Silver-level articleGenetically modified food

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Genetically modified food (more correctly,[note 1] genetically engineered food or transgenic food, and often abbreviated as GM (genetically modified), GMO (genetically modified organisms),[note 2] and GMF (genetically modified food)) is any food derived from organisms which had their genomes modified using the technique of DNA recombination.[wp] Via DNA recombination, genetic material is isolated from one organism and introduced into another. DNA recombination has the advantages that the source and target organisms need not be sexually compatible and that transfer of genes can be highly specific (introducing only a single desired trait), unlike conventional breeding, which requires sexual compatibility and results in offspring with a mixture of traits from both parents.

GMF has recently become the subject of intense debate. Opponents of GMF (predominantly, though not at all exclusively, liberal[1]) claim that GMF production has adverse environmental impacts, that GMF consumption has adverse health effects, that it's inherently unnatural, and that for-profit GMF companies (notably Monsanto) are screwing farmers and/or plotting to control the world food supply. Proponents of GMF claim that GM technology has been the subject of a manufactroversy and accuse opponents of spreading misinformation through the media.[1][2][3] Scientific consensus says very clearly that GMF is safe; unfortunately, opponents of GMFs often slip into pseudoscience.


[edit] GMF traits

See the main article on this topic: Genetic modification

So far, all GMFs on the market are plants. Genetically modified fish[wp] such as salmon have also been developed, but food regulators such as the USA's Food and Drug Administration have not yet approved these for farming and public consumption.

Since DNA recombination is a very powerful technique which allows for almost arbitrary modifications to be introduced into the genome, GMF can have a variety of traits which are extremely unlikely to occur in nature (but not impossible) and can not be obtained using conventional methods of breeding. It is a way to short-circuit the millions of years of evolution and/or artificial selection which would be required for the desirable traits to arise spontaneously. This includes resistance to pests, viruses and herbicides, drought tolerance and improved nutritional value.

The majority of GMFs have one or more of the following traits:

[edit] Most common

The most common GM traits found in commercial crops focus on increasing yields by conferring immunity to pests, weeds and diseases. These traits translate into easily quantifiable financial gains for the farmer, so they were the first to be commercialized.

  • Herbicide tolerance (HT): This type of trait confers immunity to a herbicide, typically glyphosate (also known as Roundup). Spraying with this herbicide kills the weeds without affecting the crop. This allows the farmer to easily avoid tillage. Tillage is normally done to control weeds, but accelerates soil erosion. HT crops usually require more herbicides than traditional ones, but the broad spectrum herbicides used on HT crops are typically less toxic than traditional selective herbicides, leading to a net reduction of the environmental footprint. Corn[4], canola, soy, and sugar beets[5] are examples of common HT crops.
  • Bt toxin production: Bt toxins are proteins produced by the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis which are lethal to some species of insect pests, primarily moths and beetles. Bt extract is often used as an insecticide in organic farming. When an insect attempts to feed off a plant that produces a Bt toxin, it quickly dies. Bt crops require significantly less insecticides than their traditional counterparts, and more importantly, kill only the insects that feed on the plant, thus impacting the surrounding environment even less. Note that there are now several different Bt toxin strains, each of which is lethal to a slightly different segment of the insect population and each of which has its own tracking number assigned to it by the EPA.[6] Corn and cotton are examples of common Bt crops.

[edit] Less common

  • Virus resistance: By introducing genes coding for viral coat proteins, plants can be made resistant to viruses. The best known example is the Rainbow variety of papaya, which is resistant to the papaya ringspot virus and is credited with saving the papaya farming industry in Hawaii.[7] Unfortunately, the specific variety chosen to receive the ringspot virus resistance transgene turned out to be vulnerable to blackspot fungus, so now a second round of genetic modification is trying to breed in blackspot fungus resistance.
  • Rennet production: The chymosin used in cheese making can be produced by genetically-modified microorganisms. The gene for rennet production is taken from a ruminant animal and inserted into a bacterium, fungus, or yeast, which will then produce chymosin as it ferments nutrients. About 80% of cheese worldwide is made with such Fermentation-Produced Chymosin.[8] This has benefits for anyone who might have issues against eating meat or mixing milk and meat, as well as providing another source of rennet if we ever have a need for it.

[edit] New traits

  • Starch breakdown: A GM corn strain called Enogen contains a transgene for alpha amylase, the enzyme that breaks starch down into maltose. This reduces the amount of processing necessary to turn it into ethanol.[9] As of mid-2014, Syngenta, the company that holds the patent on Enogen, has embarked on an incentive program to encourage farmers to plant it.[10] Theoretically, this trait would also reduce the amount of processing necessary to turn it into corn syrup, but this possibility has not been commercially pursued.
  • Non-browning: The Arctic Apple[11] has the 4 genes that cause browning turned off. Since no transgenes were spliced into the apple's genome, Okanagan Specialty Fruits proudly touts "no frankenfood here!" (implying that they want to distance themselves from all those "nasty" GMF producers). The Arctic Apple was approved for commercial sale in the U.S. by the USDA and the FDA in early 2015.
  • Improved handling characteristics: Simplot's harder-to-bruise Innate potato[12] was approved by the USDA on 7-Nov-2014[13] and by the FDA on 20-March-2015[14]. McDonald's won't be using it for their French fries or hash browns[15], but that's because there won't be enough available for McDonald's to even consider using them for some time, not because of any executive decision to reject GMOs.

[edit] In development

There are also many other possible traits in the research stage or awaiting regulatory approval.

  • Increased intrinsic yield: There is an ongoing research project called C4 Rice, which aims to create rice which uses the more efficient C4 photosynthesis pathway from corn, rather than the C3 photosynthesis native to rice.[16] The C4 pathway requires only ⅓ the water as C3, meaning C4 rice could be grown in hot semi-arid environments and provide a stable food supply even during droughts. C4 plants also fix about an order of magnitude more CO2 than C3 plants, which could offset quite a bit of harm. If it ever proves successful, it may open the door to creating C4 wheat, C4 potatoes, C4 sugar beets, etc..
  • Nitrogen fixation: There is a project to achieve symbiosis between nitrogen-fixing bacteria and cereals, a feature now restricted to legumes, which would obviate or significantly reduce the need for artificial fertilizer in their cultivation.[17]
  • Disease resistance: This ranges from blight-resistant potatoes[18] to bananas resistant to Fusarium wilt.[19]
  • Biofortified food: Biofortified food has increased nutritional value or contains essential nutrients not present in traditional varieties. The best known example is Golden Rice, a humanitarian project to develop rice containing vitamin A (beta-carotene) in order to prevent vitamin A deficiency induced blindness in the developing countries.[20] Uganda is similarly developing Golden Bananas.[21] Other biofortified food plants currently under development include tomatoes containing anthocyanin (the antioxidant that makes blueberries blue),[22] and soybeans containing omega-3 fatty acids.[23]
  • Altered starch characteristics: A GM potato strain called Amflora[wp] has the gene for amylose production turned off. This makes its starch waxier, making it more useful in industrial applications that call for amylopectin such as paper making.
  • Improved digestion: The "Enviropig"[24] was engineered to more efficiently digest plant phosphorus, eliminating the need to feed it phosphorus supplements.

[edit] Limited/abandoned

  • Sterility: Known as Genetic Use Restriction Technology (GURT), or disparagingly known as "terminator genes", this would render the plants sterile. There are two types; sterility, and inactivation of genes if exposed to some chemical. These have been abandoned in agriculture by the biotech companies due to excessive backlash and biotech companies have contracts requiring farmers to not save seed. Arguably in the event of a national disaster, it's for the best that the supply chain is as simple as possible just in case, however there are some legitimate uses. It's helpful if you need to make sure that the plant doesn't breed with wild cousins, or if you want to make sure your crops don't sprout if they get wet. It does however see some use outside of agriculture; mosquitos can be bred en masse with an intentionally defective gene that only lets larvae survive in a lab. The defective mosquitos are released into an environment and breed naturally with the local mosquitos, and the next generation of mosquitos mostly die off.[25] This will only suppress the mosquito population for a generation or so until it needs to be applied again, but so does spraying with DDT, and unlike DDT, it only harms mosquitoes and there are few -if any - residual effects decades after the first application[26].
  • Frost resistance: One of the earliest attempts at producing a GMF involved taking the gene for producing "anti-freeze" inside the winter flounder, and introducing it into a tomato. The hoped-for resistance to frost didn't appear (plant sap and fish blood don't freeze the same way), and the experiment was abandoned. This did not prevent legions of anti-GMF activists from using the "fishmato" as their poster child for Frankenfood.
  • Delayed ripening: The now-discontinued Flavr Savr tomato. No fish genes.

[edit] GMF impact on health

Several health concerns (some justified, some not) have been raised over GMFs.

[edit] Lack of independent testing

Concern exists over lack of independent testing of GMFs. FDA regulations require new GM strains to be tested for things like allergen potential and toxicity, but these tests are allowed to be conducted by the manufacturers (with FDA oversight). While the concern is valid (striving for more studies furthers the scientific endeavor, whether GM or non-GM), the common argument that GMFs are not subject to independent testing whatsoever is false.

In 2012, the non-profit organization Biology Fortified began compiling the GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas (GENERA), an ongoing project to catalog peer-reviewed studies regarding GM health risks. As of April 2014, there are approximately 1080 studies on the list, about one-third of which were conducted from independently funded, non-manufacturer sources.[27]

Additionally, there are no regulations requiring the testing of new crop strains produced by non-GM means, such as cross-breeding or induced mutation; thus, non-GM varieties are not tested at all. Historically, this has resulted in the disastrous release into the marketplace of the Lenape potato[28] and celery containing excessive psoralens.[29] To conclude, although testing that is funded by the manufacturers is not ideal (independently funded studies reduce the introduction of many forms of possible biases such as the sunk cost fallacy, confirmation bias, and/or bias blind spots), any testing is better than no testing (also consider that manufacturers have a vested interest in protecting their PR image, which when dealing with GMFs is already poisoning the well, and introducing harmful products could damage that image quickly).

[edit] Food allergies

The rise in food allergies correlates to the rise of GMFs. A 2013 article in that bastion of scientific rigor, Elle magazine, claimed that the author's apparent allergy to corn wouldn't have happened if our corn wasn't genetically modified.[30]

All that can be said is correlation does not equal causation. The rise in allergies is a common phenomenon in developed countries, even though the popularity of GMF varies wildly between them. Furthermore, new proteins introduced by genetic modification are required to have short digestion times in order to be found fit for human consumption, precisely because long-digestion proteins are potential allergens. Starlink corn is a famous example of a GMF that was found unfit for human consumption (long before it was brought to market as cattle feed) on this basis.[31]

Transgenic crops containing certain genes from other species can pose a serious food allergy risk if unlabeled. A gene from a cold-water fish to give fruits frost resistance, can trigger a reaction in someone allergic to sea food. [32] However, most transgenes code for proteins whose digestion times are too short to trigger an allergic reaction.

A simpler explanation for the rise in food allergies is the increased variety of food available. Centuries ago, people would only be able to eat what was grown locally; if you never saw a peanut in your lifetime, how would you ever know if you were allergic? And if you were allergic to one of the few foods available, well, dead people don't have allergies.

[edit] Cross-pollination and health

For cross-pollination and its relation to law, see Cross-pollination and law.
For cross-pollination and its relation to the environment, see Cross-pollination and the environment.

The health implications of cross-pollination between GMFs and non-GMFs planted on other farms nearby have garnered some attention.

Starlink corn, a Bt corn variety using a different gene than Monsanto's, was declared unfit for human consumption because one of the introduced proteins (Cry9C) had a long digestion time and was thus a potential allergen. Starlink corn was, however, deemed fit for animal consumption, and was grown as cattle feed. Soon thereafter, Cry9C proteins were found in foodstuffs that were deemed fit for human consumption.[33] Pollen containing the Bt genes had apparently hopped the fence into neighboring cornfields. While no cases of allergic reaction to Cry9C have been confirmed,[34] this raises the spectre of other GM traits escaping isolation.

[edit] Inherently bad

The most prevalent claim is that all GMFs are harmful to health and cause a variety of illnesses and disorders: cancer,[35] autism,[36] reproductive problems, infant mortality, liver problems and many other things.[37] Some activists went as far as dressing up in Hazmat suits while destroying GMFs to make it look as if researchers needed protection against the plants.[38]

[edit] Influence on rodents

Most GMF maize is commodity corn, i.e. corn not meant to be eaten directly but used as source for starch. Although GMF maize is harmless for human and mammal consumption, paranoia in China claimed that several models of Pioneer maize and soy is affecting the reproduction of rats and Chinese pygmy hamsters and thereby affecting the food chain. This was due to a 2010 Russian study.[39]

Another study released in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, conducted by Gilles-Eric Séralini, supposedly showed a link between GM maize and a higher incidence of cancer in the Sprague–Dawley strain of rat.[40] The study was later retracted by the journal after a large amount of scientists protested its poor quality and its "inadequate data to support its conclusions" (specifically that the sample size was too small and the type of rat used was already prone to tumors)[41]. This latter retracted study is the one most often cited to back the pseudoscientific claim that GMFs cause cancer.

[edit] Cry1Ab protein in blood

Some anti-GMF advocates have cited a study, "Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada", which found traces of Cry1Ab (a protein from pesticides incorporated into MON810 corn) in 93 per cent of the pregnant mothers and 80 per cent of the umbilical cords.[42][43] However, there are several issues with concluding that this is because of GMF. First, organic crops are often sprayed with Cry1Ab.[44] Second, the recorded levels of the protein would require ridiculous consumption of corn (up to 5.8 kg for the maximum recorded blood level, and at minimum 120 g) every single day, since Cry1Ab does not bioaccumulate.[44] Third, the authors recorded values lower than their minimum detection value, and their detection method is flawed.[44][45][46] And finally, CryAb1 is not, in fact, harmful.[44]

[edit] Scientific consensus

The scientific consensus says that there are no generic health risks common for all GMFs.[47][48] Any possible harm can only come from a specific engineered trait. This view is shared by the World Health Organization,[49] the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the European Food Safety Agency, the International Council for Science,[50] the U.S. National Academies of Science,[51] and almost all national scientific bodies. According to one metastudy which included 12 long-term studies and 12 multigenerational studies: "The studies reviewed present evidence to show that GM plants are nutritionally equivalent to their non-GM counterparts and can be safely used in food and feed."[52]

Scientists with anti-GMF positions are a tiny minority of researchers, many of them with ideological and/or financial conflicts of interest.[note 3]

So far, all evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of safety of GMFs for human consumption.[53][54] A wide variety of reputable organizations have stated that GMFs are safe to eat, including the US National Academies of Sciences,[55] the American Association for the Advancement of Science,[56] the European Commission,[57] and many more.

After years of cultivation, there seem to be no adverse health impacts associated specifically with them, and in some cases they can confer significant health benefits (e.g. Bt corn contains less carcinogenic fungal toxins than regular corn, Golden Rice has beta carotene which normal rice lacks, etc.). The continued insistence of anti-GMF activists that the science is uncertain is simply moving the goalposts.

Additionally, anti-GMF activists use the precautionary principle argument which states that as there is negative proof of the harm of GE foods (i.e. there is no absolute, ultimate proof that GMF is safe), GMFs should be opposed.[58][59] Arguments of this nature are invalid, as any given technology cannot be proven to be safe in every possible imagined circumstance.

Some anti-GMF proponents have taken up the creationist tactic of listing supporters,[60][61] who often are legal experts rather than scientists.

[edit] GMF impact on environment

Environmental concerns over GMF also exist. The scientific consensus over GMF crops and the environment is not as clear-cut as the consensus on GMF and health.

[edit] Environmental impact of GM herbicide resistance

What is the impact on the environment where GM resistance leads to increased use of herbicides? So far there is very little data suggesting a major increase in herbicide use, and this completely ignores how glyphosate is far less toxic than many alternative herbicides (such as atrazine) - meaning that increases in the mass of herbicide used do not always translate to an increase in environmental impact. Sustained glyphosate use and poor management practices have led to some weeds becoming resistant to the herbicide.[62] Proper weed management practices and careful use of selective herbicides can help mitigate this resistance.

The number of reported new cases of herbicide-resistant weeds has actually slightly decreased after the introduction of GMFs. Out of the 24 known glyphosate-resistant species, 13 were actually first documented in non-GMFs. As such, "superweeds" are a problem related to herbicide use and not directly to GMF use.[63]

It's important to keep in mind what a "superweed" is. A "superweed" is a plant that's resistant to the herbicide in use, allowing it to grow in the fields we'd rather use for crops, rather than a green monster that will overwhelm the whole world. Much like "superbugs" in hospitals, acquiring resistance to an herbicide is generally harmful to the plant if the herbicide is not present, as it requires the plant to spend additional energy and materials producing the proteins or other chemicals it uses to endure the herbicide, meaning "superweeds" are actually slightly weaker and less invasive than the, umm, garden variety. Indeed, glyphosate-resistant crops themselves produce somewhat less than non-resistant varieties in ideal conditions[64], but "a field full of weeds" is kind of the opposite of ideal.

[edit] Cross-pollination and the environment

For cross-pollination and its relation to health, see Cross-pollination and health.
For cross-pollination and its relation to law, see Cross-pollination and law.

What might happen if modified genes cross-pollinated (or, worse, transferred laterally) to other organisms? For example, herbicide resistance could transfer to related weedy species, producing herbicide resistant weeds - obviously an undesirable outcome. Occurrence of this gene flow has been confirmed in field studies,[65] but so far it's uncertain whether this is a serious concern or not.[citation needed] It should be noted that herbicide resistance is not unique to GMFs (for instance, imidazolinone-resistant canola was obtained using radiation breeding), nor does herbicide resistance in weeds require gene flow to occur.

There are technologies available to prevent the spread of transgenes in the environment by making the second-generation seed of GM plants sterile, but they are not used due to public opposition (see "Terminator seed technology" below).

There is also a misconception about potential "superweeds", where a wild cousin acquires a trait and the whole world is choking on canola/rapeseed. "Superweeds" are weaker than regular weeds as herbicide resistance is a detriment to most plants; it causes the plants to use up energy to survive under specific conditions, specifically when herbicide is present. Without the herbicide present, the tolerant plants tend to be pushed out by the intolerant plants.

On the other hand, the newly introduced traits might disrupt the ecosystem surrounding a GMF field, particularly when GMFs interbreed with wild relatives. This is not a problem unique to GMF crops; any crop with a new trait could potentially spread to the wild, whether it arose through random mutation or creation in a lab. There exists technology to prevent interbreeding, but it is not used due to its negative public perception.[note 4]

[edit] Lack of biodiversity

When a GMF is first introduced, the seeds are usually derived from a single strain. If this crop becomes immensely popular, you'll end up with multiple farmers planting one and only one strain of the crop, leaving all of these new crops vulnerable to disease. This happened with the Rainbow papaya: the strain chosen to receive the transgene for ringspot-virus resistance turned out to be vulnerable to the blackspot fungus. The problem can be avoided by breeding the GM trait into several varieties using conventional methods.

GMFs are not the only crops lacking biodiversity, nor is lack of biodiversity a new concern. The Great Irish Potato Famine occurred largely because Irish farmers planted only the "lumper" strain of potatoes; when the Potato Blight struck, it struck 'em all. McDonald's has long been criticized for its reliance on the Russet Burbank strain of potatoes for its French fries, to the exclusion of other strains.

This would likely be less of a problem if more GMF companies were able to enter into the market providing more variety of crops, or if the GMF crops could be allowed to hybridize with other strains. In other words, it's a problem caused by the restrictions on GMF crops.

[edit] "Terminator seeds" and the environment

For "terminator seeds" and their relation to moneymaking, see "Terminator seeds" and profit.

A common myth is that the crops use "terminator seed" technology (technical name Genetic Use Restriction Technology, GURT) which causes the crops to yield sterile seeds. However, while testing has been conducted on GURT, there is actually a moratorium on its commercial use due to public opposition.[66] Monsanto has also pledged not to use the technology.[67]

Despite all the propaganda, GURT is actually a good thing because it stops planted GMFs from expanding into the wild - one of the few realistic concerns about GMFs. Seeds that cannot be saved for replanting are nothing new. Plants grown from traditional hybrid seed, in wide use since the 1920s, do not produce true copies in the second generation due to the existence of hybrid vigor. Therefore, new seed must be bought every year from a plant breeder to keep its desirable characteristics.[68]

One of the few dangers of GURT would be in those rare cases if it were to fail. GURT is engineered as a genetic trait, which means it can and will mutate, and a germline mutation that deactivates the GURT geneplex would mean the seeds would be fertile. Were GURT actually implemented in real farms, the farmers would have to maintain the same vigilance they do today against GM seed or pollen escaping into the wild, just in case one of these deactivating mutations were to arise.

Vandana Shiva has claimed that GURT may somehow spread to wild plants and cause the total destruction of the Earth's biosphere.[69] This is complete lunacy, since by definition sterility is not heritable.

[edit] Environmental benefits of GMF

Crops which are genetically modified to poison pests (such as Bt corn) reduce the need for pesticides to be sprayed on them, which benefits the environment. According to a decade-long study conducted in China on Bt cotton, since its introduction in 1997, pesticide use was reduced by half and the population of natural insect predators doubled (this is because pesticides kill harmful and helpful insects without discretion).[70]. Another study, published in 2005 found that using GMF that poison pests reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the need for pesticide spraying.[71] Additionally, GMF which is modified for no-till or reduced-till farming systems (herbicide resistant crops) reduce the energy use in soil cultivation, again lowering overall greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA has required some insect resistant crops be regulated like chemical pesticides. [32] Developing countries see greater benefit to yields, and reductions in pesticide use, from using genetically modified crops, giving complaints about them just a touch of classism[72].

Some articles argue that the repression of GMF by the environmental movement is the real problem.[73] At least one high-profile environmentalist has changed his anti-GMF stance as a result of learning the actual science.[74] (Did he simply sell out to Monsanto? A lot of anti-GMF bloggers and sites at the time thought so,[75] but evidence has not been forthcoming.)

GMF can of course be misused, and for this reason need oversight. However, after years of cultivation, there seem to be no adverse impacts associated specifically with them, and in many cases they confer significant environmental benefits. The continued insistence of anti-GMF activists that the science is uncertain is simply moving the goalposts.

[edit] Influence on bees

There are also claims that Bt crops are responsible for bee deaths and colony collapse disorder (CCD). This is false.

Bt toxin is harmful to some Lepidoptera (butterflies / moths) and Coleoptera (beetles) which feed directly on the plant, though several strains are becoming resistant to Bt toxin -- and even then, the effects on butterflies is not significant and quite negligible.[76][77] Beetles and certain species of butterflies tend to be pests themselves, after all, and were the target of the Bt toxin in the first place.

Bt toxin is not at all harmful to bees, which are in the order Hymenoptera. A meta-analysis of 25 studies found that there is no detectable harm to bees arising from the use of Bt crops.[78] In fact, imidacloprid, a pesticide used on corn crops, is toxic to bees; and the whole point of Bt corn crops is that they need to be sprayed with less pesticide. And a meta-analysis has confirmed this.[79]

Note that traditional pesticides also kill butterflies and beetles, and that the Bt toxin is also used as a pesticide on both conventional non-GMF crops and organic crops. Some evidence however, has shown that BT Maize does cause slight learning disturbances in bees.[80] However, this effect has only been detected with concentrations of Bt toxin at 5000 ppb, and it's unlikely for this effect to show in natural conditions.[81]

[edit] GMFs and politics

Even if GMFs are relatively safe to humans and the environment, it's possible that their use might harm someone legally or financially; such risks exist but are routinely overblown.

[edit] "Terminator seeds" and profit

For "terminator seeds" and their relation to the environment, see "Terminator seeds" and the environment.

Anti-GMF activists often say that GMF seeds are infertile.[82] This refers to Genetic Use Restriction Technology, dubbed "terminator seed", which renders the second generation seed of a plant infertile. (See "Terminator seed technology" above.) This would prevent the farmer from saving seed, which currently is a requirement enforced using legal means.

GURT was never commercialized and work on it was abandoned in 1999,[83] largely due to public backlash instigated by the anti-GMF campaigners. Ironically, it would solve one of the few real problems with GMFs, namely the transfer of GM traits into wild relatives. It would also enable the safe use of GM plants to produce pharmaceutically active compounds.[84]

[edit] Cross-pollination and law

For cross-pollination and its relation to health, see Cross-pollination and health.
For cross-pollination and its relation to the environment, see Cross-pollination and the environment.

What are the legal implications of cross-pollination between GMFs and non-GMFs planted on other farms nearby? While activists commonly claim that biotech companies (like Monsanto) will sue farmers for accidental contamination via cross-pollination, such lawsuits have not happened. In 2012, a group of organic farmers preemptively sued Monsanto for this very reason, but their case was thrown out when they were unable to present any evidence that supported their claims.[85] It is unlikely that any judge would rule in favor of Monsanto in such a case, because the farmer would not obtain any undue benefit from the patented seeds.

Percy Schmeiser's case is often used as an example by activists - but the court found that he intentionally selected for GM traits in canola pollinated from a neighboring field by spraying his own field with glyphosate, which killed off all of his plants but left the pollination-planted ones intact, and then used the seed on his farm, planting a total of approximately 1,030 acres with the seed. Schmeiser attempted to claim that he was innocent and that the glyphosate-resistant crops appeared on his fields via pollination or from a passing truck's spillage, but the judge pointed out that all 1,030 acres were planted with glyphosate-resistant canola at a purity of 95-98%, far beyond the 0.5-2% typically seen from accidental contamination. Furthermore, the fact that Schmeiser intentionally sprayed glyphosate on his crops betrayed his knowledge of the seed, since glyphosate will kill any non-resistant plants. Monsanto won the lawsuit, but Schmeiser mounted a massive misinformation campaign online, which has led to a great many people being unaware of the true facts on this case.[86]

GM traits are usually patented. While this draws a lot of criticism, this situation is in fact not any different from conventional breeding, where novel traits are also patentable.[87] "Plant patents" have been protected by U.S. law since 1930. Several patents on first-generation GM traits are due to run out in the near future; the patent for first-generation RoundUp Ready soybean seeds, for example, will expire in 2015.

[edit] GMF labelling

There are no mandatory labeling requirements for GMFs at the federal level in the United States. However, as of early 2014, Vermont has laws requiring foods containing genetically-modified crops to be labelled as such, which will go into effect in 2016.[88] This specific law is being challenged in court.[89] Two other states, Maine and Connecticut, have similar laws that will go into effect if and when other neighboring states also require GMF labelling. 30 more states have similar bills pending in their legislatures.[90] The proponents of such labelling laws are mostly anti-GMF activists for whom labelling laws are but a first step.[91] The opponents assert that such laws would make "no GMFs!" labels into selling points for a gullible public (much like "all natural!" labels do today), and would give no useful information about which genetic modifications are and aren't present.

European Union has very strict GMF labeling laws, mandating that every ingredient of the product that was produced from genetically modified organisms must be labelled, even if it contains no DNA and is chemically indistinguishable from its non-GMF counterpart (e.g. oils and lecithin). Labeling is also mandatory in restaurant menus. Combined with the very high level of anti-GMF activity in Europe and the fact that only two GM traits are approved for local cultivation (one variant of Bt corn and the Amflora potato), this results in GMF being basically impossible to buy.

Labeling in Europe is not required for the meat, eggs and milk of animals fed with GMFs. Most European poultry and pigs are in fact fed GM cereals imported from the United States, as this is significantly cheaper than feeding them locally grown non-GM grain.

A common claim about European labeling laws is that cultivating GMFs in some area would automatically require honey produced in the same area to be labeled as genetically modified, because honey contains trace amounts of pollen (less than 0.5%). Given the anti-GMF hysteria, the label would make such honey potentially unmarketable in Europe. However, this is no longer true, as the rules were recently clarified; pollen is now considered as a "natural constituent" rather than an "ingredient" of honey, and so it only needs to be labelled if the honey contains more than 0.9% of GM pollen.[92] Previous ruling from the European Court of Justice stipulated that pollen is an "ingredient" and therefore needs to be included on the ingredient list, and a label must be included if more than 0.9% of the pollen is genetically modified.

[edit] Farmer suicide in India

Some anti-GMF activists, like Vandana Shiva, also claim that Bt cotton in India ruins small farmers and drives them to suicide. Bt cotton in India is not a substantial factor in farmer suicides,[93] which started rising 5 years before its introduction.[94] In fact, a long-term study on the economic impacts of Bt cotton in India showed that Bt cotton has increased yields, profits, and the living standards of smallholder farmers.[95]

[edit] Zambia

The most controversial instance of opposition to GMF is probably the case of Zambia. In 2002, the Zambian government opted to let its people starve in the midst of a region-wide crop failure by turning down a vast quantity of food aid in the form of GM corn, rather than feed them "GM poison".[96][97]

[edit] Misinformation

Misinformation on the subject is harmful. People who would otherwise be fed are starved, being deprived of food being destroyed just because it is GMF.[98][99][100]

[edit] See also

[edit] Pro-GMF

[edit] GMF-Ambivalent

[edit] Anti-GMF

[edit] Films

[edit] External links

[edit] Notes

  1. The genomes of nearly all important crops are heavily modified with respect to their wild ancestors through the process of selective breeding and in many cases also by other techniques such as hybridization and mutation breeding, so using the term "genetically modified" specifically to label recombinant organisms is something of a misnomer.
  2. GMO can also include organisms genetically modified for purposes other than food, such as laboratory animals used in clinical research or non-food crops, such as cotton and poplars. [1]
  3. Gilles-Eric Séralini, tied to a Big Placebo company and funded by anti-GMF organizations, is a notable example.
  4. Namely, Variety GURT, which renders sterile all seed produced by the plant. Sterile seeds can't crossbreed with anything. Called "terminator seed technology" by its opponents, it attracted so much misguided outrage that it has been abandoned, as described in the Controversy section later in this article.

[edit] Footnotes

  1. 1.0 1.1 Kloor, Keith GMO Opponents Are the Climate Skeptics of the Left Slate
  2. Gorski, David More bad science in the service of anti-GMO activism Science-Based Medicine
  3. Labels for GMO Foods Are a Bad Idea Scientific American
  4. In 2010, 16% of U.S. corn had the Bt trait, 23% had the HT trait, and 47% had both. Source:
  5. ISAAA Brief 43-2011. Executive Summary: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2011
  6. Hayes' Handbook of Pesticide Toxicology
  7. Transgenic Virus-Resistant Papaya: The Hawaiian ‘Rainbow’ was Rapidly Adopted by Farmers and is of Major Importance in Hawaii Today, on APSnet
  8. E. Johnson, J. A. Lucey (2006) Major Technological Advances and Trends in Cheese J. Dairy Sci. 89(4): 1174–1178
  9. U.S. Approves Corn Modified for Ethanol, NY Times, 12-Feb-2011
  10. Get Paid to Plant Enogen, AgWired, 27-Aug-2014
  11. Acrtic Apples
  12. Simplot's website. Like the Arctic Apple, Simplot doesn't use transgenes from other unrelated species, but instead manipulates the potato genes directly.
  13. .S.D.A. Approves Modified Potato. Next Up: French Fry Fans., The New York Times, 7-Nob-2014
  14. INNATE™ Potato Receives FDA Safety Clearance
  15. McDonald's rejects Simplot's genetically modified potato, Idaho Statesman, 15-Nov-2014
  16. International Rice Research Institute: C4 Rice. As of December 2012, the C4 Rice Consortium apparently hasn't yet isolated the genes responsible for C4 photosynthesis.
  17. John Innes Center: Major investment to persuade bacteria to help cereals self-fertilise
  18. BBC News: Blight-resistant GM potatoes field trial begins
  19. The Age: Disease-resistant banana plant developed
  21. Uganda's genetically modified golden bananas, BBC News, 27-March-2013
  22. Genetically-modified purple tomatoes heading for shops, BBC News, 24-Jan-2014
  23. DSM and Monsanto to commercialize soybean oil rich in omega-3 SDA. But will anti-GMO sentiment hinder its progress?, Food navigator-usa, 8-April-2013
  25. Florida Health Officials Hope To Test GMO Mosquitoes This Spring, NPR
  26. DDT is now found in polar bears in the arctic - a place where no significant quantities were ever used
  27. Studies with independent funding, Biology Fortified, 10-June-2014
  28. The case of the poison potato, boingboing, 25-March-2013
  29. Unintended Health Effects: A Conventionally-Bred Celery Cultivar, National Academies Press, 2004
  30. The Bad Seed: The Health Risks of Genetically Modified Corn, in the Hair and Beauty section of the 24-July-2013 Elle. Rebuttal on Slate: No, You Shouldn’t Fear GMO Corn, 7-Aug-2013.
  31. [ EPA Preliminary Evaluation of Information Contained in the October 25, 2000 Submission from Aventis CropScience], page 3
  32. 32.0 32.1
  33. Taco Bell Recalls Shells That Used Bioengineered Corn
  34. CDC, National Center for Environmental Health. Investigation of Human Health Effects Associated with Potential Exposure to Genetically Modified Corn: A Report to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Atlanta,GA:Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2001.
  35. NaturalNews: Shock findings in new GMO study: Rats fed lifetime of GM corn grow horrifying tumors, 70% of females die early
  36. Institute for Responsible Technology: Are Genetically Engineered Foods Promoting Autism?
  37. Institute for Responsible Technology: Health risks of GMOs
  40. Butler, Dnecla (25 September 2012). "Rat study sparks GM furore". 
  41. Casassus, Barbara (Nov 29, 2013). "Study Linking Genetically Modified Corn to Rat Tumors Is Retracted". 
  42. Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. - PubMed - NCBI
  43. Toxic pesticides from GM food crops found in unborn babies, The Telegraph
  44. 44.0 44.1 44.2 44.3
  48. A. Nicolla, A. Manzo, F. Veronesi, D. Rosellini, An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research Critical Reviews in Biotechnology, 2014, 34(1), 77-88
  49. WHO: 20 questions on genetically modified foods
  50. ICSU report on GMF
  52. Snell, Chelsea; Bernheim, Aude; Berge, Jean-Baptiste; et al ScienceDirect: Assessment of the health impact of GM plant diets in long-term and multigenerational animal feeding trials: A literature review
  53. Peer Reviewed Publications on the Safety of GMFs
  54. Studies for GENERA (as of 5/27/13, there are exactly six hundred studies in this list)
  55. Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects
  56. Quote: 'The science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.'
  57. A decade of EU-funded GMO research
  58. Biotech-Now: Moms Urged to Subscribe to the ‘Precautionary Principle’ on GMOs
  59. Institute of Science in Society: Use and Abuse of the Precautionary Principle - this is a somewhat outdated defense of the use of the precautionary principle being applied to GE technology.
  60. No scientific consensus on GMO safety, Environmental Sciences Europe
  61. “No scientific consensus on GMO safety” statement published in peer-reviewed journal, European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility
  62. Facts about Glyphosate-Resistant Weeds
  63. Where are the super weeds?
  64. Soybean cultivar yields
  65. Watrud, L.S. et al., Evidence for landscape-level, pollen-mediated gene flow from genetically modified creeping bentgrass with CP4 EPSPS as a marker. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, October 5, 2004, vol. 101, no. 40, pp. 14533-14538.
  66. GURT overview.
  67. "Is Monsanto Going to Develop or Sell "Terminator" Seeds?", paragraph 3
  68. Hybrid varieties and saving seed
  69. Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply By Vandana Shiva
  70. Widespread adoption of Bt cotton and insecticide decrease promotes biocontrol services Nature
  71. GM Crops: The Global Economic and Environmental Impact - The First Nine Years AgBioForum
  72. A Meta-Analysis of the Impacts of Genetically Modified Crop Wilhelm Klümper, Matin Qaim
  73. Prospect Magazine: The real GMF scandal
  74. Leading Environmental Activist’s Blunt Confession: I Was Completely Wrong To Oppose GMOs
  75. Like this one: Uncovering the Real Story Behind the 'Conversion' of Mark Lynas from Climate Change Journalist to Cheerleader for Genetically Modified Foods, on AlterNet
  81. Ramirez-Romero et al., Does CrylAb protein affect learning performances of the honey bee Apis mellifera L. (Hymenoptera, Apidae)?, Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, January 2008
  82. Hermosillo, Maribel Monsanto's GMO Seeds Are Actively Cultivating Cultural Genocide PolicyMic
  85. OSGATA v. Monsanto decision
  86. Federal Court (Canada) decision - Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser
  87. New e-licencing platform highlights patent debate - note that this article is not about GM traits, since neither of the two traits approved for cultivation in the EU belongs to Syngenta.
  88. Vermont Lawmakers Pass GMO Labeling Bill; Governor Expected To Sign, Huffington Post, 24-April-2014
  90. Maine becomes second state to require GMO labels, The Washington Post, 10-Jan-2014]
  91. Genetic Literacy Project Infographic: Is labelling GMOs really about our “Right to Know”?
  93. The Selling of the Suicide Seeds Narrative, Discover blogs, 7-Jan-2014
  95. Kathage, J.; Qaim, M. (2012). "Economic impacts and impact dynamics of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton in India". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109 (29): 11652–6. PMC 3406847. PMID 22753493. 
  96. BBC News: Zambia refuses GM 'poison'
  97. Better dead than GM-fed?, The Economist, 19-Sept-2002. Claims that the cross-pollination threat to Zambia's crop exports might have been partly to blame.
  100. The True Story About Who Destroyed a Genetically Modified Rice Crop, Mark Lynas, 26-Aug-2013
  106. More bad science in the service of anti-GMO activism
  107. [
  108. Polling the anti-GM vote
  109. Reaping the benefits: Science and the sustainable intensification of global agriculture. Chapter three
  110. Brain Dunning - Genetically Modified Organisms: Jeopardy or Jackpot?
  111. Is opposition to genetically modified food irrational? 3 June 2015 BBC News
  112. "Frankenfoods vs. the neo-Luddites"
  113. WHO - 20 questions on genetically modified foods.
  114. The GMO Population Cull … Getting Away With Murder
  115. The Prince of Wales: 'If that is the future, count me out'
  116. Deepak Chopra and Vandana Shiva Talk Seeds and GMOs
  117. Boycott Genetically Modified (GM) Foods, on, 13-Sept-2014

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