In the psychology of human behavior, denialism is a person's choice to deny reality as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth. Denialism is an essentially irrational action that withholds the validation of a historical experience or event, when a person refuses to accept an empirically verifiable reality. In the sciences, denialism is the rejection of basic facts and concepts that are undisputed, well-supported parts of the scientific consensus on a subject, in favor of radical and controversial ideas. The terms Holocaust denialism and AIDS denialism describe the denial of the facts and the reality of the subject matters, and the term climate change denial describes denial of the scientific consensus that the climate change of planet Earth is a real and occurring event primarily caused by human activity. The forms of denialism present the common feature of the person rejecting overwhelming evidence and the generation of political controversy with attempts to deny the existence of consensus. The motivations and causes of denialism include religion and self-interest (economic, political, financial) and defence mechanisms meant to protect the psyche of the denialist against mentally disturbing facts and ideas.
Orthodoxy and heterodoxy
Anthropologist Didier Fassin distinguishes between denial, defined as "the empirical observation that reality and truth are being denied", and denialism, which he defines as "an ideological position whereby one systematically reacts by refusing reality and truth".
Persons and social groups who reject propositions on which there exists a mainstream and scientific consensus engage in denialism when they use rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of argument and legitimate debate, when there is none. Rick Stoff quoted Chris Hoofnagle—a senior staff attorney at the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic and a senior fellow at the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology at the UC Berkeley School of Law—as follows:
Then there are those who engage in denialist tactics because they are protecting some "overvalued idea" which is critical to their identity. Since legitimate dialogue is not a valid option for those who are interested in protecting bigoted or unreasonable ideas from scientific facts, their only recourse is to use these types of rhetorical tactics.
In a 2003 newspaper article, Edwin Cameron, a senior South African judge who has AIDS, described the tactics used by those who deny the Holocaust and by those who deny that the AIDS pandemic is due to infection with HIV. He states that "For denialists, the facts are unacceptable. They engage in radical controversion, for ideological purposes, of facts that, by and large, are accepted by almost all experts and lay persons as having been established on the basis of overwhelming evidence". To do this they employ "distortions, half-truths, misrepresentation of their opponents' positions and expedient shifts of premises and logic." Edwin Cameron notes that a common tactic used by denialists is to "make great play of the inescapable indeterminacy of figures and statistics", as scientific studies of many areas rely on probability analysis of sets of data, and in historical studies the precise numbers of victims and other facts may not be available in the primary sources.
A 2009 article published in the journal Globalization and Health also notes "recourse to data debates and pseudo-scientific 'evidence'" as a common feature of several types of denialism. This is an area which British historian Richard J. Evans mentioned as part of his analysis of the David Irving's work which he presented for the defence when Irving sued Deborah Lipstadt for libel:
Reputable and professional historians do not suppress parts of quotations from documents that go against their own case, but take them into account, and, if necessary, amend their own case, accordingly. They do not present, as genuine, documents which they know to be forged just because these forgeries happen to back up what they are saying. They do not invent ingenious, but implausible, and utterly unsupported reasons for distrusting genuine documents, because these documents run counter to their arguments; again, they amend their arguments, if this is the case, or, indeed, abandon them altogether. They do not consciously attribute their own conclusions to books and other sources, which, in fact, on closer inspection, actually say the opposite. They do not eagerly seek out the highest possible figures in a series of statistics, independently of their reliability, or otherwise, simply because they want, for whatever reason, to maximize the figure in question, but rather, they assess all the available figures, as impartially as possible, in order to arrive at a number that will withstand the critical scrutiny of others. They do not knowingly mistranslate sources in foreign languages in order to make them more serviceable to themselves. They do not willfully invent words, phrases, quotations, incidents and events, for which there is no historical evidence, in order to make their arguments more plausible.
Mark Hoofnagle (brother of Chris Hoofnagle) has described denialism as "the employment of rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of argument or legitimate debate, when in actuality there is none".[a] It is a process that operates by employing one or more of the following five tactics in order to maintain the appearance of legitimate controversy:
- Conspiracy theories – Dismissing the data or observation by suggesting opponents are involved in "a conspiracy to suppress the truth".
- Cherry picking – Selecting an anomalous critical paper supporting their idea, or using outdated, flawed, and discredited papers in order to make their opponents look as though they base their ideas on weak research.
- False experts – Paying an expert in the field, or another field, to lend supporting evidence or credibility.
- Moving the goalposts – Dismissing evidence presented in response to a specific claim by continually demanding some other (often unfulfillable) piece of evidence.
- Other logical fallacies – Usually one or more of false analogy, appeal to consequences, straw man, or red herring.
Tara Smith of the University of Iowa also stated that moving goalposts, conspiracy theories, and cherry-picking evidence are general characteristics of denialist arguments, but went on to note that these groups spend the "majority of their efforts critiquing the mainstream theory" in an apparent belief that if they manage to discredit the mainstream view, their own "unproven ideas will fill the void".
In 2009 author Michael Specter defined group denialism as "when an entire segment of society, often struggling with the trauma of change, turns away from reality in favor of a more comfortable lie".
Prescriptive and polemic
If one party to a debate accuses the other of denialism they are framing the debate. This is because an accusation of denialism is both prescriptive and polemic. Prescriptive because it carries implications that there is truth to the denied claim; polemic since the accuser implies that continued denial in the light of presented evidence raises questions about the other's motives.
Some people have suggested that because denial of the Holocaust is well known, advocates who use the term "denialist" in other areas of debate may intentionally or unintentionally imply that their opponents are little better than holocaust deniers. For example, in an essay discussing the general importance of skepticism, Clive James objected to the use of the word denialist to describe climate change skeptics, stating that it "calls up the spectacle of a fanatic denying the Holocaust"; and Celia Farber has objected to the term AIDS denialists, arguing that it is unjustifiable to place this belief on the same moral level with the Nazi crimes against humanity. However, Robert Gallo et al. defended this latter comparison, stating that AIDS denialism is similar to Holocaust denial since it is a form of pseudoscience that "contradicts an immense body of research".
Edward Skidelsky, a lecturer in philosophy at Exeter University, has suggested that this is a new use for the word denial and it may have its origins in an old sense of "deny", akin to "disown" (as in the Apostle Peter denying Jesus), but that its more immediate antecedence is from the Freudian sense of deny as a refusal to accept a painful or humiliating truth. He writes that "An accusation of 'denial' is serious, suggesting either deliberate dishonesty or self-deception. The thing being denied is, by implication, so obviously true that the denier must be driven by perversity, malice or wilful blindness." He suggests that, by the introduction of the word denier into further areas of historical and scientific debate, "One of the great achievements of The Enlightenment—the liberation of historical and scientific enquiry from dogma—is quietly being reversed", and that this should worry liberal-minded people.
The superseded belief that the Earth is flat, and denial of all of the overwhelming evidence that supports an approximately spherical Earth that rotates around its axis and revolves around the Sun, persists into the 21st century. Modern proponents of flat-Earth cosmology (or flat-Earthers) refuse to accept any kind of contrary evidence, dismissing all spaceflights and images from space as hoaxes and accusing all organizations and even private citizens of conspiring to "hide the truth". They also claim that no actual satellites are orbiting the Earth, that the International Space Station is fake, and that these are lies from all governments involved in this grand cover-up.
Adherents of the modern flat-Earth model propose that a dome-shaped firmament encloses a disk-shaped Earth. They may also claim, after Samuel Rowbotham, that the Sun is only 3,000 miles above the Earth and that the Moon and the Sun orbit above the Earth rather than around it. Modern flat-Earthers believe that Antarctica is not a continent but a massive ice flow, with a wall 150 feet or higher, which circles the perimeter of the Earth and keeps everything (including all the oceans' water) from falling off the edge.
Flat-Earthers also assert that no one is allowed to fly over or explore Antarctica, despite contrary evidence. According to them, all photos and videos of ships sinking under the horizon and of the bottoms of city skylines and clouds below the horizon, revealing the curvature of the Earth, have been manipulated, CGI, or somehow faked. Therefore, regardless of any scientific or empirical evidence provided, flat-Earthers stubbornly conclude that it is fabricated or altered in some way.
When linked to other observed phenomena such as gravity, sunsets, tides, eclipses, distances and other measurements that challenge the flat earth model, claimants replace commonly-accepted explanations with piecemeal models that distort or over-simplify how perspective, mass, buoyancy, light or other physical systems work. These piecemeal replacements rarely conform with each other, finally leaving many flat-Earth claimants to agree that such phenomena remain "mysteries" and more investigation is to be done. In this conclusion, adherents remain open to all explanations except the commonly accepted globular Earth model, shifting the debate from ignorance to denialism.
AIDS denialism is the denial that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the cause of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS denialism has been described as being "among the most vocal anti-science denial movements". Some denialists reject the existence of HIV, while others accept that the virus exists but say that it is a harmless passenger virus and not the cause of AIDS. Insofar as denialists acknowledge AIDS as a real disease, they attribute it to some combination of recreational drug use, malnutrition, poor sanitation, and side effects of antiretroviral medication, rather than infection with HIV. However, the evidence that HIV causes AIDS is scientifically conclusive and the scientific community rejects and ignores AIDS-denialist claims as based on faulty reasoning, cherry picking, and misrepresentation of mainly outdated scientific data.[b] With the rejection of these arguments by the scientific community, AIDS-denialist material is now spread mainly through the Internet.
Thabo Mbeki, former president of South Africa, embraced AIDS denialism, proclaiming that AIDS was primarily caused by poverty. About 365,000 people died from AIDS during his presidency; it is estimated that around 343,000 premature deaths could have been prevented if proper treatment had been available.
Some international corporations, such as ExxonMobil, have contributed to "fake citizens' groups and bogus scientific bodies" that claim that the science of global warming is inconclusive, according to a criticism by George Monbiot. ExxonMobil did not deny making the financial contributions, but its spokesman stated that the company's financial support for scientific reports did not mean it influenced the outcome of those studies. "The recycling of this type of discredited conspiracy theory diverts attention from the real challenge at hand: how to provide the energy needed to improve global living standards while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions." Newsweek and Mother Jones have published articles stating corporations are funding the "denial industry".
In the context of consumer protection, denialism has been defined as "the use of rhetorical techniques and predictable tactics to erect barriers to debate and consideration of any type of reform, regardless of the facts." The Bush Administration's replacement of previous science advisers with industry experts or scientists tied to industry, and its refusal to submit the Kyoto Protocol for ratification due to uncertainties they asserted were present in the climate change issue, have been cited by the press as examples of politically motivated denialism.
Religious beliefs may prompt an individual to deny the validity of the scientific theory of evolution. Evolution is still considered an undisputed fact within the scientific community and in academia, where the level of support for evolution is essentially universal, yet this view is often met with opposition by biblical literalists. The alternative view is often presented as a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis's creation myth. Many fundamentalist Christians teach creationism as if it were fact under the banners of creation science and intelligent design. Beliefs that typically coincide with creationism include the belief in the global flood myth, geocentrism, and the belief that the Earth is only 6,000-10,000 years old. These beliefs are viewed as pseudoscience in the scientific community and are widely regarded as erroneous.
Genetically modified foods
There is a scientific consensus that currently available food derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food, but that each GM food needs to be tested on a case-by-case basis before introduction. Nonetheless, members of the public are much less likely than scientists to perceive GM foods as safe. The legal and regulatory status of GM foods varies by country, with some nations banning or restricting them, and others permitting them with widely differing degrees of regulation.
However, opponents have objected to GM foods on grounds including safety. Psychological analyses indicate that over 70% of GM food opponents in the US are "absolute" in their opposition, experience disgust at the thought of eating GM foods, and are "evidence insensitive".
Animal pain and suffering
Despite wide scientific consensus that some animals can experience pain and suffering, this is often denied when it is convenient for people to do so. Such denial occurs for animals on farms, in laboratories, and those used for entertainment, where animals may come to be viewed as commodities. A study in 2013 reported that male undergraduates in the US denied animal suffering to justify eating meat.
The denial of animal pain and suffering is often inconsistent between related species. Such beliefs have led to the publication of books such as Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows written by social psychologist Melanie Joy in which she popularised the term carnism.
Denial of animal pain and suffering can also lead to denial of broader concepts, such as denial of moral status or the existence of "mind" in non-human animals. Among those who eat meat, it can lead to their experiencing the meat paradox. Philosopher Marc Bekoff wrote that denialism is a feature of moral thinking about animals, and that there is a "self-serving disconnect" between scientific facts and the way some people think about animals.
The idea that animals might not feel pain goes back to the 17th-century French philosopher, René Descartes, who argued that animals do not experience pain and suffering because they lack consciousness.
The term has been used with "Holocaust denialism" as "the refusal to accept an empirically verifiable reality. It is an essentially irrational action that withholds validation of a historical experience or event." Holocaust denial is a subset of genocide denial, which is a form of politically-motivated denialism.
- Gibson's law
- List of cognitive biases
- Moon landing conspiracy theories
- Philosophy of science
- Red pill and blue pill
- Vaccine controversies
- "AIDS denialism is one of several incarnations of denialism. All denialism is defined by rhetorical tactics designed to give the impression of a legitimate debate among experts when in fact there is none. Holocaust deniers claim that historians disagree about the evidence for Nazi mass gassings and systematic murder of Jews. Global warming denialists say that climatologists are torn by the evidence about climate change. 9/11 'Truth Seekers', as clever a piece of branding as 'pro-life', say the collapse of the Twin Towers resulted from controlled demolition. Vaccine hysterics tell us that the science is split on whether vaccinations cause autism. And AIDS denialists say that scientists are in disagreement about whether HIV causes AIDS" (Kalichman 2009).
- To support their ideas, some AIDS denialists have also misappropriated a scientific review in Nature Medicine which opens with this reasonable statement: "Despite considerable advances in HIV science in the past 20 years, the reason why HIV-1 infection is pathogenic is still debated" (Borowski 2006, p. 369).
- Maslin 2009.
- O'Shea 2008, p. 20.
- Scudellari 2010.
- Usages of Holocaust and AIDS denialism: Kim 2007; Cohen 2007; Smith & Novella 2007, p. e256; Watson 2006, p. 6; Nature Medicine's editor 2006, p. 369
- Usages of global-warming denialism: Kennedy 2007, p. 425 Colquhoun 2009, p. b3658; Connelly 2007; Goodman 2007.
- Diethelm & McKee 2009.
- McKee & Diethelm 2010.
- Hambling 2009.
- Monbiot 2006.
- Didier Fassin, When bodies remember: experiences and politics of AIDS in South Africa, Volume 15 of California Series in Public Anthropology, University of California Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0-520-25027-7. p. 115
- Stoff, Rick (June 2007). "'Denialism' and muddying the waters". St. Louis Journalism Review. 37 (296): 21–33, 2p.
- The dead hand of denialism Edwin Cameron. Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg), April 17, 2003.
- Chazan M, Brklacich M, Whiteside A (2009). "Rethinking the conceptual terrain of AIDS scholarship: lessons from comparing 27 years of AIDS and climate change research". Global Health. 5: 12. doi:10.1186/1744-8603-5-12. PMC 2764568. PMID 19807923.
- Richard J. Evans. "6. General Conclusion". David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial: Electronic Edition. Paragraphs 6.20, 6.21. Archived from the original on October 12, 2007 – via Holocaust Denial on Trial.
- Mark Hoofnagle (11 March 2009). "Climate change deniers: failsafe tips on how to spot them". The Guardian.
- Tara Smith (14 September 2007). "The fanaticism of denial that must be exposed". Times Higher Education.
- Specter, Michael (2009). Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives. Penguin. ISBN 978-1-59420-230-8. Retrieved 2016-03-19.
- James 2009.
- Farber 2006.
- Gallo et al. 2006.
- Skidelsky, Edward (27 January 2010). "Words that think for us: The tyranny of denial". Prospect. Retrieved 10 Aug 2012.
- Nixon, Eli (February 1, 2016). "10 Absurd Claims of Modern Flat Earth Conspiracy Theorists". Listverse.
- Wade, Lizzy (January 27, 2016). "In Defense of Flat Earthers".
- Pierre, Joe (February 19, 2017). "Flat Earthers: Belief, Skepticism, and Denialism".
- Chigwedere P, Essex M (April 2010). "AIDS denialism and public health practice". AIDS Behav. 14 (2): 237–47. doi:10.1007/s10461-009-9654-7. PMID 20058063.
- Kalichman SC, Eaton L, Cherry C (June 2010). ""There is no Proof that HIV Causes AIDS": AIDS Denialism Beliefs among People Living with HIV/AIDS". J Behav Med. 33 (6): 432–40. doi:10.1007/s10865-010-9275-7. PMC 3015095. PMID 20571892.
- Confronting AIDS: Update 1988. Institute of Medicine of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. 1988. doi:10.17226/771. ISBN 978-0-309-03879-9.
…the evidence that HIV causes AIDS is scientifically conclusive.
- "The Evidence that HIV Causes AIDS". National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. 2010-01-14. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
- Steinberg, J (2009-06-17). "AIDS denial: A lethal delusion". New Scientist. 2713. Retrieved 2009-10-14.
- Chigwedere P, Seage GR, Gruskin S, Lee TH, Essex M (October 2008). "Estimating the Lost Benefits of Antiretroviral Drug Use in South Africa". Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes. 49 (4): 410–415. doi:10.1097/QAI.0b013e31818a6cd5. PMID 19186354. Lay summary.
- Nattrass N (February 2008). "Estimating the Lost Benefits of Antiretroviral Drug Use in South Africa". African Affairs. 107 (427): 157–76. doi:10.1093/afraf/adm087.
- CBC: Gore takes aim at corporately funded climate research. August 7, 2007
- The Truth About Denial Sharon Begley. Newsweek August 13, 2007.
- Put a Tiger In Your Think Tank. May/June 2005 (Internet Archive)
- Hoofnagle, Chris Jay (February 2007). "Denialists' Deck of Cards: An Illustrated Taxonomy of Rhetoric Used to Frustrate Consumer Protection Efforts". SSRN 962462.
- Timeline, Climate Change and its Naysayers Newsweek August 13, 2007.
- Dickinson, Tim (2007-06-20). "The Secret Campaign of President Bush's Administration To Deny Global Warming". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2007-07-14.
- Myers 2006.
- NSTA 2007.
- IAP 2006.
- AAAS 2006.
- Pinholster 2006.
- Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (Supreme Court of the United States). , cited by Numbers 2006, p. 272 as "[on]ne of the most precise explications of creation science"
- "Statements from Scientific and Scholarly Organizations". National Center for Science Education. Retrieved 2008-08-28.
- Nicolia, Alessandro; Manzo, Alberto; Veronesi, Fabio; Rosellini, Daniele (2013). "An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research" (PDF). Critical Reviews in Biotechnology. 34 (1): 77–88. doi:10.3109/07388551.2013.823595. PMID 24041244.
We have reviewed the scientific literature on GE crop safety for the last 10 years that catches the scientific consensus matured since GE plants became widely cultivated worldwide, and we can conclude that the scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazard directly connected with the use of GM crops.
The literature about Biodiversity and the GE food/feed consumption has sometimes resulted in animated debate regarding the suitability of the experimental designs, the choice of the statistical methods or the public accessibility of data. Such debate, even if positive and part of the natural process of review by the scientific community, has frequently been distorted by the media and often used politically and inappropriately in anti-GE crops campaigns.
- "State of Food and Agriculture 2003–2004. Agricultural Biotechnology: Meeting the Needs of the Poor. Health and environmental impacts of transgenic crops". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
Currently available transgenic crops and foods derived from them have been judged safe to eat and the methods used to test their safety have been deemed appropriate. These conclusions represent the consensus of the scientific evidence surveyed by the ICSU (2003) and they are consistent with the views of the World Health Organization (WHO, 2002). These foods have been assessed for increased risks to human health by several national regulatory authorities (inter alia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, the United Kingdom and the United States) using their national food safety procedures (ICSU). To date no verifiable untoward toxic or nutritionally deleterious effects resulting from the consumption of foods derived from genetically modified crops have been discovered anywhere in the world (GM Science Review Panel). Many millions of people have consumed foods derived from GM plants - mainly maize, soybean and oilseed rape - without any observed adverse effects (ICSU).
- Ronald, Pamela (May 5, 2011). "Plant Genetics, Sustainable Agriculture and Global Food Security". Genetics. 188 (1): 11–20. doi:10.1534/genetics.111.128553. PMC 3120150. PMID 21546547.
There is broad scientific consensus that genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat. After 14 years of cultivation and a cumulative total of 2 billion acres planted, no adverse health or environmental effects have resulted from commercialization of genetically engineered crops (Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Committee on Environmental Impacts Associated with Commercialization of Transgenic Plants, National Research Council and Division on Earth and Life Studies 2002). Both the U.S. National Research Council and the Joint Research Centre (the European Union's scientific and technical research laboratory and an integral part of the European Commission) have concluded that there is a comprehensive body of knowledge that adequately addresses the food safety issue of genetically engineered crops (Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health and National Research Council 2004; European Commission Joint Research Centre 2008). These and other recent reports conclude that the processes of genetic engineering and conventional breeding are no different in terms of unintended consequences to human health and the environment (European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation 2010).
- But see also:
Domingo, José L.; Bordonaba, Jordi Giné (2011). "A literature review on the safety assessment of genetically modified plants" (PDF). Environment International. 37 (4): 734–742. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2011.01.003. PMID 21296423.
In spite of this, the number of studies specifically focused on safety assessment of GM plants is still limited. However, it is important to remark that for the first time, a certain equilibrium in the number of research groups suggesting, on the basis of their studies, that a number of varieties of GM products (mainly maize and soybeans) are as safe and nutritious as the respective conventional non-GM plant, and those raising still serious concerns, was observed. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that most of the studies demonstrating that GM foods are as nutritional and safe as those obtained by conventional breeding, have been performed by biotechnology companies or associates, which are also responsible of commercializing these GM plants. Anyhow, this represents a notable advance in comparison with the lack of studies published in recent years in scientific journals by those companies.
Krimsky, Sheldon (2015). "An Illusory Consensus behind GMO Health Assessment" (PDF). Science, Technology, & Human Values. 40 (6): 883–914. doi:10.1177/0162243915598381.
I began this article with the testimonials from respected scientists that there is literally no scientific controversy over the health effects of GMOs. My investigation into the scientific literature tells another story.
Panchin, Alexander Y.; Tuzhikov, Alexander I. (January 14, 2016). "Published GMO studies find no evidence of harm when corrected for multiple comparisons". Critical Reviews in Biotechnology. 37 (2): 213–217. doi:10.3109/07388551.2015.1130684. ISSN 0738-8551. PMID 26767435.
Here, we show that a number of articles some of which have strongly and negatively influenced the public opinion on GM crops and even provoked political actions, such as GMO embargo, share common flaws in the statistical evaluation of the data. Having accounted for these flaws, we conclude that the data presented in these articles does not provide any substantial evidence of GMO harm.
The presented articles suggesting possible harm of GMOs received high public attention. However, despite their claims, they actually weaken the evidence for the harm and lack of substantial equivalency of studied GMOs. We emphasize that with over 1783 published articles on GMOs over the last 10 years it is expected that some of them should have reported undesired differences between GMOs and conventional crops even if no such differences exist in reality.
Yang, Y.T.; Chen, B. (2016). "Governing GMOs in the USA: science, law and public health". Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 96 (6): 1851–1855. doi:10.1002/jsfa.7523. PMID 26536836.
It is therefore not surprising that efforts to require labeling and to ban GMOs have been a growing political issue in the USA (citing Domingo and Bordonaba, 2011).
Overall, a broad scientific consensus holds that currently marketed GM food poses no greater risk than conventional food... Major national and international science and medical associations have stated that no adverse human health effects related to GMO food have been reported or substantiated in peer-reviewed literature to date.
Despite various concerns, today, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the World Health Organization, and many independent international science organizations agree that GMOs are just as safe as other foods. Compared with conventional breeding techniques, genetic engineering is far more precise and, in most cases, less likely to create an unexpected outcome.
- Statement by the AAAS Board of Directors On Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods (PDF) (Report). American Association for the Advancement of Science. October 20, 2012. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
The EU, for example, has invested more than €300 million in research on the biosafety of GMOs. Its recent report states: "The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies." The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.
Pinholster, Ginger (October 25, 2012). "AAAS Board of Directors: Legally Mandating GM Food Labels Could "Mislead and Falsely Alarm Consumers"". American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
- A decade of EU-funded GMO research (2001–2010) (PDF). Directorate-General for Research and Innovation. Biotechnologies, Agriculture, Food. European Commission, European Union. 2010. doi:10.2777/97784. ISBN 978-92-79-16344-9. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
- "AMA Report on Genetically Modified Crops and Foods (online summary)". American Medical Association. January 2001. Retrieved March 19, 2016.
A report issued by the scientific council of the American Medical Association (AMA) says that no long-term health effects have been detected from the use of transgenic crops and genetically modified foods, and that these foods are substantially equivalent to their conventional counterparts. (from online summary prepared by ISAAA)" "Crops and foods produced using recombinant DNA techniques have been available for fewer than 10 years and no long-term effects have been detected to date. These foods are substantially equivalent to their conventional counterparts. (from original report by AMA: )
REPORT 2 OF THE COUNCIL ON SCIENCE AND PUBLIC HEALTH (A-12): Labeling of Bioengineered Foods (PDF) (Report). American Medical Association. 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 7, 2012. Retrieved March 19, 2016.
Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature.
- "Restrictions on Genetically Modified Organisms: United States. Public and Scholarly Opinion". Library of Congress. June 9, 2015. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
Several scientific organizations in the US have issued studies or statements regarding the safety of GMOs indicating that there is no evidence that GMOs present unique safety risks compared to conventionally bred products. These include the National Research Council, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Medical Association. Groups in the US opposed to GMOs include some environmental organizations, organic farming organizations, and consumer organizations. A substantial number of legal academics have criticized the US's approach to regulating GMOs.
- Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (US). 2016. p. 149. doi:10.17226/23395. ISBN 978-0-309-43738-7. Retrieved May 19, 2016.
Overall finding on purported adverse effects on human health of foods derived from GE crops: On the basis of detailed examination of comparisons of currently commercialized GE with non-GE foods in compositional analysis, acute and chronic animal toxicity tests, long-term data on health of livestock fed GE foods, and human epidemiological data, the committee found no differences that implicate a higher risk to human health from GE foods than from their non-GE counterparts.
- "Frequently asked questions on genetically modified foods". World Health Organization. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
Different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways. This means that individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods.
GM foods currently available on the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved. Continuous application of safety assessments based on the Codex Alimentarius principles and, where appropriate, adequate post market monitoring, should form the basis for ensuring the safety of GM foods.
- Haslberger, Alexander G. (2003). "Codex guidelines for GM foods include the analysis of unintended effects". Nature Biotechnology. 21 (7): 739–741. doi:10.1038/nbt0703-739. PMID 12833088.
These principles dictate a case-by-case premarket assessment that includes an evaluation of both direct and unintended effects.
- Some medical organizations, including the British Medical Association, advocate further caution based upon the precautionary principle:
"Genetically modified foods and health: a second interim statement" (PDF). British Medical Association. March 2004. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
In our view, the potential for GM foods to cause harmful health effects is very small and many of the concerns expressed apply with equal vigour to conventionally derived foods. However, safety concerns cannot, as yet, be dismissed completely on the basis of information currently available.
When seeking to optimise the balance between benefits and risks, it is prudent to err on the side of caution and, above all, learn from accumulating knowledge and experience. Any new technology such as genetic modification must be examined for possible benefits and risks to human health and the environment. As with all novel foods, safety assessments in relation to GM foods must be made on a case-by-case basis.
Members of the GM jury project were briefed on various aspects of genetic modification by a diverse group of acknowledged experts in the relevant subjects. The GM jury reached the conclusion that the sale of GM foods currently available should be halted and the moratorium on commercial growth of GM crops should be continued. These conclusions were based on the precautionary principle and lack of evidence of any benefit. The Jury expressed concern over the impact of GM crops on farming, the environment, food safety and other potential health effects.
The Royal Society review (2002) concluded that the risks to human health associated with the use of specific viral DNA sequences in GM plants are negligible, and while calling for caution in the introduction of potential allergens into food crops, stressed the absence of evidence that commercially available GM foods cause clinical allergic manifestations. The BMA shares the view that there is no robust evidence to prove that GM foods are unsafe but we endorse the call for further research and surveillance to provide convincing evidence of safety and benefit.
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