Genetically Modified Organisms
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are plants or animals that have had their DNA altered by a process known as genetic engineering. As of 2012, most GMOs fall within two major categories: Bt Crops, which produce their own insecticide, and Herbicide Tolerant Crops, which can survive spraying of a specific herbicide, such as glyphosate. GMOs are highly controversial and their production is banned in some countries. For more information on where GMOs are legal, see the article on GMO Policies by Country.
Genetically Engineered Crops
Types of Genetically Engineered Crops
The USDA has deregulated (legalized) over 100 genetically engineered plants since 1992. Most of these crops fall into one of several categories:
- Herbicide Tolerant Crops (i.e. Roundup Ready and Liberty Link crops)
- Bt Crops
- "Terminator Seeds" (Male Sterile Crops)
- Virus Resistant Crops
- Biofortified Crops
GMOs that do not fall into the above categories are listed below. Each item includes the manufacturer, crop, genetically engineered trait, date of deregulation, and the unique event or line that identifies the specific variety.
Fruit Ripening Altered Tomato:
- Calgene: Flavr Savr Tomato
- DNA Plant Tech: Fruit ripening altered tomato, Event 1345-4, January 24, 1995
- Monsanto: Fruit ripening altered tomato
- Agritope: Fruit ripening altered tomato, 35 1 N
Crops With Other Traits:
- Calgene: Oil Profile Altered Rapeseed
- Zeneca & Petoseed: Fruit Polygalacturonase Level Decreased Tomato
- Bejo, Male Sterile Cichorium Intybus, RM3-3, RM3-4, RM3-6
- Vector: Reduced Nicotine Tobacco, Vector 21-41
- Monsanto: High Lysine Corn, February 3, 2006, LY038
- Syngenta: Thermostable Alpha-Amylase Corn, February 15, 2011, 3272
- Florigene: Altered Flower Color Rose, September 29, 2011, IFD-524Ø1-4 and IFD-529Ø1-9
- Monsanto: Drought Tolerant Corn, May 11, 2011, MON 87460
- "Unlike other developed countries, the US does not require genetically engineered foods to be proven safe before they can go on the market, despite significant safety concerns. A review of the scientific literature shows there are still open questions about the safety of genetically engineered foods, with independent studies finding some evidence of adverse effect, while other studies, often funded by industry or performed by industry-affiliated scientists, tend to find no safety problem. But even if all reasonable safety testing were required, certain individuals could still have unusual allergic responses that would not be detected beforehand. Finally there can be unexpected effects -- just as there are sometimes to pharmaceutical products, despite extensive premarket testing."
His testimony continues, outlining the inadequacy of regulations to ensure safety in the United States:
- "The United States, however, unlike all other developed countries, does not require safety testing for GE plants (although it does require an assessment for GE animals). The US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) original policy on GE (or GM, for genetically modified) plants, developed in 1992, states that GE is not different than conventional breeding so no safety assessments are required, but companies may go through a “voluntary safety consultation.” The FDA makes no conclusions about the safety of thee GE food, but says it is up to the companies to determine safety of any GE food. To date, there have been some 97 “voluntary safety consultations.”
- "The inadequacy of FDA’s policy can be seen in the letter FDA sends to the company after completion of a “safety consultation.” For example, the letter sent to Monsanto on September 25, 1996 about one of their first Bt-corn varieties, MON810, states, “Based on the safety and nutritional assessment you have conducted, it is our understanding that Monsanto has concluded that corn grain and forage derived from the new variety are not materially different in composition, safety, or other relevant parameters from corn grain and forage currently on the market, and that they do not raise issues that would require premarket review or approval by FDA” (bold added).
- "The letters for all 97 “safety consultations” contain basically the same language. This clearly shows that the FDA has not made a conclusion about the safety for genetically engineered (GE) plants or the safety of the technology as a whole.
- "Since the 1992 Statement of Policy on genetically engineered food, FDA has admitted that its original policy was based on a false notion. In 2001, the FDA proposed requiring companies to notify the government at least 120 days before commercializing a transgenic plant variety. As part of that proposed rule, the FDA admits that insertional mutagenesis is a problem and suggests requiring data on each separate transformation event: "[B]ecause some rDNA-induced unintended changes are specific to a transformational event (e.g. those resulting from insertional mutagenesis), FDA believes that it needs to be provided with information about foods from all separate transformational events, even when the agency has been provided with information about foods from rDNA-modified plants with the same intended trait and has had no questions about such foods. In contrast, the agency does not believe that it needs to receive information about foods from plants derived through narrow crosses [e.g. traditional breeding]" italics added (FR 66(12), pg. 4711). In other words, FDA has admitted that there is a difference between GE and traditional breeding and that companies should be required to submit data on safety of genetically engineered crops prior to market approval. In spite of this, FDA is still following the 1992 policy rather than the 2001 policy."
Additionally, Hansen notes that biotech companies use their intellectual property rights to prevent nearly all independent safety testing on their GE crops. This issue has also been raised by Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Bias in Safety Assessments of GMOs
A 2011 study found a strong correlation between professional conflict of interest and scientific study outcomes biased in favor of GMOs. That is, bias in favor of GMOs was found in studies on the health or nutritional impacts of GMOs whenever one or more of the study's authors had an industry affiliation. In their own words, they found that:
- "The main finding of our study is that, based on the dataset available, articles where a COI [conflict of interest] was identified show a tendency to produce outcomes favorable to the associated commercial interests. These results support the overall view that all affiliations should be clearly acknowledged in scientific publications on the risk analysis of GM food or feed products, as the existence of such conflicts of interest is somehow interfering with study outcomes."
GMOs Impact on Pesticide Use
One argument used in favor of GMOs is that they reduce pesticide use. However, this claim is controversial. A 2009 study by Charles Benbrook found that:
- "GE crops have been responsible for an increase of 383 million pounds of herbicide use in the U.S. over the first 13 years of commercial use of GE crops (1996-2008). This dramatic increase in the volume of herbicides applied swamps the decrease in insecticide use attributable to GE corn and cotton, making the overall chemical footprint of today’s GE crops decidedly negative."
- "GE crops have increased overall pesticide use by 318.4 million pounds over the first 13 years of commercial use, compared to the amount of pesticide likely to have been applied in the absence of HT [herbicide tolerant] and Bt seeds. GE crops reduced overall pesticide use in the first three years of commercial introduction (1996-1998) by 1.2%, 2.3%, and 2.3% per year, but increased pesticide use by 20% in 2007 and by 27% in 2008. Two major factors are driving the trend toward larger margins of difference in the pounds of herbicides used to control weeds on an acre planted to HT seeds, in comparison to conventional seeds:
Rise in Glyphosate Resistant Weeds
With the nearly ubiquitous use of glyphosate herbicide on such a large percent of corn, soybean, and cotton grown in the U.S. and in several other countries around the world, many weeds have evolved resistance to glyphosate. For more information, see the article on Glyphosate Resistant Weeds.
Genetically Engineered Animals
To date, no genetically engineered animals have been produced commercially. GE animals that have been created include:
- AquAdvantage Salmon
- Cows that produce human breast milk
- GE mosquitoes intended to prevent malaria
Articles and resources
Related SourceWatch articles
- Bayer CropScience
- Pioneer Hi-Bred
- Bt Crops
- Herbicide Tolerant Crops
- Glyphosate Resistant Weeds
- Roundup Ready Crops
- GMO Policies by Country
- Using Hunger to Promote Genetic Engineering
Bad science in the service of anti-GMO activism
- David Gorski, "Antivaccine versus anti-GMO: Different goals, same methods", sciencebasedmedicine', October 1, 2012
- David Gorski, "More bad science in the service of anti-GMO activism", sciencebasedmedicine', June 17, 2013.
- ↑ Determinations of Non-Regulated Status, USDA, Accessed August 9, 2012.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Testimony by Michael Hansen, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Consumers Union, on Illinois SB 1666, Genetically Engineered Food Labeling Act, before the Senate Subcommittee on Food Labeling, September 17, 2013.
- ↑ Doug Gurian Sherman, "[No seeds, no independent research http://articles.latimes.com/2011/feb/13/opinion/la-oe-guriansherman-seeds-20110213 ]," Los Angeles Times, February 11, 2011, Accessed December 10, 2013.
- ↑ Johan Diels, Mario Cunha, Célia Manaia, Bernardo Sabugosa-Madeira, Margarida Silva, "Association of ﬁnancial or professional conﬂict of interest to research outcomes on health risks or nutritional assessment studies of genetically modified products," Food Policy, 2011.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 Charles Benbrook, "Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years" and Supplemental Tables, The Organic Center, 2009.
- GM Crop Database, Center for Environmental Risk Assessment
- Overview of GMO Events Commercially Available and Regulatory Status
- Novel Food Decisions - Approved Products, Health Canada.
- Charles Benbrook, "Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years" and Supplemental Tables, The Organic Center, 2009.
- "Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops," Union of Concerned Scientists, 2009.
- The Safe Seed Sourcebook, Gene Watch
- Native Seeds/Search
- Test for GMOs in crops
- Detecting herbicide resistance, Plant Protection
- More Resources, Non-GMO Report
- Millions Against Monsanto, Organic Consumers Association
- Genetic Roulette The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods
- Living with the Fluid Genome
- BEYOND BIOTECHNOLOGY The Barren Promise of Genetic Engineering
- Redesigning Life? : The Worldwide Challenge to Genetic Engineering
- Engineering the Farm: The Social and Ethical Aspects of Agricultural Biotechnology
- Video: Prince Charles of Wales delivering the Sir Albert Howard Memorial Lecture
- Video: Heartbreak in the Heartland
- Video: GRAINS OF TRUTH
- Geoff Tansey and Tasmin Rajotte, eds, The Future Control of Food: An Essential Guide to International Negotiations and Rules on Intellectual Property, Biodiversity and Food Security, Routledge, 2008.
- Jeffrey M. Smith, Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You're Eating, Yes Books, September 2003.
- Andrew Rowell, Don't Worry (It's Safe to Eat): The True Story of GM Food, BSE and Foot and Mouth, Routledge, June 1, 2003.
- Kathleen Hart, Eating in the Dark: America's Experiment with Genetically Engineered Food, Pantheon, May 7, 2002.
- Andrew Kimbrell, Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture, Foundation for Deep Ecology, May 1, 2002.
- Kimberly A. Wilson and Martin Teitel (foreword by Ralph Nader), Genetically Engineered Food: Changing the Nature of Nature, Park Street Press, 2nd edition, April 1, 2001.
- Jeremy Rifkin, The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World, Tarcher; ARC edition, March 23, 1998.
- Johan Diels, Mario Cunha, Célia Manaia, Bernardo Sabugosa-Madeira, Margarida Silva, "Association of ﬁnancial or professional conﬂict of interest to research outcomes on health risks or nutritional assessment studies of genetically modified products," Food Policy, 2011.
- "Consumers willing to pay premium for healthier genetically modified foods: ISU study," September 14, 2011.
- Andy Bloxham, Toxic pesticides from GM food crops found in unborn babies, The Telegraph, May 20, 2011.
- Is there more to the story on GMOs?, Howard Vlieger, Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance.
- Doug Gurian-Sherman, "No seeds, no independent research," Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2011.
- Warren E. Leary, "Gene Inserted in Crop Plant Is Shown to Spread to Wild," The New York Times, March 7, 1996.