QIf GMOs are safe for consumption why do the people working with the crops wear hazmat suits?

If GMOs are safe for consumption why do the people working with the crops wear hazmat suits?

AExpert Answer

One of the most common images on the internet when you start researching chemical use on farms is of people in hazmat suits with backpack sprayers. This image has been compared to aliens exploring unknown planets, astronaut’s space suits, deepwater diving gear, and many other things that imply surviving a harsh environment.  

 

The correct term for these suits are Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). For all chemicals used in any industry, from scientific research to manufacturing to agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has standards for what equipment is needed for all chemicals. These standards range from things as simple as having to wear close-toed shoes, to being as strict as chemical respirators and sealed suits. For most agricultural chemicals that farmers use in GM and in conventional crops, the average recommendation is long sleeves and pants, and avoiding direct spills onto the skin. For some insecticides, there are more advanced requirements such as disposable jumpsuits and basic respirators. It is this type of chemical that the people in the pictures like the one you’re referring to wear.  

 

Most insecticides are relatively toxic to people as they affect us in the same way that they affect the insects that they are being applied to control. These chemicals also break down in the environment, typically within a week or less for most of them. Sunlight, exposure to air, and naturally-occurring microbes all work to break down chemicals in the environment, and do a very good job of it.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has standards for allowable limits for all chemicals that we use, and it’s almost unheard of to have any detectable residue if the farmer has followed the label recommendations.  

 

In short, hazmat suits are only recommended for a small portion of the chemicals that farmers might use, some of which are cleared for USDA organic production as well as application on GM and conventional crops. The safety requirements for any chemical are determined by the concentration of the chemical and how it interacts with the human body. This has nothing to do with the crop that is grown being GMO, organic, or somewhere in between. These protective measures are only required when handling concentrated levels of chemicals, which when applied correctly, will not be detectable in the crop when it is time to harvest it.  

Posted on May 6, 2018
The UPC (Universal Product Code) is a barcode (which has numbers beneath it) which identifies the product and the manufacturer. I think you may be thinking of the PLU (Price Look Up) code which is the 4 or 5 digit number on produce used to link a price with an item. The PLU code is a voluntary program that assigns numbers to produce items, this helps cashiers identify the correct price for a produce item. Growers/Packers can use the number "9" prefix to this 4-digit numeric code to... Read More
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Posted on January 31, 2018
Thank you for your question. There are various aspects of your question. I assume your question refers to the use of Agrobacterium rhizogenes by scientists to intentionally transfer genes from the bacterium to plants. Infection and DNA transfer from this bacterium occurs in nature all the time to cause disease. Such transformed plants are not classified as GMOs since transfer occurred naturally. If this is done by scientists then it would be classified as a GMO. Rules and... Read More
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Posted on March 1, 2018
I’m a Monsanto scientist who has more than 20 years of experience with genetic modification of plants. I will try to answer your question, even though I don’t ever do experiments on animals, certainly not on humans, of course! Can humans be genetically modified…but a much bigger question is should humans be genetically modified? There are two ways to think about genetic modification of humans (or any animal). One way is modification of somatic cells, and the other is the... Read More
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