detail the interests and concerns of the public and experts alike. The Panel is inviting comments on its report over the summer. We particularly want to hear from members of the public.

"I would like to thank all the panel members for working so hard. I am delighted that we have been able to explore the full range of views and expertise to collectively produce this report. I hope that its honest and unbiased findings will enable debate and decision to be informed by sound scientific evidence.

"GM. is not a homogeneous technology on which scientists can make blanket assurances on safety. Applications of GM technology will have to be considered on a case-by-case basis. We cannot know everything but if we are paralysed by uncertainty, innovation and progress will be stifled. The very best science must be brought to bear on the important decisions that will need to be taken in the future. GM technology must not be considered in a vacuum, but alongside conventional agricultural and food applications."

Howard Dalton, Chief Scientific Adviser at Defra and panel member, said:

"The deliberations by our panel of experts has produced the best scientific evaluation of GM crops and their products thus far. Their careful analysis of the science has left no stone unturned and their work must be judged on its thoroughness and its balanced account of our current knowledge. The panel are especially careful to point out where there are gaps in our knowledge and where there are areas of scientific uncertainty. The report will enable us to make a sensible evaluation of the risks and benefits of the technology as highlighted in the Strategy Unit report and the public debate."

The review has looked in detail at seventeen areas identified by the general public and the science community. It refers to well over 600 published scientific documents and additional contributions came from the review website and the open meetings. The Review Panel is chaired by Sir David King the Chief Scientific Adviser and has members with a wide range of scientific, industrial, sociological and environmental expertise and views.

A follow up report in the Autumn will consider comments from the public together with the results of the GM public debate. The Panel will also consider any further scientific developments including the results of the GM farm scale evaluations providing they are available.

Notes to Editors

1. The Science Review was requested by Agriculture Secretary Margaret Beckett with the agreement of ministers in the devolved administrations. The public debate "GMNation?" and the Strategy Unit report on the costs and benefits of GM crops have been the other strands in the GM dialogue aimed at engaging the public and assisting the Government with future GM policy decisions. The Science Review Panel will reconvene in the Autumn to take account of comments invited on the first report, as well as any further scientific issues arising from the public debate report. It will take account of any further significant scientific developments and the results of the farm scale evaluations providing they are available as expected. The deadline for comments on this first report is 15 October 2003.

2. The full report, full list of panel members and more information is available at This is also where people can submit their comments on the report.