Genetically Modified Food is defined as food items that has had their DNA changed through genetic engineering. Unlike conventional genetic modification that is carried out through time-tested conventional breeding of plants and animals. Combining genes from different organisms is known as recombinant DNA technology, and the resulting organism is said to be "genetically modified," "genetically engineered," or "transgenic." GM products include medicines and vaccines, foods and food ingredients, feeds, and fibers.
"Any politician or scientist who tells you these products are safe is either very stupid or lying. The hazards of these foods are uncertain. In view of our enormous ignorance, the premature application of biotechnology is downright dangerous. - David Suzuki, CC, OBC, Ph.D LLD, Geneticist."
Today, in the United States, 85 % of corn, 91% of soybeans and 88% of cotton are genetically engineered. Plus, 75% of processed foods on supermarket shelves contain some genetically engineered (GE) food products. Consumers across the United States are getting anxious about the safety of genetically modified foods. This awareness comes as no surprise as it is yet to be proven safe. In 1998, even the U.S. FDA admitted in court saying it has made "no dis-positive scientific findings," about the safety of genetically engineered foods...
Genetic modification of food is not new - For centuries, food crops and animals have been altered through selective breeding. While genes can be transferred during selective breeding, the scope for exchanging genetic material is much wider using genetic engineering. In theory, genetic engineering allows genetic material to be transferred between any organism, including between plants and animals. For example, the gene from a fish that lives in very cold seas has been inserted into a strawberry, allowing the fruit to be frost-tolerant.
By far the most common genetically modified (GM) organisms are crop plants. But the technology has now been applied to almost all forms of life, from pets that glow under UV light to bacteria which form HIV blocking "living condoms" and from pigs bearing spinach genes to goats that produce spider silk.
Between 1997 and 1999, gene-modified (GM) ingredients suddenly appeared in 2/3rds of all US processed foods. This food alteration was fueled by a single Supreme Court ruling. It allowed, for the first time, the patenting of life forms for commercialization. Since then thousands of applications for experimental GM organisms have been filed with the US Patent Office alone, and many more abroad.
The first commercially grown genetically modified whole food crop was the tomato (called Flavr Savr), which was made more resistant to rotting by Californian company Calgene. The tomatoes were released into the market in 1994 without any special labeling.
In February 1996, J. Sainsbury and Safeway Stores in the United Kingdom introduced Europe's first genetically-modified food product. A variant of the Flavr Savr was used by Zeneca to produce tomato paste which was sold in Europe during the summer of 1996. Following GM crops included insect resistant cotton and herbicide-tolerant soybeans both of which were commercially available in 1996.
In 2003, countries that grew 99 % of the global transgenic crops were the United States (63 %), Argentina (21 %), Canada (6 %), Brazil (4 %), China (4 %), and South Africa (1 %) and today the Grocery Manufacturers of America estimate that 75 % of all processed foods in the U.S. contain a GM ingredient.
Between 1995 and 2005, the total surface area of land cultivated with GMOs had increased by a factor of 50, from 17,000 km2 (4.2 million acres) to 900,000 km2 (222 million acres), of which 55 percent were in Brazil.
In the US, by 2006 89 % of the planted area of soybeans, 83 % of cotton, and 61 % maize were genetically modified varieties.
Today many Gmod crops are grown in North America. India has also come aboard the bandwagon in 2002 with a rapid and continuing expansion of GM cotton varieties.
"Genetic engineering is inherently dangerous, because it greatly expands the scope for horizontal gene transfer and recombination, precisely the processes that create new viruses and bacteria that cause disease epidemics, and trigger cancer in cells." - Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
The benefits of genetically modified food crops include being able to breed disease resistant crops and herbicide tolerant strains. Genetically modified crops can also be made to include vitamins that may be lacking in some staple varieties.
According to the UK Greenpeace website - The introduction of genetically modified (GM) food and crops has been a disaster. The science of taking genes from one species and inserting them into another was supposed to be a giant leap forward, but instead they pose a serious threat to biodiversity and our own health. In addition, the real reason for their development has not been to end world hunger but to increase the stranglehold multinational biotech companies already have on food production. And - The simple truth is, we don't need GM technology in order to possess future food security. Using sustainable and organic farming methods will allow us to repair the damage done by industrial farming, reducing the excessive use of fertilizer, herbicides and other man-made chemicals, and making GM crops redundant.
Many scientists argue that there is more than enough food in the world and that the hunger crisis is caused by problems in food distribution and politics, not production, so people should not be offered food that may carry some degree of risk.
Activists are opposed to genetic engineering as with current recombinant technology there is no way to ensure that genetically modified organisms will remain under control, plus the use of this technology outside secure laboratory environments represents multiple unacceptable risks to both farmed and wild ecosystems.
In 1996, Brazil nut genes were spliced into soybeans by a company called Pioneer Hi-Bred. Some individuals, however, are so allergic to this nut, they go into anaphylactic shock (similar to a severe bee sting reaction) which can cause death.
Many opponents of current genetic engineering realize that the increasing use of GM in crops has caused a power shift in agriculture towards Biotechnology companies, which are gaining more control over the production chain of crops and food, and over the farmers that use their products, as well.
In 1989, dozens of Americans died and several thousands were afflicted and impaired by a genetically altered version of the food supplement - L-tryptophan. A settlement of $2 billion dollars was paid by Showa Denko, Japan's third largest chemical company. (Mayeno and Gleich, 1994).
On August 18, 2006, American exports of rice to Europe were interrupted when much of the U.S. crop was confirmed to be contaminated with unapproved engineered genes, possibly due to accidental cross-pollination with conventional crops.
In 1998, 95-98 percent of about 10 km2 planted with canola by Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser were found to contain Monsanto's patented Roundup Ready gene although Schmeiser had never purchased seed from the Monsanto company. Monsanto then sued Schmeiser for piracy. In the past few years more and more crops have started to cross-pollinate which leaves a problem that is yet to be solved.
In 2005 Environmentalists say Australia faced "the most serious genetic contamination event" in its history, after the West Australian government confirmed low levels of genetically modified canola had been found in non-GM canola. Also in 2005 a decade-long project to develop genetically modified peas with built-in pest-resistance has been abandoned after tests showed they caused allergic lung damage in mice.
"They're now turning those seeds into intellectual property, so they have a virtual lock on the seeds upon which we all depend for our food and survival." - Jeremy Rifkin
In America, there's no need for labeling and this has resulted in a largely uninformed populace that is ingesting "gene-altered" food.
In other parts of the world such as the European Union, Japan, Malaysia and Australia consumers demand labelling so they can exercise choice between foods that have genetically modified, conventional or organic origins. Since its implementation in April 2004, EU Regulation 1829/2003 (labeling of genetically modified food and feed) has caused both food and feed manufacturers in Europe as well as their overseas suppliers a great deal of concern.
All genetically modified foods intended for sale in Australia and New Zealand must undergo a safety evaluation by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), an independent government agency. FSANZ will not approve a GM food unless it is safe to eat. It is mandatory for GM foods to be identified on food labels in Australia and New Zealand. These requirements became law in December 2001 and were put in place by food ministers to assist consumers to purchase or avoid GM foods, depending on their own views and beliefs.
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture says the industry faces huge losses if mandatory labelling is implemented. The fear is that consumers will see the labels as a warning and avoid these foods, and that food processors will reformulate their products to avoid GM foods rather than place labels. It also says labels will increase the price of foods produced and processed in Canada.
"The fact is, it is virtually impossible to even conceive of a testing procedure to assess the health effects of genetically engineered foods when introduced into the food chain, nor is there any valid nutritional or public interest reason for their introduction." Richard Lacey: Professor of Food Safety, Leeds University.
Some estimates say as many as 30,000 different products on grocery store shelves are "modified." That's largely because many processed foods contain soy. Half of North America's soy crop is genetically engineered!
How can the public make informed decisions about genetically modified (GM) foods when there is so little information about its safety?
According to the FDA and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), there are over 40 plant varieties that have completed all of the federal requirements for commercialization.
Future planned applications of GMOs are diverse and may include drugs in foods, for example, bananas that produce human vaccines against infectious diseases such as Hepatitis B, metabolically engineered fish that mature more quickly, fruit and nut trees that yield years earlier, and plants that produce new plastics with unique properties.
"History has many records of crimes against humanity, which were also justified by dominant commercial interests and governments of the day. Despite protests from citizens, social justice for the common good was eroded in favor of private profits. Today, patenting of life forms and the genetic engineering which it stimulates, is being justified on the grounds that it will benefit society, especially the poor, by providing better and more food and medicine. But in fact, by monopolizing the 'raw' biological materials, the development of other options is deliberately blocked. Farmers therefore, become totally dependent on the corporations for seeds." - Professor Wangari Mathai.
"Any politician or scientist who tells you these products are safe is either very stupid or lying. The hazards of these foods are uncertain. In view of our enormous ignorance, the premature application of biotechnology is downright dangerous." - David Suzuki, CC, OBC, Ph.D LLD, Geneticist.
UPDATE: California Proposition 37 - Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food:
Proposition 37, a Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food Initiative, is on the November 6, 2012 ballot in California as an initiated state statute. Proposition 37 requires labeling of food sold to consumers made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways and prohibits marketing such food, or other processed food, as "natural." The Right to Know Genetically Modified Food Act, a piece of state legislation if passed in November would require GMO-containing products to disclose that on labels, and make California the first state to mandate genetically modified food. A recent poll showed that nearly 2/3rds of likely California voters favored Proposition 37.
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