WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 2014 – A new study concludes there are no adverse health effects for animals that eat genetically engineered (GE) feed grains or from the products derived those animals. The study, by Alison Van Eenennaam, an extension specialist in the Department of Animal Science at the University of California, Davis, examined 29 years of livestock health data gathered both before and after the introduction of GE crops into animal feed.
Considered by many in the agriculture industry as the most comprehensive study of GE crops ever, “Prevalence and impacts of genetically engineered feedstuffs on livestock population” is online and will be published in the Journal of Animal Science after Oct. 1.
“Field data sets representing over 100 billion animals following the introduction of GE crops did not reveal unfavorable or perturbed trends in livestock health and productivity,” the study concluded. “No study has revealed any differences in the nutritional profile of animal products derived from GE-fed animals.” U.S. agriculture produces over 9 billion food producing animals annually, and more than 95 percent of these animals consume feed containing GE ingredients. Globally, food-producing animals consume 70-90 percent of genetically engineered crop biomass, mostly corn and soybeans.
Van Eenennaam and her researchers collected data on livestock productivity and health from 1983, before the introduction of GE crops in 1996, and subsequently through 2011, a period with high levels of predominately GE animal feed.
“There’s been a lot of media coverage of a handful of highly controversial studies suggesting egregious health effects of GE feed on animals…that’s being used to suggest that there’s something dangerous with these products,” Van Eenennaam said in a recording of an interview provided by the U.S. Grains Council (USGC). “That just didn’t gel with my field experience.”
The Journal of Animal Science requested she do the study. She said the field data she analyzed concurs with “controlled, more scientific literature” that show no ill-effects of GE feed.
She also said the broiler poultry information is probably the most powerful part of the study, because of the sheer size of the data set. “We looked at 9 billion birds that were fed mostly GM [genetically modified] crops,” Van Eenennaam said. “There was improved feed-to-gain ratios and decreased age to market, which suggests that feeding GM crops did not have any detrimental effects to the birds’ health.”
According to Genetic Literacy Project Executive Director Jon Entine, the study should end all debate around the safety of genetically modified food. “By common sense alone, if GE feed were causing unusual problems among livestock, farmers would have noticed,” he wrote in a column for Forbes. But now, “Considering the size of the dataset, it can reasonably be said that the debate over the impact of GE feed on animal health is closed: there is zero extraordinary impact.”
Van Eenennaam warned in her study that trade issues will increase as more GE feed enters the market. Some of those issues are connected to asynchronous approvals, which occur when countries approve biotech traits in different periods of time.
“There is currently a pipeline of so-called ‘second generation’ GE crops with improved output traits for livestock production,” she noted. “Their approval will further complicate the sourcing of non-GE feedstuffs.”
The study argues that “there is an urgent need for international harmonization of both regulatory frameworks for GE crops and governance of advanced breeding techniques to prevent widespread disruptions in international trade of livestock feedstuffs in the future.”
The U.S. Grains Council said it would use this study to persuade policymakers to form more consistent and science-based biotechnology policies. “The new findings could have implications for the international marketplace as some countries continue to reject GM crops based on non-science-based safety concerns,” USGC noted.
Until policies are harmonized, the U.S. will see more cargoes rejected by trading partners because of the detection of unapproved biotech products. “This is going to increase the cost of food everywhere, which has real implications for food security,” she said.
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