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Genetically Modified Organisms

For the past 10,000 years, humans have interacted with and manipulated plant and animal species to make them better suited for their own needs. As human society became largely dependent on agriculture, farmers discovered that organisms could be selectively bred for desirable characteristics by crossing the crop plants with the largest fruits or breeding the cattle that produce the most milk.

To genetically modify organisms, a new gene must be able to access the target cell. Biotechnology has developed several methods to achieve this transfer of genes.

However, GMO foods should not be grouped together under the same umbrella because genetic modification affects types of food differently. Therefore, the GM animal versus a GM plant can have starkly different results. Therefore, the US policy should increase and encourage the labeling of GMO foods because citizens have the right to know what they are ingesting. Almost 20 years ago, FDA decided that GE foods did not need to be labeled because they were not “materially” different from other foods. While the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires the FDA to prevent consumer deception by clarifying that a food label is misleading if it omits significant, “material” information, the FDA issued a policy statement in 1992 that limited what it considered “material” to only changes in food that could be noted by taste, smell or other senses. Since GE foods can’t be “sensed” in this way, FDA declared them to be “substantially equivalent” to conventionally produced foods, and no labeling was required. It was, and remains, a political decision, not a scientific one. Two decades later, this outdated policy is still in effect. Yet the 21st century has brought fundamental changes to food that cannot be sensed; first through genetic engineering and, soon, through nanotechnology and synthetic biology. Therefore, GMO foods should be limited and discouraged from continuation within the US agricultural process.

This relatively new science creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacteria and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. To give you an idea of just how weird this can get, in 1991 a variety of tomato was engineered with genes from arctic flounder to make it frost-tolerant. Fortunately that product was never brought to market, but it is a good illustration of how unnatural GMOs are. Almost all commercial GMOs are engineered to withstand direct application of herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide. Despite biotech industry promises, none of the GMO traits currently on the market offer increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any other consumer benefit. Therefore, the scientific evidence shows GM foods to be likely dangerous but relatively undecided.

Most developed nations do not consider GMOs to be safe. In fact, in more than 60 countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs. In the U.S. and Canada, GMOs have been approved based on studies conducted by the same corporations that created them and profit from their sale.

A growing body of evidence connects GMOs with health problems, environmental damage and violation of farmers’ and consumers’ rights.

Because GMOs are novel life forms, biotechnology companies have been able to obtain patents with which to restrict their use. As a result, the companies that make GMOs now have the power to sue farmers whose fields are contaminated with GMOs, even when it is the result of inevitable drift from neighboring fields. GMOs therefore pose a serious threat to farmer sovereignty and to the national food security of any country where they are grown, including the United States and Canada.

Over 80% of all GMOs grown worldwide are engineered for herbicide tolerance. As a result, use of toxic herbicides like Roundup has increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced. GMO crops are also responsible for the emergence of “super weeds” and “super bugs,” which can only be killed with ever more toxic poisons like 2,4-D (a major ingredient in Agent Orange). GMOs are a direct extension of chemical agriculture and are developed and sold by the world’s biggest chemical companies. The long-term impacts of GMOs are unknown, and once released into the environment these novel organisms cannot be recalled.

Much of the GMO corn and soy grown in North America is fed to animals, as is some of the canola and cotton. Which is why it is important to know what is in animal feed. If you are buying animal products from the store, look for the Non-GMO Project label or choose Certified Organic products.

GMOs have been intensely controversial. Proponents argue that the GMOs with pest and disease resistance can have beneficial applications particularly in developing nations. Those opposed argue that GMOs produce compounds (e.g., toxins, allergens) that have not before been consumed by humans and thus, are likely to be harmful. While this controversy rages on, a more immediate issue is that of labeling foods containing GMOs. Currently, there is no labeling requirement for genetically modified foods in the US where 91% of soybeans and 85% of corn planted are genetically modified, according to the USDA.

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