General Information About GMOs

Discussions regarding Genetically Modified Organisms

General Information About GMOs

Postby bjgentsch » Tue May 05, 2015 3:16 pm

Perhaps the most important thing to realize about GM technology is that nothing achieved through GM technologies currently marketed represents anything that could not otherwise be done through traditional plant breeding techniques in use for 150 years. GM technology provides methods to achieve the expression of desirable characteristics more quickly, efficiently, more precisely, and with less expense than traditional methods – that is all.

People have been working to improve the characteristics of plants and animals for longer than recorded history. The first animal herders bred the biggest and strongest members of their herds and Central Americans began improving corn over 10,000 years ago by saving seed from plants exhibiting desirable characteristics such as higher grain yields, faster maturity, larger seeds, or better milling properties.

People have been actively altering and improving plant and animal genetics using scientific cross-breeding techniques since Gregor Mendel discovered and described the mechanisms of heredity, in the mid-19th Century.

GMOs are safe. There is no debate among those in the crop sciences, agronomists, biochemists, plant biologists, and other science professionals, about the safety of GMOs. You can find disagreement but there are no active debates in the scientific community driven by data. All GMO introductions must first be approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the US Food and Drug Administration after lengthy scientific review.

There is no hard reproducible data indicating GMOs are more dangerous, or potentially dangerous, than traditionally bred plant products. Most “studies” claiming to indicate harm from GMOs use cell cultures and other isolated biological systems and not whole organisms. There are many thousands of studies substantiating the safety of GMOs and most of them reference whole organisms and utilize complete biological systems.

Nothing whatsoever can be scientifically proven safe. Science can only test hypotheses and prove something does no observable harm. It works this way for everything including GMOs.

Plenty of time and effort has been spent attempting to determine harm or increased risk caused by GMOs and nothing of scientific validity has ever been published in an accredited, peer-reviewed, scientific journal that demonstrates a danger from GMOs. All such published information has been rebuked by the scientific community for its failure of methods, conclusions, or reproducibility.

GMOs are directly responsible for decreasing the rates and frequency of pesticide applications particularly herbicides and insecticides. Traditional plant breeding has always been the most effective way to control plant diseases and GMO technologies have made that job easier.
Many varieties of corn and cotton now carry a gene coding for a protein from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) a naturally occurring soil bacteria that was inserted using GMO (transgenic) technology. This bacteria protein effectively prevents caterpillars, and certain other pests, from feeding on the crop. This same Bt protein is routinely used, and permitted, as an insecticide spray on USDA-certified organic crops.
Contrary to popular belief GMOs do not primarily benefit “big agribusiness.” Big agribusiness sells fertilizer, crop protection products, and other conventional crop input products which to a large extent are needed in lower amounts on GMO crops. Most sectors of “big agribusiness” in fact have less to sell on GMO crop acres.

Research is progressing on transferring nitrogen fixation capabilities from crops like soybeans to crops like corn and cotton. When successful this GMO trait will eliminate the need for nitrogen fertilizer on these crops. Nitrogen fertilizers are frequently implicated for their potential to runoff and contaminate surface waters. (Nitrogen is the basic building block of all proteins. The air in our atmosphere is 78% nitrogen. Soybeans “fix” atmospheric nitrogen from the air circulating in the root zone of the plants via a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria that colonize soybean roots in “nodules”. Therefore soybeans, a very high protein-containing crop, require no nitrogen fertilizer. By contrast corn requires as much as 1.5 pounds of added nitrogen per bushel of grain yield desired meaning an acre of corn can receive over 200 pounds of added nitrogen fertilizer per season. Additionally, nitrogen fertilizer is one of the highest cost input items farmers must finance every year, and is frequently implicated in surface water contamination should excessive field runoff occur. Furthermore the manufacture of anhydrous ammonia, the most economical form of crop-applied nitrogen fertilizer, consumes massive amounts of natural gas in its manufacturing process increasing our reliance on fossil fuels.)

The first round of GMO crop introductions primarily benefitted farmers making pest control easier and more effective. This contributed heavily to the abundance of US crop harvests in recent years. We enjoy higher corn yields than at any time in our history and these record yields are produced on fewer acres than were planted to corn in 1940.

Current and future GMO work is more centered on consumer benefits particularly human health. Golden rice is a great example; golden rice contains elevated levels of vitamin A which is greatly lacking in the diets of many people in developing nations – particularly children. Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of blindness in the developing world responsible for between a quarter of a million and half a million cases of childhood blindness annually mostly in Southeast and Southern Asia. Golden rice contains elevated levels of beta-carotene via genes from corn and a common bacteria giving it a golden color. A single bowl of golden rice contains over 60% of a child’s daily requirement of vitamin A.

Golden rice is owned by the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and benefits no agribusiness. In late July 2013 activists and demonstrators destroyed a seed production field of golden rice in the Philippines to protest the use, or potential use, of GMOs even as a guarantee of adequate nutrition and to prevent childhood blindness. The human health benefits, and potential for harmful effects, of golden rice has been researched for well over a decade and scientists worldwide endorse its cultivation and use.

Sound and reproducible science should influence our public policies not unproven fears of well-tested technologies.

Some good GMO articles in the recent press.
GMO papaya saving the Hawaiian papaya industry from a virus
Very good article by a former GMO activist. Article discusses pros and cons and is very well-balanced. ... vin-folta/

New York Times article on Golden Rice ... saver.html

GMO Labeling Talking Points

Many state initiatives and introduced legislation contain interesting exemptions for GMO labeling requirements. Meat and dairy products from animals fed a diet containing GMOs are frequently exempt. Also frequently exempt are alcoholic beverages, food served at restaurants, and even school lunches. This appears to be an obvious ploy for those desiring a GMO labeling requirement to avoid clashing with the more powerful food industry lobbies raising the question of whether the goal is food safety or procurement of an additional marketing tool for organic agriculture.

Currently federal law does not require labeling of GMOs based on the “substantially similar” clause. Substantially similar means something very specific in scientific jargon. Hypothesis testing (scientific method) always requires statistical analysis of the variance of research data prior to drawing conclusions. Sciences like agronomy, chemistry, and biology work on a 95% confidence level meaning the analysis of their data variance supports only those conclusions that are consistent 95% of the time - or more. Thus when conclusions are made, following the 95% confidence rule, there is a 95% confidence level, or greater, the conclusion is correct and the results are reproducible by anyone else - anywhere else.

The word “similar” in a scientific context specifically means “there is no difference” that can be observed between the two entities being called “similar”. Thus the US FDA, US EPA, and the USDA, based on scientific evidence, consider that foods processed from GMO plant products are not different than foods processed from non-GMO plant products in any substantive way. Likewise when you say something is “different” (much less referring to something as harmful) in a scientific context you had better be able to substantiate that claim; something the anti-GMO crowd has never been able to do to the satisfaction of the scientific review panels at FDA, EPA, and USDA or any journal published by a recognized professional scientific organization or association.

There is some debate among the providers of GMO technologies, professional organizations, and leading researchers about GMO labeling. No one involved with GMO development, testing, or marketing doubts the safety of GMOs and we should maintain the political will to avoid unnecessary scare tactics as public policy. With very little research it is possible for consumers to be aware of which products in their local grocery store are very likely to contain GMO components. Consumers further have the choice of buying certified organic which precludes GMOs.

Labeling allows purveyors of organic food a valuable marketing niche. Fear of GMOs is a marketing angle already used to increase organic market share - and make no mistake - the desire for higher profits is the reason for the organic sector’s strong support of labeling initiatives. That marketing differential is furnished at the cost of creating worry and concern among our citizens about the security of their food supply for no scientifically defensible reason. To exploit this marketing niche, or differential, the anti-GMO community must continue to create the perception that GMOs are harmful and non-GMOs are an alternative free of risk. These positions are scientifically indefensible and condone fear mongering as an acceptable commercial practice; you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater unless you observe evidence of fire.

The US currently enjoys the most abundant, affordable, and safest food supply of any country at any time in recorded history. We spend a lower portion of our disposable incomes on food than in any other country on earth.

There is no difference in food products sourced from GMOs and those from non-GMO sources and that is what we need to keep in mind when trying to make the point about unnecessary labeling. The word “similar” has scientific meaning.

In addition there are estimates that labeling requirements will unquestionably result in higher costs for food processors which will be passed along to consumers. A recent Cornell University study estimated and extra $500 per year in grocery costs for a family of four if GMO labeling is mandated. While true this will not matter to the anti-GMO crowd. Those who would deny children their eyesight to keep golden rice off the market won’t have any problems with those, who already struggle financially, paying more for their food.
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