Ask Us Anything About GMOs!

Q:
Hello, I am writing to inquire about the long term effects of GMO seeds on the internal body parts of humans (and animals). I have been a farm supply store owner since the 1970's, and never before have I seen such an interest among my customers and community on the subject of seeds. I have heard spurious reports of other regions and countries (Canada, Mexico, European Union, and Russia) rejecting our GMO products which leads me to ask questions such as: Has the FDA sufficiently determined the long term health factors related to these chemical alterations? And if they have, are the FDA's standards that much lower than their foreign counterparts who have rejected these same products? The God of our universe promises a tremendous return on his seed when planted properly. I think a majority of the skeptical nature among my customers and community concerning GMO products is in response to the pretense that a big business could do a better job than our Creator. These are basic questions as I am only seeking basic and simple answers. Sincerely, Mitch Waters Master Made Feeds Texas
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A:Expert Answer

We’re glad you asked these questions and can understand your concern since these issues impact your business and interaction with customers. We have actually just posted information regarding long-term studies, available here:

 

Here are a few excerpts from responses provided by Bruce Chassy, Professor Emeritus of Food Safety and Nutritional Sciences, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which address the points raised in your question:

 

The composition of GM crops and foods derived from them is carefully studied. Using our knowledge of toxicology, food allergy, and nutrition, it is possible to predict if a food will have an adverse effect based on composition alone.  The study of composition is a better indicator of safety than are animal studies on whole foods.  Many scientists in fact question if whole food studies in animals are useful and have suggested they not been done.  Studies in humans are even more difficult to do and would likely yield little useful information since the diets' composition is the same, the outcome would be the same.  Since these are whole foods, with animal studies animals can be fed diets containing large amounts of the food ingredient being tested every day, which would be very difficult to do with humans.  Moreover, at the end of a study with animals, post-mortem examinations are performed that allow for a careful pathological examination of most all tissues to understand the pathologies that resulted from consuming large amounts of the whole food tested.” http://gmoanswers.com/ask/why-has-there-never-been-clinically-controlled-independent-human-feeding-trial-if-i-were-come

 

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“The first plant transformation was to produce a GM plant was reported in 1982 which was only 31 years ago.  Before a GM plant can be approved by the USDA, its potential ecological impact must be fully evaluated.  The question appears to be asking if full spectrum ecological studies are done for every organism, and, by inference, every conceivable situation.  It is simply impossible to test all organisms in all situations.  Accordingly, scientists select key non-target species and indicator organisms that serve as surrogates for different classes of environmental organisms from microbes to whole animals and typically at a minimum evaluate ecological effects in at least 6 agro-ecosystems on 3 continents for at least 3 growing seasons – sometimes more.  Field tests are always performed with and without the normally used pesticides and herbicides since that¹s just good experimental design.  Scientists and regulators have concluded that this provides a clear enough view of how a crop will impact the environment.  As an additional safeguard a plan for post-market agro-ecological monitoring is also put in place to ensure that any unexpected adverse effects are detected.  If any post-market adverse effect it detected systems for management and mitigation can be put in place, or the crop can be withdrawn from the market.” http://gmoanswers.com/ask/are-there-any-long-term-30-years-studies-done-full-spectrum-ecological-impact-transgenic-gmo

 

You may also be interested in several posts which discuss the role of the FDA in biotechnology:

 

Steve Savage, Consultant at Savage & Associates, discusses the robust regulatory framework for GMOs here: http://gmoanswers.com/ask/how-are-gmo-foods-regulated. Adrianne Massey, Ph.D., Managing Director, Science and Regulatory Affairs, Biotechnology Industry Organization discusses regulatory oversight of GM crops here: http://gmoanswers.com/ask/i-have-been-told-government-oversight-gmos-extremely-lax-how-easy-it-get-approval-gmo-crops.

 

 

With regard to international bans, Cathleen Enright, Executive Director of the Council for Biotechnology Information, recent addressed this topic. An excerpt is included below:

 

“I’m aware of only one country, Kenya, with a ban in place on GMO food imports. The decision came about in November 2012, apparently during a cabinet meeting, that circumvented the existing Kenyan Biosafety Act and the National Biosafety Authority, the regulatory agency established to regulate the use of GMOs. Every other country that has a regulatory system in place for GMOs allows GMOs to be imported for food and animal feed, including the European Union (EU), which has a thorough and comprehensive regulatory system for the assessment and approval of GMOs (EU law). In fact, the EU’s safety assessment process for GMOs is largely similar to that of other countries around the world—Japan, China, Brazil, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and many, many others. Each has determined that GMOs are substantially equivalent to their non GMO counterparts.

 

I think people may incorrectly perceive that the EU has a ban on GMOs for food and animal feed because of polarized public opinion and extended delays in the EU approval process, particularly the final step—a political decision-making process in which the member states vote on the European Food Safety Authority (ESFA) scientific opinion. By mid-2011, 39 GM products were approved food and feed use in the EU, with 72 approvals pending due to delays in the regulatory process. Despite the GMO controversy in the EU, it imports 72 percent (2011) of the protein-rich feed needed to support its livestock industry from Brazil, Argentina and the United States, the vast majority of which is GMO.” http://gmoanswers.com/ask/ask-your-question-19

 

 

A recent response from Carel du Marchie Sarvaas, Former Director for Agricultural Biotechnology, EuropaBio, sheds some insight on GMO labeling in the EU:

 

“In the European Union, GM labelling is mandatory for all food and feed products consisting of, containing, or obtained from GM plants when this is above 0.9% of that ingredient. The 0.9% threshold was determined by political co-decision and has no foundation in any scientific finding or fact.

 

GM labelling has nothing to do with food safety. It is for commercial purposes in order to distinguish between GM, conventional and organic products when they are sold to consumers as they correspond to different market segments. The principle behind GM labelling in Europe is freedom of choice – both for consumers and farmers; unfortunately with illegal bans implemented in some EU countries, governments do not comply with the ‘freedom of choice’ principle for farmers as they deprive them from planting approved GM crops.

 

A map of where GMOs are approved for cultivation, food, feed and trial is available here: http://gmoanswers.com/public-review.”

 

http://gmoanswers.com/ask/if-eu-support-gmo-safety-why-do-products-containing-them-require-labels-or-some-instances

 

And, with regard to your philosophical questions, you might be interested in two answers which address conflicts between GMOs and religion. Below are some excerpts from the responses, provided by Nick Brewin, Emeritus Fellow, John Innes Center, Norwich, UK and Honorary Professor at the University of East Anglia.

 

“It is interesting to note that people who eat bread today are eating genetically hybrid grain that has progressively been domesticated by primitive agriculturalists and plant breeders over thousands of years. Modern genetic analysis has revealed that one original parent of wheat was Triticum monococcum which is a wild large-grained grass related to today’s einkorn. The other parent was probably Triticum speltoides, which is related to today’s spelt wheat. About 10,000 years ago, these two parents combined to produce a hybrid variety and this tetraploid line eventually gave rise to 'emmer' which through further domestication gave rise to the durum wheats that are the basis of pasta and cuscous, today. Bread wheat originated from a further hybridization when emmer was crossed with another wild grass species, Triticum tauschi, probably in north west Turkey or Iran. The result was the hexaploid, Triticum aestivum, which contains three pairs of chromosomes instead of the usual one. Thus bread wheat was developed (unwittingly) by farmers who simply selected the best corn from one harvest and used it as the seed-corn for the next crop. This example illustrates the fact that few if any of our food crops are the original wild or ‘natural’ plant species because humankind has domesticated agricultural crops by selecting and crossing species for thousands of years to improve production and yield. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see all plant breeding as a form of ‘genetic engineering’ and without it, we would never have survived.

 

Interestingly, the region of Mesopotamia (between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates) was the “cradle of civilization” that gave birth to the three great monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam: this region is also known as the “fertile crescent” in which many of our major crop plants were first developed through agriculture and plant breeding. God's grace has provided human agriculturalists and geneticists with skills to use for the benefit of others. However, as in the time of Leviticus, we must always try to combine technical knowledge with ethical wisdom in order to achieve beneficial outcomes in an ever-changing world.” http://gmoanswers.com/ask/gmo-me-stands-god-move-over-how-do-you-explain-gmos-person-who-believes-what-bible-says-about

 

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“Christ’s instruction was that we should love our neighbours as much as ourselves, and this should lead to ethical questions about the nature of new technologies. In the case of GM crops, we can ask – are the products safe for humans and the environment? After over 15 years with many millions of people eating GM corn and GM soya and huge sums spent on assessing safety, there is no scientific evidence of threats to human health or the well-being of the environment. Is it natural? – humankind has been doing genetic engineering for thousands of years by crop selection and cross breeding, so few if any food crops are still recognizable as wild varieties.  Is it fair? – we have to examine whether the results of the GM technology give a fair return to investors and tax payers who have supported the work, fair to smallholder farmers who need access to the technology, and fair to the environment which is improved by the reduction in chemicals applied to the crops and the land. As with any new technology, these socio-economic issues need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.  Finally, is it needed? – this will depend on the nation in question. Given that 1 billion people on the planet are currently under-nourished, and with a projected global increase in population from 7 to 9 billion by 2050, the need for increased agricultural production is both obvious and urgent.” http://gmoanswers.com/ask/are-there-any-long-term-30-years-studies-done-full-spectrum-ecological-impact-transgenic-gmo

 

If you feel that your question has not been answered in this response, or if you have additional questions, please ask here: http://gmoanswers.com/ask-your-question.

 

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