There is increasing opposition to the use of Genetically Modified Organisms, more commonly known as “GMOs”. GMOs are artificially produced variants of plants or animals in which the genetic makeup of the organism has been altered to contain one or more genes not normally found in the organism’s DNA. Through genetic engineering, genes that control specific desired attributes in the native species are forced into the DNA of the GMO to give the host a similar trait. Because the genes of different, unrelated species are used, this process is called transgenic. GreenPages Directory supports consumer choice for Non-GMO products and listings that are identified as such can be viewed here: http://greenpagesdirectory.net/certifications/browse/non-gmo
The most common use of GMOs is in the farming industry where crops can be made resistant to parasites, frost and even herbicides. However, there are many applications for the modifying of organisms and the same biotechnological processes used to create corn impervious to RoundUp herbicide are used to produce Bovine Growth Hormone (rBST) to increase milk production in dairy cows; just as potatoes are modified to produce the effects of anticholera vaccine and spider genes are inserted into goat DNA to produce milk proteins that are stronger than Kevlar.
The first genetically engineered food product approved by the FDA for human consumption was the Flavr Savr tomato, developed by the Calgene company of California and available for sale in 1994. Specific genes added to the plant slowed the rotting process by acting as a partial block to enzymes responsible for ripening. Whereas unmodified tomatoes are harvested before they are ripe, the Flavr Savr fruit could be ripened on the vine and still maintain the necessary shelf life for transport. The FDA allowed stores to sell these tomatoes without GMO labeling, stating that there were “no health risks” with the Flavr Savr and that the nutritional content was “identical to unmodified tomatoes”.
Mounting costs made the Flavr Savr too expensive to produce and it came off the market in 1997, but a wave of GMO crops were to follow. Now genetically engineered plants are grown all over the world with 10% of the world’s crops being genetically modified, while genetic engineering of US corn, beets and soy has increased from 65 percent in 2006 to 90 percent in 2013 according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Companies that produce GMOs claim that the processes are benign, that science has shown there are no ill effects from consuming genetically engineered (GE) food, that humans have used the same processes to modify crops and farm animals for thousands of years. They cite 1700 research studies that they say indicate GMOs are safe to consume. With Genetically Modified Organisms, supporters claim, we could end world hunger if more people accepted the technology as safe and more farmers were willing to switch to GE seeds.
However, many countries have resisted the push by large agricultural concerns to endorse the use of GMO seeds and 90% of the world’s GMO produce is grown in just four countries, the US, Canada, Brazil and Argentina.
Contrary to what the supporters of GMO would have you believe, the process of manufacturing GM seed is not at all like traditional methods of plant breeding. The methods traditionally used by farmers for modifying plants and animals utilize selective breeding whereby naturally occurring traits are brought out or suppressed by selective breeding. With genetically engineered seeds, however, traits are forced into the seed by inserting foreign genes at random into the plant DNA. This could potentially have unknown repercussions on the plant’s genetic makeup, altering its nutritional value, possibly producing toxicity or resulting in poor crop performance.
Use of GMOs does not reduce the amount of pesticides and herbicides as the makers claim. Because GMOs are made resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in most herbicides, it has been shown that farmers use more herbicide, bringing an increase in the world wide allowed residue limit of the chemical. Monsanto advertises its glyphosate product, Roundup, as being safe for the environment and low in toxicity, but critics say these claims are based on outdated and questionable studies and new legislation is underway In a notice of intent published by the California EPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, glyphosate (the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup a chemical) will soon likely to require a warning and be labeled as a “known to cause cancer.”
Nature adapts to everything and it is adapting and compensating for the increased usage of pesticides and herbicides, as well as for GMO crops. The inevitable end result of this will be glyphosate resistant superweeds and pests that are immune to the pest resistance of GMO plants. When this happens, the producers of GMO seeds will simply earn more as farmers become more and more dependent on new strains of increasingly modified plants, putting manufacturers of GMOs such as Monsanto in total control of our food production.
In addition, though GM seeds are promoted as a way to end world hunger and assure crop security, no GMO plant has been shown to increase yield for the farmer. In fact,
the increased use of Roundup and other glyphosates and pesticides that result from use of GMO seeds kills the natural nutrients and organisms present in soil, which can result in plant diseases and reduced yields in many cases. The increase in herbicide and pesticide use has also had a devastating effect on nonpest plants and organisms, such as the Monarch butterfly population that has been decimated in North America in part because of the use of glyphosateresistant corn and soybeans as well as the subsequent disappearance of the milkweed plant on which the butterflies feed.
Glyphosate in products such as Roundup has also been linked to SDS, Sudden Death Syndrome in plants, causing them to yellow and die.
Supporters of GMO seed use also claim that the seeds are more energy efficient because the herbicide implanted into the seeds allows the farmer to make fewer tractor passes to eliminate weeds. However, GMO crops are still heavily dependent on glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup that require fossil fuel in their production, offsetting the reduction in air pollution from less tilling. Furthermore, GM plants use nitrogen-based fertilizer which is a source of greenhouse gases that deplete the ozone.
Even in the countries that have embraced GMO products the most, there is a movement to at least force farmers and stores to label genetically engineered products. Many consumers fear that there are risks with using genetically engineered products. In the USA, 20 states are considering enacting GM labeling laws, and although the FDA does not believe there are health risks with genetically modified foods, they have proposed guidelines for labeling GM products to inform consumers who want their diet GMOfree. The same movement to label GMO foods is happening in Canada where consumer action groups have created a voluntary NonGMO certification for products that use no engineered ingredients.
Critics of genetic engineering say that many of the articles cited by proponents as evidence of the safety of GMO products in fact show evidence of risk; that even though relatively few biologists are raising questions about the safety of GM crops, the research into these issues is primarily funded by GM companies that have a vested interest in positive and supportive results. Opponents also claim that those promoting GMOs are glossing over important sciencebased disagreements about the effects of consuming genetically modified organisms. They point to several studies that contradict the idea that GMO products are without health risk, studies in which rats fed a diet of genetically engineered corn varieties suffered damage to the kidneys and liver after just 90 days.
Despite the increasing concern of consumers, North American companies find it hard to go GMO-free. After two decades of using GMO crops, they are so prevalent in the supply chain that securing large and reliable quantities of NonGMO ingredients is nearly impossible. Furthermore, even farms that refuse to use GM seed often find that their crops have been contaminated by crosspollination from neighboring farms that do use the engineered seed, making labeling less reliable.
However, despite these difficulties, there are many companies that are trying to free themselves from reliance on genetically engineered crops. “A lot of food manufacturers are looking at switching over to NonGMO. The demand is out there,” said Aaron Skyberg, director of SK Food International, a North Dakotabased bulk ingredient supplier to U.S. and foreign food companies. “But it is a huge learning curve for them.”
Since there is as yet no federal standard for NonGMO labeling, many companies are signing up for a third-party verification program known as the NonGMO Project.
The Non-GMO Project, started by natural and organic food retailers in 2007 in Bellingham, Washington, grants manufacturers a license to use a seal signifying their products have been audited to assure that they contain no more than 0.9% GMO. The number of such NonGMO “verified” products increased to 14,800 in 2013, up from 4,000 in 2011, and 1,000 more products are in the verification pipeline, according to the NonGMO Project Executive Director Megan Westgate (http://greenpagesdirectory.net/directory/view/non-gmo-project). Sales last year of verified products hit $5 billion, up from $1.7 billion in 2011, she said.
Genetically modified organisms are touted by those who manufacture and sell them as the cure for world hunger, but world hunger is not a problem that can be solved by creating new and better species of plants, it is a question of worldwide allocation of resources. The use of GMOs does not promote crop and food security and is essentially an untested gamble that could result in a world wide disaster. There have been no conclusive safety studies since independent researchers are not permitted to use patented GM crops in their studies and the results are criticized by the GMO producers as insufficient and inconclusive.
Since GMO labelling still has a long way to be fully implemented, consumers need to practice their right to urge policy makers to make it happen. For the time being, those who are concerned about GMO products have choices to insure that no genetically modified plants or microorganisms have been used in production. The GreenPages Directory lists many products that are Non-GMO or Organic certified, which ban the use of genetically engineered products.