Could we detect GMO foods if there were no samples to compare with?

Could we detect GMO foods if there were no samples to compare with?

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In my understanding, there's nothing “special” in how a GMO product is composed inside compared to a “natural” product. I mean, still, same principles apply to both: some DNA that controls protein building, and so on.

Now, having read about all existing methods of GMO detection, I still can't understand how it works: e.g., given two potatoes, one GMO and one natural, would you be able to detect which is which without having any samples or knowledge about what parts of DNA to consider engineered by humans?

Once you change someone's DNA, does it contain any signs that it was changed? Or do we need a database of “natural” products' DNA to compare with in order to be able to detect DNA ones? Or do we need a database of GMO products to compare with?

[G]iven two potatoes, one GMO and one natural, would you be able to detect which is which without having any samples or knowledge about what parts of DNA to consider engineered by humans?

No, you can't distinguish them without knowing a priori the DNA sequence of the wildtype and of the GMO. There is no other mark left within a GMO in the general sense.

Of course, one particular GMO is created with one particular goal in mind. One particular phenotypic effect. If you detect the phenotype of a GMO, then you can recognize it. For example, if you make a GMO tomato that produces a new type of pigment, you can, of course, recognize it by the presence of this pigment! However, there is no general attribute of being GMO that you can recognize. You need to look for something specific that you know about a specific GMO (or specific wildtype).

There are also phenotypic traits that you find (quasi) exclusively in GMO such as Cytoplasmic Male Sterility (CMS) for example. If you find CMS in a plant, then you can be pretty sure it is a GMO. But if you can't find CMS though, you can't be sure it is not a GMO.

given two potatoes, one GMO and one natural, would you be able to detect which is which without having any samples or knowledge about what parts of DNA to consider engineered by humans?

Possibly, assuming they're the same variety, you might get lucky by simply diffing the sequence data. This also assumes the natural variety doesn't change significantly between generations, such that even if the chromosomes have crossed-over (homologous recombination) you could still do pattern matching to realize correlation. Genes/sequences with no correlation at all would then be suspect as novel/introduced.

No. Furthermore, the line "once you change someone's DNA" contains a wealth of misconceptions.

Once you have your potato/tomato/whatever, the DNA does not change during the life of that individual specimen. The genetic modifications change the seed before the individual specimen grows, and do not change the individual specimen during its life.

As far as genetic modifications go anyway, each seed inherently has different DNA from its parents. "Normal" breeding has given us a diversity of plants and animals which are so massively different from the originals as to be virtually unrecognisable as the same species in many cases. (If you didn't know better, would you think a dachshund and a husky were the same species?) And whilst we might think of it as "normal" today, when the techniques around selective breeding were first developed, they in turn were seen as highly unnatural, particularly the practise of breeding an individual with a parent or sibling.

This still relies on normal rates of DNA mutation within the same species. More interestingly though, DNA can also be picked up from other sources. This is identical to how scientists insert or replace genetic material for GMO - indeed, GM techniques to carry this out were founded on understanding how this takes place in nature.

This is where objection to GMO falls down. Sure, the result may or may not be healthy. However you are already using/eating/breathing pollen from individual specimens which have carried out gene transfers with other species. The difference between the natural version and what happens in the lab is only the same as the difference between natural breeding and selective breeding - it's simply that someone is deliberately choosing which attributes to pass on to the next generation, using tools which already exist within the organism's DNA.

It would depend on whether you knew the markers they used to identify the transformed organisms.

When I (briefly) did Genetic Engineering back in the mid eighties we would add antibiotic resistance genes as well as the gene we wanted to insert. The combination would then be incubated with the vector (e.g. bacteria) and the transformed bacteria could be filtered out by growing them on antibiotic laced plates. Then you'd grow up a transformed bacteria and insert it into the target organism.

So, the presence of bacterial antibiotic resistance genes in your hypothetical potato could be an indication but not a guarantee of human modification.

Consumers Don’t Really Know What GMO Means, New Study Finds

Although most growers prefer food policy be based purely on science, those who make food policy must contend with public opinion. And few issues unite public opinion like genetically modified (GM) plant and organisms.

Two researchers, Brandon McFadden, an assistant professor of food and resource economics at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and Jayson Lusk, an agricultural economics professor at Oklahoma State University, wanted to delve into how much the public understands about the GM food, as well as how their opinions might change when presented with new information. Their study has been published in Federation Of American Societies For Experimental Biology Journal.

The two surveyed 1,004 Americans who were demographically typical of the overall U.S. mix of race, education, and income. They placed questions about their knowledge and views of GM food near the beginning of the survey, and again near the end. In between, the two asked questions about GM food and current practices. For example, the two asked if conventionally grown crops can be sprayed with herbicides, with a follow up question asking if GM crops can be.

Most of these scientific questions were simple. The pair asked what percentage of common crops like wheat and corn grown in the U.S. are GM plants, and if there currently any GM animals on the market.

What they learned is that, after participants went through the list of basic questions about GM food, there was a noticeable shift in attitude.

“People who ‘disagreed’ and people who ‘strongly agreed’ that GM food is safe to eat before answering questions both thought that GM food was more safe after answering questions,” says McFadden.

Specifically, those who either “disagreed strongly” or “disagreed” that GM food was safe to eat shifted from 33.7% before answering questions about GM food and policies changed to 29.8% after the questions.

The survey was made up of neutrally phrased questions. There were no paragraphs explaining GM techniques or policies.

“We did something similar — asking a belief question before and after information — with information from the scientific community, and asking knowledge questions is more effective in changing beliefs than providing information from the scientific community,” McFadden says.

Other Findings From The Study

  • 84% support mandatory labeling for GM food. However, 80% support similar labeling for food containing DNA. That said, only 33.5% thought ordinary tomatoes lack genes while GM tomatoes have them.
  • 64.6% believe experts should set food policy, not average Americans.
  • “Our research indicates that the term ‘GM’ may imply to consumers that genetic modification alters the genetic structure of an organism, while other breeding techniques do not,” McFadden said.
  • 58% believe the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should decide if mandatory labeling. Survey participants were offered five choices in all plus “I don’t know.” Those choices included both national and state level ballot initiatives and legislative bodies.

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Carol Miller is Editor of American Vegetable Grower. See all author stories here.

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AS I stated in another publications blog, it’s not so much about the eating safety as it is about the texture and taste. GMO’ed food products tend to taste bland and cardboardish….safe to eat or not. That’s where the public is really naïve.

Without knowing WHO they surveyed, it is hard to draw any conclusion. If you surveyed people at Whole Foods or any of the stores where people seek out organic or conventional NON-GMO foods, then the survey would be different. If you survey a cross section of population at large, most can’t name who their congressional representatives are either. This is SAD.

Most of the articles here lately are about supporting GMO foods and the companies that produce those seed crops. I guess that makes sense if your financial contributions come mostly from their advertisements.

The simple fact is that the organic and non-gmo markets are growing at double digit levels and have been for more than a decade. The conventional GMO market has remained flat and in some segments has contracted. Even the conventional grain growers are questioning GMOs, but not due to safety, rather due to cost.

I read MANY different blogs and farmers forums. There are MANY guys who want to go back to conventional corn just to save on the technology fees for GMOs. These companies are trying to extract every dollar from the producer in the form of technology fees. When a conventional spray program yields the same or more than a GMO crop, has a potential profit bump, if only a few pennies per bushel, from being non-gmo, then why would a producer keep handing money to a seed company for a product that is not helping him out?

I find these “Surveys” misleading, sampling section deficient (survey the masses and your get crap answers) and are biased towards a pre-determined end. If I did the same survey at Whole Foods or local organic co-ops, then the results would be very different. The main take away is that most people don’t care. Those that do care want labels and are being very vocal about it. Those that don’t care also don’t care about the label so in essence the people calling for the labels win.

When large agronomic companies like Frito-Lay, General Mills and others are going through NON-GMO Project verification or offering Organic options of their staples items (Ruffles Chips, Lay’s Potato Chips, Cherrios, etc.), the GMO industry has to be in panic mode. They know that if more companies move to the NON-GMO project verification and consumers start to notice this, then they will have loss in profits due to technology fees down the road.

Labels shouldn’t scare anyone. NON-GMO project is NOT organic. It is conventional crops as they have always been, without the GMOs. Whether they are safe or not, no longer matters to most consumers. People equate GMO with bad and nothing is going to change that perception in the future. The industry did not come out and promote them, publically, explain how the technology works or why it is safe. They instead used fear, intimidation of farmers, bribing elected officials and many other tactics that most people associate with someone who is trying to hide the truth.

THAT is the real problem with the GMO “industry” and why most consumers don’t trust them. It is also why consumer sentiment is not going to change any time fast. Monsanto would have been smart to put a different name on their seed business. All people think about when they hear Monsanto is Agent Orange, DDT and by association that makes GMO bad. Monsanto always denied any wrong doing or that their previous products were NOT dangerous. After this was proven false and the government forced these items off the market, Monsanto and that brand name, in my opinion, was forever tainted. This association of “bad faith” is now attached to ALL GMOs, sold by ANY company.

Most people would probably also say that “organic” farming [which is an inane name anyway, considering conventional crops also have carbon in them] is still small-scale, “mom and pop” growers. And, organic growers do nothing to discourage the notion that they are small-scale, “mom and pop” growers, constantly fighting oppressive BIG AG [read, “Monsanto.”] The reality is far from that. Organic farming is a multi-billion dollar industry, driven by sanctimonious activists who rake in money hand over fist, without offering any real solutions beyond what works for them. It contributes nothing to the problem of providing the millions of bushels of corn, beans and wheat that conventional ag now produces (much of which is transgenic), that would disappear if the organic movement had its way. That’s a fact. I think it’s despicable that organic growers and their very vocal supporters are content for the public to be misinformed about their methods and motives so THEY can continue to be lucrative. Organically-grown apples are no more nutritious, or safer, than conventionally-grown apples–if they are both grown and handled according to GAPs. So that’s why I don’t support the organic industry. They can make my share of their $43 billion somewhere else.

You seem very bitter. Organic production is NOT just about the safety of the final product, but the entire chain from seed to product. I wasn’t commenting to bash on GMO producers, etc. It was a comment that showed that when polled at large you can get the public to answer any way you want based on how you ask the question. We have even seen people signing petitions to repeal the 1st amendment.

“Organic” production is more about the sustainability, safety and ultimately choice about how consumers want their food raised. Producers look simply at what earns them the most return at the end of the season. The truth is that most organic producers are NOT using 100 year old varieties. In many cases they are growing the SAME varieties the conventional farmers is, but without the conventional inputs. For conventional growers the GMO crop actually produces LESS than it’s unmodified parent. Some energy is diverted to producing the traits that the GMO crop brings to the table. In many cases these traits cause yield drag.

This is the reason I brought up the fact that many conventional growers are looking for NON-GMO corn. They are planning on spraying their crops anyway for weeds so why not tank mix for insects at the same time? Most seed, both conventional AND GMO comes with seed applied treatments that accomplish the same goal. GMOs are now mostly about insurance for the farmer than they are about yield increase or insecticide avoidance. Many areas have glyphosate resistant weeds so farmers must spray a herbicide anyway to cleanup the resistant weeds.

My father paid $270/bag for pioneer corn with multiple traits last year. The neighbor bought the SAME variety, without the GMO traits for $100 less per bag. That is some serious cash. The technology fees cost more than multiple passes across the field. In the end the neighbor’s crop (of the same variety) yielded a few bushels more than Dad’s and the guy saved money on the technology fees. He doesn’t give one hoot about GMOs. He just wants cash in his pocket, which conventional corn gave him.

As to organic veggies vs conventional. Yield is usually the same or very close to the same. Organic farmers still use fungicides (Copper, Sulfer, Bio-Controls, Potassium Bi-carbonate, etc.), Insecticides (Pyganic, Spinosad, BTs, etc.) and usually rely on cultivation for weed control. Fertilizer is usually manure, composted bird litter, rock minerals (Limestone, Rock Phospate, etc.). Manure is used by almost every dairy farmer I know on their crops. Their yields don’t suffer. Please don’t tell me organic farming yields less than conventional, because it just is not true. Organic farmers who run the same size operations as conventional are yielding just as well. Figuring out nutrient requirements is simple math. People that produce poorly existing in both organic and conventional systems.

If I can grow a crop for 10% more input costs and get a 10% increase in price at harvest, I am going that route as it is a no brainer. Most conventional farms no longer have the time, knowledge or skill to farm without herbicides or chemical inputs. Most don’t plan beyond the next crop or two. It is not right or wrong, it just is how it is. Successful organic farmers have usually been doing it a LONG time. They know what grows well on each piece of land. They can’t quickly fix problems with chemical inputs, so they must take a longer term approach. Light soils usually have deep rooted, drought tolerant crops grown. Mulch is used to hold moisture and provide a slow release nutrient supplement to the existing crop while providing the remaining to the next crop. Can’t dump urea on to fix the problem year one.

This article was about sampling consumer knowledge of GMOs. I said and I still say the method was wrong. The group sampled is NOT the target group for organics or a discussion about GMOs. So it is unsurprising that the article reached the conclusions that it did.

It would be like sampling people about the quality of the water they drink that comes from a well. If you are on city water, you probably know nothing about the operation and maintenance of a well nor about the work required to test and maintain the system. People who live in the country and have a well as their only source of water will probably know more about it. If MOST people live in cities and I sample the population at large, then it is only natural that MOST of the public is going to know nothing about water wells and what goes into maintaining them or how they are maintained.

If, however I sample people who live in the country and almost all have wells, then I will get a different result. This is the same thing that happened with this article.

Eat your veggies! California testing confirms organic and conventional produce well below EPA pesticide limits

As with previous surveys, the results document the fact that the growers who produce our food are following the EPA label requirements that are designed to insure that by the time it gets to consumers, produce is quite safe. That safety standard is based on national standards set by the EPA. For 78% of the crops there we either no detectable residues or residues below the legal limits. Few of the remaining examples were at all problematic

Particularly for the US grown samples, excessive concentrations were very rare. There were some residues of chemicals found which are not technically supposed to be used on a particular crop, and as in the past, most of these “no established tolerance” cases involved the imported items.

The residue issues varied quite a bit by source. Those from different parts of the US were similar, but those from China, Mexico and Central America had more cases of “no tolerance.” Perhaps the best profile was for crops imported from South America.

301 of the items were being sold as “Organic.” The rule for organic set by the USDA is that no detected residues should exceed 5% of the EPA tolerance. In 2018, only 55.4% of detections from organic samples met that standard so they should not have been sold as “USDA Organic Certified.” Imported organic residues over 5% of the tolerance made up 66.7% of detections, which is very similar to that same measure for domestic conventional produce. 55.4% of the detections on imported conventional crops would not have disqualified them if someone was trying to sell them as organic. Below is the list of specific pesticide residues that were found on organic samples.:


Those who think they are buying something safer by spending more for organic might want to rethink that logic. Only the 16 spinosad detections represent something allowed for use on organic, and organic still has the legacy of residual DDT metabolites like DDE.

Do You Know What’s Really In Your Tea?

Tea is something I drink every single day. It’s sacred at my house – I even have a whole drawer devoted to it! I drink it because it is amazing for your health. There are so many varieties of tea that can improve digestion, metabolism and even prevent certain diseases. This investigation into tea ingredients has been in the making for a long time. What I’m about to share with you totally rocked my world forever and I’ll never look at tea in the same way again. Do you really want to know what’s in your tea?…Then read on.

The ancient Chinese tradition of drinking tea dates back thousand of years to the early Chinese dynasties and aristocrats who drank the beverage for its medicinal properties. In ancient times, leaves from the Camellia Sinensis (the tea plant) were either ground into a powder or placed as loose leaves directly into water to infuse it with herbal essence. Unfortunately, modern day tea is nothing like the unadulterated version of old tea. Many of today’s tea brands are operating under the guise of providing health benefits and promoting clean living, but are actually laden with pesticides, toxins, artificial ingredients, added flavors and GMOs.

Conventional Teas – An Abundance of Pesticides

Did you know that most tea is not washed before it is put it into bags? That means if the tea was sprayed with cancer-causing pesticides, those pesticides go directly into your cup. And this is the reason why tea is on my organic shopping priority list. To prove this point, here are some shocking facts about one of the most well-known tea brands – Celestial Seasonings.

A recent third-party analysis by Glaucus Research and discussed here found that 91 percent of Celestial Seasonings tea tested had pesticide residues exceeding the U.S. limits. For example, Sleepytime Kids Goodnight Grape Herbal contained 0.26 ppm of propachlor, which is a known carcinogen under California’s Propsition 65.

The “Wellness” tea line was found to contain traces of propargite, also a known carcinogen and developmental toxin. The FDA has already issued two warning letters to Celestial Seasonings in regard to poor quality control according to this source. Imagine what happens when pesticide-laden tea is steeped in boiling water.

If grocery store brands don’t provide a clean option for you, perhaps a high-end loose leaf tea would circumvent some of the issues of grocery store brands. Right? Wrong! Take Teavana, which is found in malls across North America for example. Teavana taps into tea culture with the “Teavana Experience.” Convincing their employees to take customers on a sensory journey – they open a huge canister of loose leaf tea and wave the top of the canister so you can smell the tea – touting all of the wonderful health benefits of tea complete with samples and manipulative demonstrations that end in an expensive visit to the tea shop. Is all the extra money worth it? Are customers getting a superior tea product? No.

Teavana tea was tested by an independent lab and 100 percent of it was found to contain pesticides. One tea in particular, Monkey Picked Oolong, contained 23 pesticides. 77 percent of the teas would fail European Union pesticide import standards, and would be banned from import. 62 percent of the teas tested contained traces of endosulfan, a pesticide that has been banned by the U.S., China, the E.U., and 144 other countries because it has been linked to impaired fertility and could harm unborn babies.

UPDATE (May 27, 2014): Glaucus Research funded the research done by Eurofins Scientific (an independent lab) and admits on their disclaimer that they are biased because they would make money if Hain’s stock declines. However – I am not sure that Eurofins’ research should be completely discounted on this point alone. Since I wrote this post, Celestial has been sued in a class-action lawsuit based on the pesticides that Eurofins found in their teas and for mislabeling of them as “100% Natural”. The jury is still out on whether Eurofins’ research will be considered legit, as this case is still active in California. The Plaintiffs contend that Celestial’s teas contain “pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, carcinogens, and/or developmental toxins (collectively, “Contaminants”)” and Celestial “did not dispute – and has never disputed – that the tea Products contained Contaminants. Nor has (Celestial) challenged the results of the Eurofins Tests” and “has not claimed that Eurofins was biased or that the Eurofins Tests were not, in fact, accurate”. Even if it is determined that Eurofins’ research was not accurate – it’s important to note that Celestial’s tea that was tested is NOT organic and some of this tea is sourced from China. Greenpeace issued a report on the alarming amount of pesticides found on tea from China, followed up by a detailed report on Lipton brand tea from China – in which they recommend only purchasing certified organic tea to avoid these pesticides. Reference law documents: Complaint Plaintiff’s Memo in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss. Case 8:13-cv-01757-AG-AN

Teas Can Contain Artificial Flavoring, Natural Flavors, and Hidden GMOs

Furthermore, a majority of Teavana teas contain added flavor – specifically “artificial flavoring.” If their tea is so high end, why would they be adding ingredients produced by fractional distillation and chemical manipulation of various chemicals like crude oil or coal tar? Coal tar in my tea? No, thanks.

Many popular tea brands get away with using the ingredient “natural flavors” to trick the consumer into thinking they are buying better, cleaner ingredients however companies are just covering up the inferior taste and low quality of their tea. Fortunately, there are brands that are putting the kibash on the use of natural flavors and using all real ingredients. I was happy to learn that Ahmed Rahim, CEO of Numi Tea is just as disgusted by this ingredient as I am. He said to me “You can breakdown anything that is found in nature and if it ends up tasting like the flavor you wish to use – you can add it to any product and call it NATURAL FLAVOR on the ingredient label. It could come from a stone in the ground and you’d never know.” This is why when I see the words “natural flavor” listed on a label – I put the product down and run far far away. I want to know what I am eating! Don’t you?

Additionally, the added risk of consuming possible GMOs is not something many people think about when consuming teas. Before this investigation and witnessing tea companies using modified corn starch and soy lecithin in tea (additives likely made from genetically engineered corn and soy), I didn’t think about it either! I can’t imagine having a serious soy allergy, considering all the places companies try to hide it.

Why The Tea Bag & Packaging Matters

A recent article in The Atlantic discusses the “silky sachet” and “luxurious mesh bags” that hold loose leaf teas (like in brands Tea Forte and Mighty Leaf). Turns out, these modern day bags meant to showcase the tea leaves, are made of plastic.

PLA (polylactic acid) is a (likely GMO) corn-based tea bag material that has attracted major tea companies due to its nice look and its claims of biodegradability. Terms like “silky sachets” and “corn-based biodegradable tea bags” mislead customers into believing a product is more natural and sustainable than it really is. While the processing for PLA removes all traces of genetic material, it is still made with genetically modified corn. Although the actual tea bag is not an ingredient like teas and herbs, it is an element that is put into boiling water.

According to The Atlantic, tea bags are most commonly made from food grade nylon or polyethylene terephthalate (PET) which are two of what’s considered the safest plastics on the scale of harmful leaching potential. However, Dr. Mercola disagrees, he states:

“While these plastics are generally considered among the safest in terms of leaching potential, the molecules in these plastic tea bags may still in fact break down and leach out when steeped in boiling water…” Well, isn’t that how tea is prepared?

Another temperature consumers need to worry about in tea is the “glass transition” temperature. Here’s the science behind the glass transition temperature or, Tg, and why it becomes dangerous according to The Atlantic:

“That is the temperature at which the molecule in certain materials such as polymers begin to break down. As a rule, the Tg of a material is always lower than the melting point. In the case of PET and food grade nylon (either nylon 6 or nylon 6-6), all have a Tg lower than the temperature of boiling water. For example, while the melting point of PET is 482 degrees Fahrenheit, the Tg is about 169 degrees. Both nylons have a lower glass transition temperature than PET. (Remember that water boils at 212 degrees.) This means the molecules that make up these plastic tea bags begin to break down in hot water.”

So, while the plastic itself won’t melt in your tea, the glass transition temperature could potentially leak out harmful phthalates if there are such things in your tea. Another thing to worry about is that some of the newer tea bags are made with a variety of plastics. Some plastics are nylon, some are made of viscose rayon, and others are made of thermoplastic, PVC or polypropylene.

Beware of paper tea bags too, which can be worse than plastic tea bags.

GET THIS: Also according to Dr. Mercola, many “paper tea bags are treated with epichlorohydrin, a compound mainly used in the production of epoxy resins. Considered a potential carcinogen by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health2 (NIOSH), epichlorohydrin is also used as a pesticide. When epichlorohydrin comes in contact with water, it hydrolyzes to 3-MCPD, which has been shown to cause cancer in animals. It has also been implicated in infertility (it has a spermatoxic effect in male rats) and suppressed immune function.”

So what do you do the next time you want a cup of tea? Antioxidant rich teas aren’t going to do much to counterbalance the chemicals, additives and artificial flavorings in today’s modern teas.

First, I recommend looking at this chart below to see how your favorite tea brand stacks up:

And then when brewing and picking out the safest tea remember these tips:

1. Choose an organic & non-GMO certified brand of tea. (My favorites are Numi, Traditional Medicinals, and Rishi Tea (loose leaf)).

2. Check the ingredient list on the back of the tea package to make sure there are no added flavors, GMO ingredients like soy lecithin and corn starch added to the tea leaves.

3. Make sure the brand you buy uses a safe form of packaging material or buy loose leaf tea and use a stainless steel or glass tea strainer. Have the company verify that bags do not contain epichlorophydrin, and avoid plastic tea bags all together. (Numi and Traditional Medicinals are some of the only brands I trust in this category because they have publicly stated they do not use this harmful ingredient or GMO packaging and are Non-GMO Project verified.)

4. The majority of restaurants use some of the most pesticide ridden tea and brands that have harmful packaging like Celestial Seasonings, Lipton, etc. Don’t fall victim to this. Bring your own tea when eating out or going to restaurants and ask for pot or cup of boiling water (remember to leave a good tip if you do this). I even do this at Starbucks because I like to vote with my dollars and not buy tea brands that are harmful. If you drink iced tea, brew your own at home and carry an insulated water bottle with you.

5. Remember these temps and times for brewing the perfect cup of tea

If you know someone who loves to drink tea, please share this post with them. I was just as shocked as you probably are about all of this craziness – knowing what’s in our tea and what we put in our body matters! Let’s change the world together.

An Interview with Jeffrey Smith on GM Food Safety

This month's Spilling the Beans is an audio version, with transcript available, of an interview of Jeffrey Smith conducted by Dr. Jeffrey Bland, an internationally recognized leader in the nutritional medicine field for over 25 years.

Dr. Bland is a nutritional biochemist and registered clinical laboratory director, a former professor of biochemistry at the University of Puget Sound, and a previous Director of Nutritional Research at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine. The interview was recorded as part of Dr. Bland's Functional Medicine Update (FMU), a well-respected audio journal now in its 26th year of publication.

Jeffrey Smith, the executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, is a leading spokesperson on the health dangers of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and an international best-selling author of Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods. Dr. Bland and Mr. Smith have a detailed discussion about current practices related to genetically engineered crops and worldwide instances of immune-system response and concern. --- ---

Click here to listen to or download the audio (mp3)

For a more in-depth look at 65 health risks of GM foods, excerpted from Jeffrey Smith's comprehensive new book Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods,,5 097

The following is an interview with Jeffrey Smith conducted by Dr. Jeffrey Bland, an internationally recognized leader in the nutritional medicine field for over 25 years.

Dr. Bland is a nutritional biochemist and registered clinical laboratory director, a former professor of biochemistry at the University of Puget Sound, and a previous Director of Nutritional Research at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine. The interview was recorded as part of Dr. Bland's Functional Medicine Update (FMU), a well-respected audio journal now in its 26th year of publication.

Jeffrey Smith, the executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, is a leading spokesperson on the health dangers of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and an international best-selling author of Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods. Dr. Bland and Mr. Smith have a detailed discussion about current practices related to genetically engineered crops and worldwide instances of immune-system response and concern. --- --- Clinician/Researcher of the Month

Jeffrey M. Smith Author, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically|Engineered Foods (Yes! Books, 2007)

I'm very fortunate to have the opportunity to talk with you about a very uniquely different format than we've ever had in the 25 (going on 26) years of Functional Medicine Update. There is no better time, nor better person, to change our format slightly than Jeff Smith, who is going to be our discussant person on this edition of Functional Medicine Update.

Jeff Smith doesn't fulfill our normal kind of criteria for a clinician or a researcher, but yet he represents everything that we are about in Functional Medicine Update and have been about for 25 plus years. He is an advocate who is bringing to the world an understanding at a deeper level of the impact of genetically modified foods and genetically engineered foods. I think this is a very extraordinary topic that you might say (at some level, as a clinician), "How does it relate to the health of my patients?" I think after this discussion that we are going to have with Mr. Smith you'll much better understand this.

To really give Mr. Smith an introduction I want to just quickly quote from a forward by Frances Moore Lappé, who has been-for the better part of 3-plus decades-one of my heroes in the field of nutrition. This is a forward to Jeff Smith's first book Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies about the Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods. Ms. Lappé says that Jeff Smith's book really talks about more than just nutrition. It talks about the whole nature of information, about the whole nature of truth and discovery and full disclosure. It talks about the freedom of information and access of citizens to enough information to make informed choices, which doesn't seem to have been the case as it relates to this extraordinary topic of genetically engineered foods.

Her comments really are voiced by so many others who have read this book and been deeply affected by it, including one of my good friends, Jim Turner, who is the author of The Chemical Feast and the Nader report on the Food and Drug Administration many years ago and is a well-respected lawyer in the area of food advocacy. Most recently, Jeff Smith has authored an updated and more definitive book that was just published and it is absolutely fantastic it is called Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risk of Genetically Engineered Foods. It is that book that I would put on everyone's mandatory reading list. If you are not a person that has read this book then you are really not up to date with what has been going on in this extraordinarily important area of applying molecular biology and genetic engineering to the food supply.

So with that as an introduction, we are talking to Jeff in England, no less. He is on a tour and having the opportunity to speak to Parliament and at academic centers around Europe concerning this extraordinary topic. Yesterday he was discussing this with members of Parliament in Australia, and of course he has an extraordinary advocacy here in North America as well, through his advocacy expressed in Seeds of Deception and now with Genetic Roulette.

Jeff, it is really a treat and a pleasure to have you as part of our history in Functional Medicine Update. Let me, if I can, just start first by introducing you to our audience and secondly asking if we can start with a definition. Could you define for us what genetically engineered foods are as contrasted to our traditional foods?

Definition of Genetically Engineered Foods

JS: Well, thank you. With genetically engineered foods you take single genes or combinations of genes, typically you make changes in the structure of them, and then you artificially force them into the DNA (the genome) of other organisms. So it is not natural, but it is rather a method of selecting certain traits, pulling it out of context, and transferring it into species that would never naturally contain those genes. The process itself also causes massive collateral damage in the DNA, causing mutations and changed gene expressions, etc.

JB: When we look at genetically engineered foods, I think there has been a longstanding misunderstanding, even with those who are fairly well informed. I recall a conversation I had not too many years ago with a very esteemed vice president of a large food company, and his particular point of view was that we have been tampering with genes of plants in the formation of foods for centuries (or, actually, at least for decades) through selective breeding programs, so why is this any different than genetically modified foods? Maybe you could help differentiate for us what the difference is between the traditional methods of selective breeding and that of genetic engineering?

JS: Well, when you want to genetically engineer a crop, typically you take genes and you add an artificial "on" switch (a promoter). You add an antibiotic-resistant marker gene to verify that the transformation has occurred. You make millions of copies and put it into a gene gun and blast it into millions of cells in the hope that some of your genes make it into the DNA of some of those cells. Then you douse the remaining cells with antibiotics, killing almost all of them. Those that survive indicate that the antibiotic-resistant marker gene is inserted correctly into the DNA and is functioning. Then you clone the resulting cell (using tissue culture) into full plant, and this is a lot of things, but it is not sex. It is not natural selection. It is nothing that has ever been done before in history. Genes are not like Legos® you can't just snap them into place and have them function independently, producing exactly what you want.

The process can cause hundreds or thousands of mutations and changes that can, in turn, change protein expression and the expression of the plant compounds, of which there may be thousands in a particular plant. They have measured changes. For example, in the DNA they found 2% to 4% difference (due to mutation) just from the results of cloning the cell into a full plant. They also found massive changes in DNA in gene expression when a single gene was inserted into a human cell-up to 5% of the functioning genes changed their levels of expression when a single gene was input. So we are talking about global changes, and yet engineering was based on a reductionist model of individual genes functioning independently.

JB: That was a brilliant description and differentiation. You know, it is interesting, because when you talk to proponents or members within the genetic engineering community, they will tell you things like they have protected against some of these risks that Mr. Smith is talking about because we (they) have put (as you say) the kandamycin marker gene in there to tell us what is going on. And we (they) make sure that the plant can do its normal functions and it looks like the plant, tastes like it, and produces the same protein, carbohydrate, and fat, so a lot of this is theory of concern and in actual fact it doesn't happen. How do you respond to those kinds of debate questions?

Little Testing is Done Following Transgene Insertion

JS: I think your example is great. It looks like, it tastes like, and we have three or four data points, so it must be the same. You know, they don't even check to see if the transgene ends up the way they intended it to be. In fact, there were studies in Paris that found that they sequenced the transgene (the gene that was inserted into these crops) and in all five cases, what they found was different than what the company had registered. And so either it changed during insertion or was unstable and was changing over time. Likewise, the protein that is being produced from the transgene might be different, and they don't necessarily check that either. For example, they'll check five amino acid sequences and they will assume that the rest of the six hundred are the same. They will also assume that the transgene will produce the right protein even though the transgene can be interpreted differently.

In one transgene, 30% was lopped off altogether, and the resulting protein was a combination of the inserted gene and part DNA. And they don't actually test the food itself on animals, in many cases. What they do is they create a surrogate protein from bacteria and then test that with a single dose on a rodent to see if there has been any death occurring within 7 to 14 days and that is their animal-feeding study.

So they don't test in ways that would even evaluate these unpredicted changes in the crops themselves. They create artificial circumstances to force the conclusion that these foods are safe.

JB: Well I think you used in your book Genetic Roulette, and also in Seeds of Deception, a remarkably powerful example that illustrates what you are talking about and that is the amazing work of Dr. Pusztai that maybe you could tell us a little bit about? I think that really dramatically illustrates what you are describing.

Concerns in Europe about Genetically Modified Foods

JS: Well he is a very pro-GM scientist, the leading lectin scientist in the world, working at one of the top nutritional research laboratories in the world in the UK. He received a grant from the UK government to create the ideal testing protocol to evaluate the safety of genetically engineered crops that was to be used EU-wide. And he created a genetically modified potato engineered to produce an insecticide (a lectin), and the insecticide turned out to be harmless to animals (he had studied it for six and a half years and characterized it quite well). But the potato that was engineered to produce the insecticide caused damage to virtually every system in the rats that were fed the potato. They had potentially precancerous cell growth in the digestive tract smaller brains, livers, and testicles partial atrophy of the liver and damaged immune systems, among other things.

He was alarmed because he realized it was the inherent process of creating the genetically engineered potato that was responsible for the damage. He went public with his concerns, was fired from his job after 35 years, and silenced with threats of a lawsuit. His 20-member research team was disbanded, and he was maligned by the institute he had worked for and by the established pro-GM UK scientists, among others. When he eventually was able to speak because of an act of Parliament, he got his data back and it is now published in The Lancet and it remains the most in-depth animal-feeding study yet produced on genetically engineered crops.i,ii

What it shows is that if that same potato which proved to be so damaging had been subjected to the same superficial studies that got the GM crops on the market (soy, corn, cotton, and canola, for example), those potatoes would have also gotten onto the market. In addition, the other products were made from the same process of genetic engineering that he used to create the potatoes, so they might be creating these types of damage in human beings over the long term, but we don't know since the studies have not been done.

JB: It is really very, very fascinating, isn't it, how things of this importance, which are discovered by very diligent people, can be held in check and the information not made available to the broader public. I guess we have to really commend what happened in Europe as a consequence of the fall out of this because it seems like it was the catalyst for putting in place regulations about genetically engineered foods that we don't see in the United States. Why didn't we see a translation of this from one continent to another?

Many Americans Unaware of Presence of Genetically Modified Foods

JS: Well, when Pusztai was able to speak on February 16, 1999, it touched off a major headline war about GMOs. One commentator said it divided the society into two warring blocks on the GM issue, and within six to eight weeks, Unilever, Britain's largest food manufacturer, publicly committed to remove GM ingredients from their European brands. Within a week, virtually every other major food manufacturer followed suit. However, in the United States, Project Censure describes that (our Pusztai issue) as one of the most underreported events of the year. And so we don't really have an open press right now reporting the risks, instead we have press that read like a biotech brochure. This has been the case for many years. If you ask the average American, "Have you ever eaten a GM food in your life?" Sixty percent say no, 15% say I don't know, and those that don't want to eat GM don't know how (they have labeling over here in Europe but not over there in the United States). And so the structure of the way that they have been improved and sort of slipped into our diet without notice has been responsible for the fact that Europe has rejected it and the unknowing US consumers have not.

JB: So now that leads us (obviously) to the inevitable discussion about the business opportunity and how that has been a motivation for kind of circumventing (maybe) the normal process of consumer education and discussion and kind of general political support for the concept. Tell us a little bit about the Roundup Ready seed movement because it seems like it plays a pretty interesting role in this whole discussion here in the states.

Roundup Ready Seed Movement

JS: About 80% of genetically engineered crops are designed to withstand death by a particular herbicide. So the company markets their (for example) Roundup Ready seeds or soy to withstand sprays of Roundup herbicide. And what it does over time is it increases the use of that herbicide in the city and in the fields. By 2004, for example, Round-up Ready soy fields received an estimated 86% more herbicide than the natural soy fields, and it allowed Monsanto to maintain a de facto domination of the glyphosate market (that's the active ingredient in their Roundup even though the patent was expired in 2000). Now if you look at the potential impacts of Roundup, because there have only been about two dozen peer-reviewed, published, animal-feeding studies on the health aspects of GM, and only one published, peer reviewed, human-feeding study, we have to take our information from several sources to get a big picture.

Immune-System Reactions to GM Soy Reported

Soon after GM soy was introduced to the UK, soy allergies skyrocketed by 50%. We know that in an analysis of the composition of GM soy by Monsanto (information that had been left out of their study and found later) that among cooked soy, the trypsin inhibitor (which is a know allergen) was seven times higher than compared to one variety of non-GM soy. We know that in another study, eight individuals showed a skin-prick reaction to GM soy, but only seven of them to non- GM soy, showing that one person had a unique allergic or immune-system reaction to the GM variety.

When they then did a profile of the proteins within the soy, they found a unique allergenic protein in the GM soy, one that was able to bind with IgE antibodies. We also know that the Roundup Ready protein that was intended to be created within the Roundup Ready soy has two sections of amino acid sequence that are identical to known allergens, which (according to the WHO) either should have stopped approval or forced further tests. And finally, we know that the high levels of Roundup residue might also be associated with food sensitivity or allergic-type reactions. In addition, there is a mouse study that showed the production in the pancreas of digestive enzymes was dramatically reduced in the mice that were fed the GM soy.iii Any reduction in (for example) protein enzymes could allow the protein to last longer in the system, causing it to be more likely to achieve an allergic reaction, so it potentially could increase allergic reactions not just to soy proteins, but to other proteins. When the GM soy was fed to mice and rabbits they showed changes in DNA expression and enzyme expression and metabolic activity in all the major organs that were tested.iv Also, mice that were fed GM soy had problems in the development of their young sperm cells and the embryos showed altered gene expression as well. And in the Russian National Academy of Sciences they fed rats genetically engineered soy and about over 50 percent of the offspring died within three weeks compared to about 10 percent of the offspring whose mothers were fed non-GM. The size of the offspring from the GM-fed mothers was also radically smaller, and they were not able to reproduce in subsequent studies. And they also fed soy to males and they found that the testicle structure was also considerably different among the GM-fed group. So we have a lot of information from the very few studies that have been done indicating that this thing is not just an accident waiting to happen, but might already be creating a health catastrophe in the United States if 89 percent of the soy acreage in the US is GM.v,vi,vii

JB: Well that was about as eloquent and complete an answer to that question as we could ever expect. Thank you very much. You know, for those who are going to read the book (Genetic Roulette-your book) which I think (as I mentioned) is mandatory reading, they might ask, "It seems so self-evident-the way that you describe it. Are your assertions documented and supported?" And if you look at the endnotes in your book (I haven't counted up specifically how many references you have cited to support your points), but certainly it is in the thousand range. I think anyone who would like to know if you are speaking from what has been published in the authentic literature the answer is a definitive yes.

JS: There are over a thousand endnotes and it is a combination of published literature and reports from the field. As I mention at the beginning of the book, if we had thousands of appropriately done studies, we wouldn't need to look at medical reports or correlational relationships.

Worldwide Consequences of Bt-Toxin Use Reported

For example, Bt-toxin. Here's an example where they took a toxin and they put it into food supply, so it was produced, for example, in every cell of corn (which means in every bite of corn) on the assumption that the toxin had a history of safe use because it is used in organic agriculture, that the protein was truly destroyed during digestion, and that there were no receptor cells in humans or mammals so it would pass right through even if it weren't destroyed during digestion. So they didn't have a whole hoard of scientific studies and data points to say that this toxin in our food supply would be safe. It was based on assumptions as so much of the GM approvals are. However, even among the small number of data points that were there, they had overlooked the fact that about five hundred individuals complained of allergic-type reactions when they got sprayed with the natural version of this Bt-toxin that was used for Gypsy moth infestation in the Pacific northwest.viii,ix

Now, they take that gene and they make the Bt-toxin at three- to five thousand times more concentrated than the natural spray version, and farmers in India who are harvesting GM cotton (or loading it onto trucks, or working in ginning factories) are complaining of the same allergic-type reactions that the five hundred people complained about in the Pacific northwest. Then they let sheep graze in the Bt cotton plants after harvest, and within five to seven days twenty-five percent of the herds died (about 10,000 sheep in total). About two dozen farmers in the United States complained that certain Bt-toxin corn caused their pigs or cows to become sterile. There is a German farmer and others in the Philippines that claim that the Bt corn caused death among their animals (their livestock). And in the Philippines, also, people living next to the Bt corn field developed skin, respiratory, intestinal reactions, and fever during the time that the corn was pollinating.x

The following year, the same seeds were planted in four other villages and during the time of pollination when they were breathing in the pollen, they had more reactions among people living nearby. Now these are all medical reports or farming reports that are documented, yes, but not necessarily in peer-reviewed journals. For the studies that got Bt crops approved, they are typically not peer reviewed by the companies they are submitted only to the regulatory bodies and labeled "Confidential Business Information." However, a lawsuit forced Monsanto's Bt corn study for their Mon 863 into the public domain a couple of years ago. It turns out that they had an enormous amount of problems with the rats that were fed the GM corn, and some scientists recently re-evaluated the raw data based on the study and found clear signs of toxicity in the liver in kidneys that was not reported or acknowledged by Monsanto or the regulators that approved the product. So even among the company's own studies, which I describe in great detail in part three of Genetic Roulette-how they meticulously design their studies to avoid finding problems (using the wrong samples, the wrong control group, the wrong statistics, under-reporting the details)-even with all that, they found signs of toxicity.

JB: So that leads us into an interesting question. Michael Pollan, in his recent book Omnivore's Dilemma, talks about this concept that often when farmers are feeding corn to their animals that are genetically engineered and the animals have a choice of the genetically engineered corn versus the non-genetically engineered, they will preferentially choose the non-genetically engineered, suggesting (at least from anecdote) that animals know the difference. Is there any history of that that you have seen in the way that animals respond to these foods?

JS: Absolutely. There are reports from all over North America that show cows, pigs, geese, elk, deer, raccoons, mice, and rats all avoided GM feed when given a choice. In fact, the CEO of Calgene, that put out the first approved, genetically engineered food crop (the Flavr-Savr tomato) said that even if you were Chef Boyardee, these rats were not going to eat their GM tomatoes. They force fed the rats the tomatoes and several developed stomach lesions and seven of twenty died within two weeks. We know now from documents made public from a lawsuit that the FDA was willing to let that go on the market as is. Calgene voluntarily used a different line of their transformed tomato to introduce to the market.xi

But it shows you that the FDA was ready to turn a blind eye to some pretty serious results. Now the FDA has no required consultation (it is all voluntary), so that was the only study in which raw feeding-study data was ever submitted to the FDA (that was basically summary conclusions and very, very superficial and flimsy reports that are voluntarily submitted). If the FDA asks for further studies and further questions, they are typically ignored.

This voluntary consultation process came about because the 1992 policy of the FDA claimed that the agency was not aware of any information showing that foods created from these new methods differed in any meaningful or uniform way. On the basis of that sentence, they said that if Monsanto wants to introduce a GM crop to the market, they can determine whether it is safe and don't even have to tell the FDA. That sentence turns out to be a deception. Documents made public from a lawsuit show that the overwhelming consensus among the FDA's own scientists was that GM crops were inherently unsafe and could create hard-to-detect, unpredicted toxins, allergens, new diseases, and nutritional problems and had, in fact, urged their superiors to require the long-term safety studies that they chose not to require.

JB: What do we do? That is the question. You have already told us that in terms of labeling there is no mandatory requirement in the United States for labeling foods that were produced by genetic engineering. In your extraordinary website and Institute (the Institute for Responsible Technology) you talk a little bit about what we should do and where we are going. Maybe you can help us to kind of define a strategy.

JS: Well, I think that among all the health and environmental problems in the world that we face, ending the current generation of GM crops is one of the easiest things we can do. I emphasize the words "current generation" because I'm not against the possibility that someday in the future we can safely and reliably and predictably manipulate the DNA for the benefit of human health and the environment, but the current generation is a primitive technology based on obsolete science and faulty assumptions. So how do we stop that?

Grassroots Consumer Action Could Halt Use of GM Crops in US

I think what we talked about earlier-the result in the European situation- when a certain number of consumers reach the tipping point of pushback against GM, who are unwilling and very unhappy about the fact that the diet was being converted to GM, when that tipping point was reached, the food industry reacted for the sake of protecting market share. And that kept GM crops out of Europe in spite of a very pro-GM European commission and a pro-GM European food safety authority. So we need to create the tipping point of enough consumers in the United States to say no to GM.

Now remember, the food industry gains nothing from these GM crops, in about 80% are herbicide tolerant and about 20%produce their own pesticide. They do not have consumer benefits, so the food industry gains nothing from using GM, and if they saw a drop in market share of just a few percentage points and they perceived a trend that might grow over time, it is very easy to see how the stampede away from GM could be repeated in the United States as it was in Europe. I am predicting that with as little as 5% of the US consumers avoiding GM ingredients very consciously, that 15 million people could drive the decisions for the entire food industry. So where can we get 15 million people? Well, certainly health conscious shoppers are low-hanging fruit since there are already 28 million people who buy organic food on a regular basis, but they rarely avoid GM ingredients in their non-organic purchases. I'm working with some CEOs of major food companies in the natural food industry, and what we are doing is we are cleaning out any remaining GM ingredients from the entire natural food sector, setting up GMO information centers in all the health food stores, non-GMO shopping guides, and later on, in-store, on-shelf labeling of any products that have held out and not participated in the clean-up.

We are also working with communities around the country, showing a video that I created with others called Hidden Dangers in Kids' Meals, alerting parents and schools to the fact that children are most at risk to the health dangers of GM foods and we are establishing GM-free campaigns around the country. Likewise, we hope to approach religious leaders to explain to them the dangers. They, themselves, may believe that "GMO" means "God Move Over" and are unwilling to participate in this experiment and might choose to distribute the non-GMO shopping guide. And the fourth demographic that are really important is the health practitioners-the doctors, the nurses, the dietitians, those who evaluate science and make recommendations to their patients and clients. If the word got out to the food industry that more and more doctors are now prescribing diets to be free of GMO, then GMO will be over in the United States very quickly. And I do know many doctors who tell their patients to avoid eating GMO foods. That is why this interview is so important. What we hope to do at is to post patient education materials that doctors can download. In the meantime, they can always use Genetic Roulette in their waiting rooms. It is designed for a quick, five-minute flip-through in the way that is has executive summaries on one side and detailed text on the other side of each two-page spread.

We have one doctor, an allergist, who said he used to do soy allergy tests all the time but now that soy is genetically engineered he tells his patients just don't eat it unless it says organic. He buys in bulk this audio CD we created called, You're Eating What? Stop Eating Genetically Engineered Foods and Please Copy this for your Friends. So he buys them for a dollar or so off our website and sells them to his patients for a dollar and has distributed over a thousand to his patients. So we have ways that we are working with the medical community so that we create this buzz that healthy eating means no GMOs, so then quickly we can reach the tipping point and the food companies will end this dangerous experiment, even if our government is unwilling to act.

JB: Well, Jeff, that is an incredible advocacy. I think it was very important for our listeners to hear that you are not a Luddite by nature. You are not a person who is just anti-technology, regardless. I think your point is that if we knew enough about what we were doing that would be a very different story than doing an experiment that is early on in our understanding of the gene and how it is translated into protein and function and that that uncertainty is really the cause for great concern. I share that concern. It seems like many of the dominant-what we consider "truths"-in molecular biology when I took my first course in 1962 in molecular biology, like the "one gene, one enzyme concept" and the fact that there was all this "junk DNA" that was present in the genome has now been pretty much refuted. It is not just "one gene, one enzyme." Genes can express themselves in different ways and this "junk" is really not junk at all it is where a lot of the information molecules are for organizing the genetic expression patterns that ultimately control how genes are regulated. It seems like we jump prematurely with the kind of sophomoric view (the "wise fool" view) about what we knew about the gene and started inserting that knowledge prematurely into our food supply and I think that position that you have taken is a very, very scientifically supportable position. It is not a Luddite position or an anti-technology position it is a rational thinking position.

JS: You know, it is interesting. I agree with you completely, and yet the public relations spin by the biotech industry, which has been so successful around the world, wants people to believe that those of us who are demanding more science are anti-science. But there is also another very dangerous aspect. You mentioned this with respect to Arpad Pusztai, but I've interviewed scientists all over the world who have incredible pressure silencing them, taking away their funding from doing research, denying them access to genetically engineered seeds to do their research.

Doctors have had information stolen. Even scientists in government have had documents stolen from their locked file cabinets as is the case with the scientists in Health Canada who were evaluating Monsanto's genetically engineered bovine growth hormone. They also said, for example, that Monsanto had offered them a bribe of one- to two-million dollars to approve their drug and that also Monsanto go fined 1.5 million dollars by the US Justice Department for bribing up to 140 Indonesian government officials to try and get their patent approved there.xii It is not just an avoidance of science, it is actually a rather sophisticated manipulation with very big goals in mind.

Arthur Anderson Consulting admitted at a 1999 biotech conference that they had consulted with the executives at Monsanto by asking them to describe their ideal future in 15 to 20 years. And the executives described a world in which 100 percent of all commercial feeds were genetically engineered and patented.xiii And they went backwards from that goal to create a strategy and tactics to achieve it. Imagine if they had been successful. Imagine if there hadn't been push-back from Europe. We would be replacing the genomes-the DNA-with self-propagating genetic pollution and reducing the number of seeds around the world, because they obviously would have taken over a larger percentage of the seed supply and reduced the amount of natural seeds made available, causing a much higher level of food insecurity. If they had gone forth with their plans they would be gambling with our entire food supply on this untested, primitive technology. They are not above really risking as much as you can possibly risk.

Self-propagating genetic pollution will outlast, theoretically, the effects of global warming and nuclear waste. We have never had an experience like this before in our history. Going slow, going cautious, going with plenty of consensus and thinking is the only way to proceed with such a technology, and yet we are seeing just the opposite. So I want to applaud you for taking this up as well as all of your incredible work in all the areas that you are working on, Jeff.

JB: Well, thank you so much, and I think (again) the listeners can see the urgency to read Genetic Roulette and really become more knowledgeable and informed and assist their patients in making informed decisions in this area. Once again I want to cite your website because I think it is a very valuable and dense source of information it is

Jeff, I just want to thank you. I know you have taken time out of your busy schedule there in Europe to share this information with us but be assured it is being listened to by people who are very advocacy-minded and it will have a significant impact in how they counsel and discuss this with their patients.

JS: Thank you and I want to add one thing. We have a site. We have 65 health risks of genetically engineered foods documented in Genetic Roulette, so we posted a page for each one of those 65 health risks and then asked the biotech industry and others to give updates, challenges, corrections, etc. in the hope that it can become the world's forum on discussing the health risks. Not only that, but it is actually a gauntlet. We are throwing down a gauntlet to the industry, saying "You must respond to these 65 risks with rigorous scientific data showing that they are not concerns, otherwise there is no justification for allowing these foods to be on the market."

I'm traveling and speaking to parliamentarians and others, and I testified before the EPA and met with senators and congressmen, saying "We want to reframe the issue now. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that these foods are unsafe. We have parsed it out into 65 main risks. Let's give them the checklist. If they can respond to the 65 risks, we have no further questions. If they respond with more assumptions and no data points and sweeping dismissals, then they have no justification to allow the food to be fed to humans or to animals."

JB: Very, very convincing. Once again, thank you and thanks for your tireless efforts and we will keep the fire burning here from the practitioner side.

i Ewen SW, Pusztai A. Health risks of genetically modified foods. Lancet. 1999354(9179):684.

ii Ewen SW, Pusztai A. Effects of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine. Lancet. 1999354(9187):1353-1354.

iii Malatesta M, Caporaloni C, Rossi L, Battistelli S, Rocchi MB, et al. Ultrastructural analysis of pancreatic acinar cells from mice fed on genetically modified soybean. J Anat. 2002201(5):409-415.

iv Tudisco R, Lombardi P, Bovera F, d'Angelo D, Cutrignelli MI, et al. Genetically modified soya bean in rabbit feeding: detection of DNA fragments and evaluation of metabolic effects by enzymatic analysis. Animal Science. 200682:193-199.

v Vecchio L, et al. Ultrastructural analysis of testes from mice fed on genetically modified soybean. European Journal of Histochemistry. 200448(4):449-454.

vi Genetically modified soy affects posterity: results of Russian scientists' studies. REGNUM. 2005

vii Ermakova I. Genetically modified soy leads to the decrease of weight and high mortality of rat pups of the first generation. Preliminary studies. Ecosinform 1. 2006:4-9.

viii Washington State Department of Health. Report of health surveillance activities: Asian gypsy moth control program. (Olympia, WA: Washington State Dept. of Health, 1993).

ix Green M, et al. Public health implications of the microbial pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis: an epidemiological study in Oregon, 1985-86. Amer J Public Health. 199080(7):848-852.

x Bernstein IL, et al. Immune responses in farm workers after exposure to Bacillus thuringiensis pesticides. Environmental Health Perspectives. 1999107(7):575-582.


Consumer concerns about food quality first became prominent long before the advent of GM foods in the 1990s. Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle led to the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, the first major US legislation on the subject. [34] This began an enduring concern over the purity and later "naturalness" of food that evolved from a single focus on sanitation to include others on added ingredients such as preservatives, flavors and sweeteners, residues such as pesticides, the rise of organic food as a category and, finally, concerns over GM food. Some consumers, including many in the US, came to see GM food as "unnatural", with various negative associations and fears (a reverse halo effect). [35]

Specific perceptions include a view of genetic engineering as meddling with naturally evolved biological processes, and one that science has limitations on its comprehension of potential negative ramifications. [36] An opposing perception is that genetic engineering is itself an evolution of traditional selective breeding, and that the weight of current evidence suggests current GM foods are identical to conventional foods in nutritional value and effects on health. [37] [38]

Surveys indicate widespread concern among consumers that eating genetically modified food is harmful, [39] [40] [41] that biotechnology is risky, that more information is needed and that consumers need control over whether to take such risks. [42] [42] [43] A diffuse sense that social and technological change is accelerating, and that people cannot affect this context of change, becomes focused when such changes affect food. [42] Leaders in driving public perception of the harms of such food in the media include Jeffrey M. Smith, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and Bill Maher [40] [44] organizations include Organic Consumers Association, [45] Greenpeace (especially with regard to Golden rice) [46] and Union of Concerned Scientists. [41] [47] [48] [49] [50]

In the United States support or opposition or skepticism about GMO food is not divided by traditional partisan (liberal/conservative) lines, but young adults are more likely to have negative opinions on genetically modified food than older adults. [51]

Religious groups have raised concerns over whether genetically modified food will remain kosher or halal. In 2001, no such foods had been designated as unacceptable by Orthodox rabbis or Muslim leaders. [52]

Food writer Michael Pollan does not oppose eating genetically modified foods, but supports mandatory labeling of GM foods and has criticized the intensive farming enabled by certain GM crops, such as glyphosate-tolerant ("Roundup-ready") corn and soybeans. [53] He has also expressed concerns about biotechnology companies holding the intellectual property of the foods people depend on, and about the effects of the growing corporatization of large-scale agriculture. [54] To address these problems, Pollan has brought up the idea of open sourcing GM foods. The idea has since been adopted to varying degrees by companies like Syngenta, [55] and is being promoted by organizations such as the New America Foundation. [56] Some organizations, like The BioBricks Foundation, have already worked out open-source licenses that could prove useful in this endeavour. [57]

Reviews and polls

An EMBO Reports article in 2003 reported that the Public Perceptions of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Europe project (PABE) [58] found the public neither accepting nor rejecting GMOs. Instead, PABE found that public had "key questions" about GMOs: "Why do we need GMOs? Who benefits from their use? Who decided that they should be developed and how? Why were we not better informed about their use in our food, before their arrival on the market? Why are we not given an effective choice about whether or not to buy these products? Have potential long-term and irreversible consequences been seriously evaluated, and by whom? Do regulatory authorities have sufficient powers to effectively regulate large companies? Who wishes to develop these products? Can controls imposed by regulatory authorities be applied effectively? Who will be accountable in cases of unforeseen harm?" [26] PABE also found that the public's scientific knowledge does not control public opinion, since scientific facts do not answer these questions. [26] PABE also found that the public does not demand "zero risk" in GM food discussions and is "perfectly aware that their lives are full of risks that need to be counterbalanced against each other and against the potential benefits. Rather than zero risk, what they demanded was a more realistic assessment of risks by regulatory authorities and GMO producers." [26]

In 2006, the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology made public a review of U.S. survey results between 2001 and 2006. [59] The review showed that Americans' knowledge of GM foods and animals was low throughout the period. Protests during this period against Calgene's Flavr Savr GM tomato mistakenly described it as containing fish genes, confusing it with DNA Plant Technology's fish tomato experimental transgenic organism, which was never commercialized. [60] [61]

A survey in 2007 by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand found that in Australia, where labeling is mandatory, [62] 27% of Australians checked product labels to see whether GM ingredients were present when initially purchasing a food item. [63]

A review article about European consumer polls as of 2009 concluded that opposition to GMOs in Europe has been gradually decreasing, [64] and that about 80% of respondents did not "actively avoid GM products when shopping". The 2010 "Eurobarometer" survey, [65] which assesses public attitudes about biotech and the life sciences, found that cisgenics, GM crops made from plants that are crossable by conventional breeding, evokes a smaller reaction than transgenic methods, using genes from species that are taxonomically very different. [66] Eurobrometer survey in 2019 reported that most Europeans do not care about GMO when the topic is not presented explicitly, and when presented only 27% choose it as a concern. In just nine years since identical survey in 2010 the level of concern has halved in 28 EU Member States. Concern about specific topics decreased even more, for example genome editing on its own only concerns 4%. [29]

A Deloitte survey in 2010 found that 34% of U.S. consumers were very or extremely concerned about GM food, a 3% reduction from 2008. [67] The same survey found gender differences: 10% of men were extremely concerned, compared with 16% of women, and 16% of women were unconcerned, compared with 27% of men.

A poll by The New York Times in 2013 showed that 93% of Americans wanted labeling of GM food. [68]

The 2013 vote, rejecting Washington State's GM food labeling I-522 referendum came shortly after [69] the 2013 World Food Prize was awarded to employees of Monsanto and Syngenta. [70] The award has drawn criticism from opponents of genetically modified crops. [71] [72] [73] [74]

With respect to the question of "Whether GMO foods were safe to eat", the gap between the opinion of the public and that of American Association for the Advancement of Science scientists is very wide with 88% of AAAS scientists saying yes in contrast to 37% of the general public. [75]

Public relations campaigns and protests

In May 2012, a group called "Take the Flour Back" led by Gerald Miles protested plans by a group from Rothamsted Experimental Station, based in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, England, to conduct an experimental trial wheat genetically modified to repel aphids. [76] The researchers, led by John Pickett, wrote a letter to the group in early May 2012, asking them to call off their protest, aimed for 27 May 2012. [77] Group member Lucy Harrap said that the group was concerned about spread of the crops into nature, and cited examples of outcomes in the United States and Canada. [78] Rothamsted Research and Sense About Science ran question and answer sessions about such a potential. [79]

The March Against Monsanto is an international grassroots movement and protest against Monsanto corporation, a producer of genetically modified organism (GMOs) and Roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide. [80] The movement was founded by Tami Canal in response to the failure of California Proposition 37, a ballot initiative which would have required labeling food products made from GMOs. Advocates support mandatory labeling laws for food made from GMOs . [81]

The initial march took place on May 25, 2013. The number of protesters who took part is uncertain figures of "hundreds of thousands" and the organizers' estimate of "two million" [82] were variously cited. Events took place in between 330 [81] and 436 [82] cities around the world, mostly in the United States. [81] [83] Many protests occurred in Southern California, and some participants carried signs expressing support for mandatory labeling of GMOs that read "Label GMOs, It's Our Right to Know", and "Real Food 4 Real People". [83] Canal said that the movement would continue its "anti-GMO cause" beyond the initial event. [82] Further marches occurred in October 2013 and in May 2014 and 2015. The protests were reported by news outlets including ABC News, [84] the Associated Press, [82] The Washington Post, [85] The Los Angeles Times, [83] USA Today, [82] and CNN (in the United States), and The Guardian [80] (outside the United States).

Monsanto said that it respected people's rights to express their opinion on the topic, but maintained that its seeds improved agriculture by helping farmers produce more from their land while conserving resources, such as water and energy. [82] The company reiterated that genetically modified foods were safe and improved crop yields. [86] Similar sentiments were expressed by the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, of which Monsanto is a member. [87] [88]

In July 2013, the agricultural biotechnology industry launched a GMO transparency initiative called GMO Answers to address consumers’ questions about GM foods in the U.S. food supply. [89] GMO Answers' resources included conventional and organic farmers, agribusiness experts, scientists, academics, medical doctors and nutritionists, and "company experts" from founding members of the Council for Biotechnology Information, which funds the initiative. [90] Founding members include BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Monsanto Company and Syngenta. [91]

In October 2013, a group called The European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER), posted a statement claiming that there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs, [92] which was signed by about 200 scientists in various fields in its first week. [70] On January 25, 2015, their statement was formally published as a whitepaper by Environmental Sciences Europe: [93]

Direct action

Earth Liberation Front, Greenpeace and others have disrupted GMO research around the world. [94] [95] [96] [97] [98] Within the UK and other European countries, as of 2014 80 crop trials by academic or governmental research institutes had been destroyed by protesters. [99] In some cases, threats and violence against people or property were carried out. [99] In 1999, activists burned the biotech lab of Michigan State University, destroying the results of years of work and property worth $400,000. [100]

In 1987, the ice-minus strain of P. syringae became the first genetically modified organism (GMO) to be released into the environment [101] when a strawberry field in California was sprayed with the bacteria. This was followed by the spraying of a crop of potato seedlings. [102] The plants in both test fields were uprooted by activist groups, but were re-planted the next day. [101]

In 2011, Greenpeace paid reparations when its members broke into the premises of an Australian scientific research organization, CSIRO, and destroyed a genetically modified wheat plot. The sentencing judge accused Greenpeace of cynically using junior members to avoid risking their own freedom. The offenders were given 9-month suspended sentences. [94] [103] [104]

On August 8, 2013 protesters uprooted an experimental plot of golden rice in the Philippines. [105] [106] British author, journalist, and environmental activist Mark Lynas reported in Slate that the vandalism was carried out by a group led by the extreme-left KMP, to the dismay of other protesters. [107] Golden rice is designed prevent vitamin A deficiency which, according to Helen Keller International, blinds or kills hundreds of thousands of children annually in developing countries. [108]

Response to anti-GMO sentiment

In 2017, two documentaries were released which countered the growing anti-GMO sentiment among the public. These included Food Evolution [109] [110] and Science Moms. Per the Science Moms director, the film "focuses on providing a science and evidence-based counter-narrative to the pseudoscience-based parenting narrative that has cropped up in recent years". [111] [112]

Conspiracy theories

There are various conspiracy theories related to the production and sale of genetically modified crops and genetically modified food that have been identified by some commentators such as Michael Shermer. [113] Generally, these conspiracy theories posit that GMOs are being knowingly and maliciously introduced into the food supply either as a means to unduly enrich agribusinesses or as a means to poison or pacify the population.

A work seeking to explore risk perception over GMOs in Turkey identified a belief among the conservative political and religious figures who were opposed to GMOs that GMOs were "a conspiracy by Jewish Multinational Companies and Israel for world domination." [114] Additionally, a Latvian study showed that a segment of the population believed that GMOs were part of a greater conspiracy theory to poison the population of the country. [115]

Foundation on Economic Trends v. Heckler

In 1983, environmental groups and protesters delayed the field tests of the genetically modified ice-minus strain of P. syringae with legal challenges. [116] [117]

Alliance for Bio-Integrity v. Shalala

In this case, the plaintiff argued both for mandatory labeling on the basis of consumer demand, and that GMO foods should undergo the same testing requirements as food additives because they are "materially changed" and have potentially unidentified health risks. The plaintiff also alleged that the FDA did not follow the Administrative Procedures Act in formulating and disseminating its policy on GMO's. The federal district court rejected all of those arguments and found that the FDA's determination that GMO's are Generally Recognized as Safe was neither arbitrary nor capricious. The court gave deference to the FDA's process on all issues, leaving future plaintiffs little legal recourse to challenge the FDA's policy on GMO's. [50] [118] [119]

Diamond v. Chakrabarty

The Diamond v. Chakrabarty case was on the question of whether GMOs can be patented.

On 16 June 1980, the Supreme Court, in a 5–4 split decision, held that "A live, human-made micro-organism is patentable subject matter" [120] under the meaning of U.S. patent law. [121]

Scientific publishing on the safety and effects of GM foods is controversial.

Bt maize

One of the first incidents occurred in 1999, when Nature published a paper on potential toxic effects of Bt maize on butterflies. The paper produced a public uproar and demonstrations, however by 2001 multiple follow-up studies had concluded that "the most common types of Bt maize pollen are not toxic to monarch larvae in concentrations the insects would encounter in the fields" and that they had "brought that particular question to a close". [122]

Concerned scientists began to patrol the scientific literature and react strongly, both publicly and privately, to discredit conclusions they view as flawed in order to prevent unjustified public outcry and regulatory action. [122] A 2013 Scientific American article noted that a "tiny minority" of biologists have published concerns about GM food, and said that scientists who support the use of GMOs in food production are often overly dismissive of them. [123]

Restrictive end-user agreements

Prior to 2010, scientists wishing to conduct research on commercial GM plants or seeds were unable to do so, because of restrictive end-user agreements. Cornell University's Elson Shields was the spokesperson for one group of scientists who opposed such restrictions. The group submitted a statement to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2009 protesting that "as a result of restrictive access, no truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions regarding the technology". [124]

A 2009 Scientific American editorial quoted a scientist who said that several studies that were initially approved by seed companies were blocked from publication when they returned "unflattering" results. While favoring protection of intellectual property rights, the editors called for the restrictions to be lifted and for the EPA to require, as a condition of approval, that independent researchers have unfettered access to genetically modified products for research. [125]

In December 2009, the American Seed Trade Association agreed to "allow public researchers greater freedom to study the effects of GM food crops". The companies signed blanket agreements permitting such research. This agreement left many scientists optimistic about the future [126] other scientists still express concern as to whether this agreement has the ability to "alter what has been a research environment rife with obstruction and suspicion". [124] Monsanto previously had research agreements (i.e., Academic Research Licenses) with approximately 100 universities that allowed for university scientists to conduct research on their GM products with no oversight. [127]


A 2011 analysis by Diels et al., reviewed 94 peer-reviewed studies pertaining to GMO safety to assess whether conflicts of interest correlated with outcomes that cast GMOs in a favorable light. They found that financial conflict of interest was not associated with study outcome (p = 0.631) while author affiliation to industry (i.e., a professional conflict of interest) was strongly associated with study outcome (p < 0.001). [128] Of the 94 studies that were analyzed, 52% did not declare funding. 10% of the studies were categorized as "undetermined" with regard to professional conflict of interest. Of the 43 studies with financial or professional conflicts of interest, 28 studies were compositional studies. According to Marc Brazeau, an association between professional conflict of interest and positive study outcomes can be skewed because companies typically contract with independent researchers to perform follow-up studies only after in-house research uncovers favorable results. In-house research that uncovers negative or unfavorable results for a novel GMO is generally not further pursued. [129]

A 2013 review, of 1,783 papers on genetically modified crops and food published between 2002 and 2012 found no plausible evidence of dangers from the use of then marketed GM crops. [13] Biofortified, an independent nonprofit organization devoted to providing factual information and fostering discussion about agriculture, especially plant genetics and genetic engineering, [130] planned to add the studies found by the Italian group to its database of studies about GM crops, GENERA. [131] [132]

In a 2014 review, Zdziarski et al. examined 21 published studies of the histopathology of GI tracts of rats that were fed diets derived from GM crops, and identified some systemic flaws in this area of the scientific literature. Most studies were performed years after the approval of the crop for human consumption. Papers were often imprecise in their descriptions of the histological results and the selection of study endpoints, and lacked necessary details about methods and results. The authors called for the development of better study guidelines for determining the long-term safety of eating GM foods. [133]

A 2016 study by the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded that GM foods are safe for human consumption and they could find no conclusive evidence that they harm the environment nor wildlife. [134] They analysed over 1.000 studies over the previous 30 years that GM crops have been available, reviewed 700 written presentations submitted by interested bodies and heard 80 witnesses. They concluded that GM crops had given farmers economic advantages but found no evidence that GM crops had increased yields. They also noted that weed resistance to GM crops could cause major agricultural problems but this could be addressed by better farming procedures. [135]

Alleged data manipulation

A University of Naples investigation suggested that images in eight papers on animals were intentionally altered and/or misused. The leader of the research group, Federico Infascelli, rejected the claim. The research concluded that mother goats fed GM soybean meal secreted fragments of the foreign gene in their milk. In December 2015 one of the papers was retracted for "self-plagiarism", although the journal noted that the results remained valid. [136] A second paper was retracted in March 2016 after The University of Naples concluded that "multiple heterogeneities were likely attributable to digital manipulation, raising serious doubts on the reliability of the findings". [137]

There is a scientific consensus [13] [14] [15] [16] that currently available food derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food, [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] but that each GM food needs to be tested on a case-by-case basis before introduction. [22] [23] [24] Nonetheless, members of the public are much less likely than scientists to perceive GM foods as safe. [25] [26] [27] [28] The legal and regulatory status of GM foods varies by country, with some nations banning or restricting them, and others permitting them with widely differing degrees of regulation. [30] [31] [32] [33]

The ENTRANSFOOD project was a European Commission-funded scientist group chartered to set a research program to address public concerns about the safety and value of agricultural biotechnology. [138] It concluded that "the combination of existing test methods provides a sound test-regime to assess the safety of GM crops." [139] In 2010, the European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation reported that "The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies." [140] : 16

Consensus among scientists and regulators pointed to the need for improved testing technologies and protocols. [11] [141] Transgenic and cisgenic organisms are treated similarly when assessed. However, in 2012 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) GMO Panel said that "novel hazards" could be associated with transgenic strains. [142] In a 2016 review, Domingo concluded that studies in recent years had established that GM soybeans, rice, corn, and wheat do not differ from the corresponding conventional crops in terms of short-term human health effects, but recommended that further studies of long-term effects be conducted. [143]

Substantial equivalence

Most conventional agricultural products are the products of genetic manipulation via traditional cross-breeding and hybridization. [144] [139] [145]

Governments manage the marketing and release of GM foods on a case-by-case basis. Countries differ in their risk assessments and regulations. Marked differences distinguish the US from Europe. Crops not intended as foods are generally not reviewed for food safety. [146] GM foods are not tested in humans before marketing because they are not a single chemical, nor are they intended to be ingested using specific doses and intervals, which complicate clinical study design. [8] Regulators examine the genetic modification, related protein products and any changes that those proteins make to the food. [147]

Regulators check that GM foods are "substantially equivalent" to their conventional counterparts, to detect any negative unintended consequences. [6] [7] [8] New protein(s) that differ from conventional food proteins or anomalies that arise in the substantial equivalence comparison require further toxicological analysis. [8]

In 1999, Andrew Chesson of the Rowett Research Institute warned that substantial equivalence testing "could be flawed in some cases" and that current safety tests could allow harmful substances to enter the human food supply. [149] The same year Millstone, Brunner and Mayer argued that the standard was a pseudo-scientific product of politics and lobbying that was created to reassure consumers and aid biotechnology companies to reduce the time and cost of safety testing. They suggested that GM foods have extensive biological, toxicological and immunological tests and that substantial equivalence should be abandoned. [150] This commentary was criticized for misrepresenting history, [151] for distorting existing data and poor logic. [152] Kuiper claimed that it oversimplified safety assessments and that equivalence testing involves more than chemical tests, possibly including toxicity testing. [9] [153] Keler and Lappe supported Congressional legislation to replace the substantial equivalence standard with safety studies. [154] In a 2016 review, Domingo criticized the use of the "substantial equivalence" concept as a measure of the safety of GM crops. [155]

Kuiper examined this process further in 2002, finding that substantial equivalence does not measure absolute risks, but instead identifies differences between new and existing products. He claimed that characterizing differences is properly a starting point for a safety assessment [9] and "the concept of substantial equivalence is an adequate tool in order to identify safety issues related to genetically modified products that have a traditional counterpart". Kuiper noted practical difficulties in applying this standard, including the fact that traditional foods contain many toxic or carcinogenic chemicals and that existing diets were never proven to be safe. This lack of knowledge re conventional food means that modified foods may differ in anti-nutrients and natural toxins that have never been identified in the original plant, possibly allowing harmful changes to be missed. [9] In turn, positive modifications may also be missed. For example, corn damaged by insects often contains high levels of fumonisins, carcinogenic toxins made by fungi that travel on insects' backs and that grow in the wounds of damaged corn. Studies show that most Bt corn has lower levels of fumonisins than conventional insect-damaged corn. [156] [157] Workshops and consultations organized by the OECD, WHO, and FAO have worked to acquire data and develop better understanding of conventional foods, for use in assessing GM foods. [141] [158]

A survey of publications comparing the intrinsic qualities of modified and conventional crop lines (examining genomes, proteomes and metabolomes) concluded that GM crops had less impact on gene expression or on protein and metabolite levels than the variability generated by conventional breeding. [159]

In a 2013 review, Herman (Dow AgroSciences) and Price (FDA, retired) argued that transgenesis is less disruptive than traditional breeding techniques because the latter routinely involve more changes (mutations, deletions, insertions and rearrangements) than the relatively limited changes (often single gene) in genetic engineering. The FDA found that all of the 148 transgenic events that they evaluated to be substantially equivalent to their conventional counterparts, as have Japanese regulators for 189 submissions including combined-trait products. This equivalence was confirmed by more than 80 peer-reviewed publications. Hence, the authors argue, compositional equivalence studies uniquely required for GM food crops may no longer be justified on the basis of scientific uncertainty. [160]


A well-known risk of genetic modification is the introduction of an allergen. Allergen testing is routine for products intended for food, and passing those tests is part of the regulatory requirements. Organizations such as the European Green Party and Greenpeace emphasize this risk. [161] A 2005 review of the results from allergen testing stated that "no biotech proteins in foods have been documented to cause allergic reactions". [162] Regulatory authorities require that new modified foods be tested for allergenicity before they are marketed. [163]

GMO proponents note that because of the safety testing requirements, the risk of introducing a plant variety with a new allergen or toxin is much smaller than from traditional breeding processes, which do not require such tests. Genetic engineering can have less impact on the expression of genomes or on protein and metabolite levels than conventional breeding or (non-directed) plant mutagenesis. [159] Toxicologists note that "conventional food is not risk-free allergies occur with many known and even new conventional foods. For example, the kiwi fruit was introduced into the U.S. and the European markets in the 1960s with no known human allergies however, today there are people allergic to this fruit." [6]

Genetic modification can also be used to remove allergens from foods, potentially reducing the risk of food allergies. [164] A hypo-allergenic strain of soybean was tested in 2003 and shown to lack the major allergen that is found in the beans. [165] A similar approach has been tried in ryegrass, which produces pollen that is a major cause of hay fever: here a fertile GM grass was produced that lacked the main pollen allergen, demonstrating that hypoallergenic grass is also possible. [166]

The development of genetically modified products found to cause allergic reactions has been halted by the companies developing them before they were brought to market. In the early 1990s, Pioneer Hi-Bred attempted to improve the nutrition content of soybeans intended for animal feed by adding a gene from the Brazil nut. Because they knew that people have allergies to nuts, Pioneer ran in vitro and skin prick allergy tests. The tests showed that the transgenic soy was allergenic. [167] Pioneer Hi-Bred therefore discontinued further development. [168] [169] In 2005, a pest-resistant field pea developed by the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation for use as a pasture crop was shown to cause an allergic reaction in mice. [170] Work on this variety was immediately halted. These cases have been used as evidence that genetic modification can produce unexpected and dangerous changes in foods, and as evidence that safety tests effectively protect the food supply. [12]

During the Starlink corn recalls in 2000, a variety of GM maize containing the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) protein Cry9C, was found contaminating corn products in U.S. supermarkets and restaurants. It was also found in Japan and South Korea. [171] : 20–21 Starlink corn had only been approved for animal feed as the Cry9C protein lasts longer in the digestive system than other Bt proteins raising concerns about its potential allergenicity. [172] : 3 In 2000, Taco Bell-branded taco shells sold in supermarkets were found to contain Starlink, resulting in a recall of those products, and eventually led to the recall of over 300 products. [173] [174] [175] Sales of StarLink seed were discontinued and the registration for the Starlink varieties was voluntarily withdrawn by Aventis in October 2000. [176] Aid sent by the United Nations and the United States to Central African nations was also found to be contaminated with StarLink corn and the aid was rejected. The U.S. corn supply has been monitored for Starlink Bt proteins since 2001 and no positive samples have been found since 2004. [177] In response, GeneWatch UK and Greenpeace set up the GM Contamination Register in 2005. [178] During the recall, the United States Centers for Disease Control evaluated reports of allergic reactions to StarLink corn, and determined that no allergic reactions to the corn had occurred. [179] [180]

Horizontal gene transfer

Horizontal gene transfer is the movement of genes from one organism to another in a manner other than reproduction.

The risk of horizontal gene transfer between GMO plants and animals is very low and in most cases is expected to be lower than background rates. [181] Two studies on the possible effects of feeding animals with genetically modified food found no residues of recombinant DNA or novel proteins in any organ or tissue samples. [182] [183] Studies found DNA from the M13 virus, Green fluorescent protein and RuBisCO genes in the blood and tissue of animals, [184] [185] and in 2012, a paper suggested that a specific microRNA from rice could be found at very low quantities in human and animal serum. [186] Other studies [187] [188] however, found no or negligible transfer of plant microRNAs into the blood of humans or any of three model organisms.

Another concern is that the antibiotic resistance gene commonly used as a genetic marker in transgenic crops could be transferred to harmful bacteria, creating resistant superbugs. [189] [190] A 2004 study involving human volunteers examined whether the transgene from modified soy would transfer to bacteria that live in the human gut. As of 2012 it was the only human feeding study to have been conducted with GM food. The transgene was detected in three volunteers from a group of seven who had previously had their large intestines removed for medical reasons. As this gene transfer did not increase after the consumption of the modified soy, the researchers concluded that gene transfer did not occur. In volunteers with intact digestive tracts, the transgene did not survive. [191] The antibiotic resistance genes used in genetic engineering are naturally found in many pathogens [192] and antibiotics these genes confer resistance to are not widely prescribed. [193]

Animal feeding studies

Reviews of animal feeding studies mostly found no effects. A 2014 review found that the performance of animals fed GM feed was similar to that of animals fed "isogenic non-GE crop lines". [194] A 2012 review of 12 long-term studies and 12 multigenerational studies conducted by public research laboratories concluded that none had discovered any safety problems linked to consumption of GM food. [195] A 2009 review by Magaña-Gómez found that although most studies concluded that modified foods do not differ in nutrition or cause toxic effects in animals, some did report adverse changes at a cellular level caused by specific modified foods. The review concluded that "More scientific effort and investigation is needed to ensure that consumption of GM foods is not likely to provoke any form of health problem". [196] Dona and Arvanitoyannis' 2009 review concluded that "results of most studies with GM foods indicate that they may cause some common toxic effects such as hepatic, pancreatic, renal, or reproductive effects and may alter the hematological, biochemical, and immunologic parameters". [197] Reactions to this review in 2009 and 2010 noted that Dona and Arvanitoyannis had concentrated on articles with an anti-modification bias that were refuted in peer-reviewed articles elsewhere. [198] [199] [200] Flachowsky concluded in a 2005 review that food with a one-gene modification were similar in nutrition and safety to non-modified foods, but he noted that food with multiple gene modifications would be more difficult to test and would require further animal studies. [182] A 2004 review of animal feeding trials by Aumaitre and others found no differences among animals eating genetically modified plants. [201]

In 2007, Domingo's search of the PubMed database using 12 search terms indicated that the "number of references" on the safety of GM or transgenic crops was "surprisingly limited", and he questioned whether the safety of GM food had been demonstrated. The review also stated that its conclusions were in agreement with three earlier reviews. [202] However, Vain found 692 research studies in 2007 that focused on GM crop and food safety and found increasing publication rates of such articles in recent years. [203] [204] Vain commented that the multidisciplinarian nature of GM research complicated the retrieval of studies based on it and required many search terms (he used more than 300) and multiple databases. Domingo and Bordonaba reviewed the literature again in 2011 and said that, although there had been a substantial increase in the number of studies since 2006, most were conducted by biotechnology companies "responsible of commercializing these GM plants." [205] In 2016, Domingo published an updated analysis, and concluded that as of that time there were enough independent studies to establish that GM crops were not any more dangerous acutely than conventional foods, while still calling for more long-term studies. [206]

Human studies

While some groups and individuals have called for more human testing of GM food, [207] multiple obstacles complicate such studies. The General Accounting Office (in a review of FDA procedures requested by Congress) and a working group of the Food and Agriculture and World Health organizations both said that long-term human studies of the effect of GM food are not feasible. The reasons included lack of a plausible hypothesis to test, lack of knowledge about the potential long-term effects of conventional foods, variability in the ways humans react to foods and that epidemiological studies were unlikely to differentiate modified from conventional foods, which come with their own suite of unhealthy characteristics. [208] [209]

Additionally, ethical concerns guide human subject research. These mandate that each tested intervention must have a potential benefit for the human subjects, such as treatment for a disease or nutritional benefit (ruling out, e.g., human toxicity testing). [210] Kimber claimed that the "ethical and technical constraints of conducting human trials, and the necessity of doing so, is a subject that requires considerable attention." [211] Food with nutritional benefits may escape this objection. For example, GM rice has been tested for nutritional benefits, namely, increased levels of Vitamin A. [212] [213]

Controversial studies

Pusztai affair

Árpád Pusztai published the first peer-reviewed paper to find negative effects from GM food consumption in 1999. Pusztai fed rats potatoes transformed with the Galanthus nivalis agglutinin (GNA) gene from the Galanthus (snowdrop) plant, allowing the tuber to synthesise the GNA lectin protein. [214] While some companies were considering growing GM crops expressing lectin, GNA was an unlikely candidate. [215] Lectin is toxic, especially to gut epithelia. [216] Pusztai reported significant differences in the thickness of the gut epithelium, but no differences in growth or immune system function. [214] [217]

On June 22, 1998, an interview on Granada Television's current affairs programme World in Action, Pusztai said that rats fed on the potatoes had stunted growth and a repressed immune system. [218] A media frenzy resulted. Pusztai was suspended from the Rowett Institute. Misconduct procedures were used to seize his data and ban him from speaking publicly. [219] The Rowett Institute and the Royal Society reviewed his work and concluded that the data did not support his conclusions. [220] [221] [12] The work was criticized on the grounds that the unmodified potatoes were not a fair control diet and that any rat fed only potatoes would suffer from protein deficiency. [222] Pusztai responded by stating that all diets had the same protein and energy content and that the food intake of all rats was the same.

Bt corn

A 2011 study was the first to evaluate the correlation between maternal and fetal exposure to Bt toxin produced in GM maize and to determine exposure levels of the pesticides and their metabolites. It reported the presence of pesticides associated with the modified foods in women and in pregnant women's fetuses. [223] The paper and related media reports were criticized for overstating the results. [224] [225] Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) posted a direct response, saying that the suitability of the ELISA method for detecting the Cry1Ab protein was not validated and that no evidence showed that GM food was the protein's source. The organization also suggested that even had the protein been detected its source was more likely conventional or organic food. [226]

Séralini affair

In 2007, 2009, and 2011, Gilles-Éric Séralini published re-analysis studies that used data from Monsanto rat-feeding experiments for three modified maize varieties (insect-resistant MON 863 and MON 810 and glyphosate-resistant NK603). He concluded that the data showed liver, kidney and heart damage. [227] [228] [229] The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) then concluded that the differences were all within the normal range. [230] EFSA also stated that Séralini's statistics were faulty. [231] [232] [233] EFSA's conclusions were supported by FSANZ, [234] [235] [236] a panel of expert toxicologists, [237] and the French High Council of Biotechnologies Scientific Committee (HCB). [238]

In 2012, Séralini's lab published a paper [239] [240] that considered the long-term effects of feeding rats various levels of GM glyphosate-resistant maize, conventional glyphosate-treated maize, and a mixture of the two strains. [241] The paper concluded that rats fed the modified maize had severe health problems, including liver and kidney damage and large tumors. [241] The study provoked widespread criticism. Séralini held a press conference just before the paper was released in which he announced the release of a book and a movie. [242] He allowed reporters to have access to the paper before his press conference only if they signed a confidentiality agreement under which they could not report other scientists' responses to the paper. [243] The press conference resulted in media coverage emphasizing a connection between GMOs, glyphosate, and cancer. [244] Séralini's publicity stunt yielded criticism from other scientists for prohibiting critical commentary. [244] [245] [246] Criticisms included insufficient statistical power [247] and that Séralini's Sprague-Dawley rats were inappropriate for a lifetime study (as opposed to a shorter toxicity study) because of their tendency to develop cancer (one study found that more than 80% normally got cancer). [248] [249] [250] [251] The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development guidelines recommended using 65 rats per experiment instead of the 10 in Séralini's. [250] [251] [252] Other criticisms included the lack of data regarding food amounts and specimen growth rates, [253] [254] the lack of a dose–response relationship (females fed three times the standard dose showed a decreased number of tumours) [255] and no identified mechanism for the tumour increases. [256] Six French national academies of science issued an unprecedented joint statement condemning the study and the journal that published it. [257] Food and Chemical Toxicology published many critical letters, with only a few expressing support. [258] National food safety and regulatory agencies also reviewed the paper and dismissed it. [259] [260] [261] [262] [263] [264] [265] [266] In March 2013, Séralini responded to these criticisms in the same journal that originally published his study, [267] and a few scientists supported his work. [123] : 5 In November 2013, the editors of Food and Chemical Toxicology retracted the paper. [239] [240] The retraction was met with protests from Séralini and his supporters. [268] [269] In 2014, the study was republished by a different journal, Environmental Sciences Europe, in an expanded form, including the raw data that Séralini had originally refused to reveal. [270]

Nutritional quality

Some plants are specifically genetically modified to be healthier than conventional crops. Golden rice was created to combat vitamin A deficiency by synthesizing beta carotene (which conventional rice does not). [271]


One variety of cottonseed has been genetically modified to remove the toxin gossypol, so that it would be safe for humans to eat. [272]

Genetically modified crops are planted in fields much like regular crops. There they interact directly with organisms that feed on the crops and indirectly with other organisms in the food chain. The pollen from the plants is distributed in the environment like that of any other crop. This distribution has led to concerns over the effects of GM crops on the environment. Potential effects include gene flow/genetic pollution, pesticide resistance and greenhouse gas emissions.

Non-target organisms

A major use of GM crops is in insect control through the expression of the cry (crystal delta-endotoxins) and Vip (vegetative insecticidal proteins) genes from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Such toxins could affect other insects in addition to targeted pests such as the European corn borer. Bt proteins have been used as organic sprays for insect control in France since 1938 and the US since 1958, with no reported ill effects. [273] Cry proteins selectively target Lepidopterans (moths and butterflies). As a toxic mechanism, cry proteins bind to specific receptors on the membranes of mid-gut (epithelial) cells, resulting in their rupture. Any organism that lacks the appropriate receptors in its gut is unaffected by the cry protein, and therefore is not affected by Bt. [274] [275] Regulatory agencies assess the potential for transgenic plants to affect non-target organisms before approving their commercial release. [276] [277]

In 1999, a paper stated that, in a laboratory environment, pollen from Bt maize dusted onto milkweed could harm the monarch butterfly. [278] A collaborative research exercise over the following two years by several groups of scientists in the US and Canada studied the effects of Bt pollen in both the field and the laboratory. The study resulted in a risk assessment concluding that any risk posed to butterfly populations was negligible. [279] A 2002 review of the scientific literature concluded that "the commercial large-scale cultivation of current Bt–maize hybrids did not pose a significant risk to the monarch population" and noted that despite large-scale planting of genetically modified crops, the butterfly's population was increasing. [280] However, the herbicide glyphosate used to grow GMOs kills milkweed, the only food source of monarch butterflies, and by 2015 about 90% of the U.S. population has declined. [281] [282]

Lövei et al. analyzed laboratory settings and found that Bt toxins could affect non-target organisms, generally closely related to the intended targets. [283] Typically, exposure occurs through the consumption of plant parts, such as pollen or plant debris, or through Bt ingestion by predators. A group of academic scientists criticized the analysis, writing: "We are deeply concerned about the inappropriate methods used in their paper, the lack of ecological context, and the authors’ advocacy of how laboratory studies on non-target arthropods should be conducted and interpreted". [284]


Crop genetic diversity might decrease due to the development of superior GM strains that crowd others out of the market. Indirect effects might affect other organisms. To the extent that agrochemicals impact biodiversity, modifications that increase their use, either because successful strains require them or because the accompanying development of resistance will require increased amounts of chemicals to offset increased resistance in target organisms.

Studies comparing the genetic diversity of cotton found that in the US diversity has either increased or stayed the same, while in India it has declined. This difference was attributed to the larger number of modified varieties in the US compared to India. [285] A review of the effects of Bt crops on soil ecosystems found that in general they "appear to have no consistent, significant, and long-term effects on the microbiota and their activities in soil". [286]

The diversity and number of weed populations has been shown to decrease in farm-scale trials in the United Kingdom and in Denmark when comparing herbicide-resistant crops to their conventional counterparts. [287] [288] The UK trial suggested that the diversity of birds could be adversely affected by the decrease in weed seeds available for foraging. [289] Published farm data involved in the trials showed that seed-eating birds were more abundant on conventional maize after the application of the herbicide, but that there were no significant differences in any other crop or prior to herbicide treatment. [290] A 2012 study found a correlation between the reduction of milkweed in farms that grew glyphosate-resistant crops and the decline in adult monarch butterfly populations in Mexico. [291] The New York Times reported that the study "raises the somewhat radical notion that perhaps weeds on farms should be protected. [292]

A 2005 study, designed to "simulate the impact of a direct overspray on a wetland" with four different agrochemicals (carbaryl (Sevin), malathion, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, and glyphosate in a Roundup formulation) by creating artificial ecosystems in tanks and then applying "each chemical at the manufacturer's maximum recommended application rates" found that "species richness was reduced by 15% with Sevin, 30% with malathion, and 22% with Roundup, whereas 2,4-D had no effect". [293] The study has been used by environmental groups to argue that use of agrochemicals causes unintended harm to the environment and to biodiversity. [294]

Secondary pests

Several studies documented surges in secondary pests within a few years of adoption of Bt cotton. In China, the main problem has been with mirids, [295] [296] which have in some cases "completely eroded all benefits from Bt cotton cultivation". [297] A 2009 study in China concluded that the increase in secondary pests depended on local temperature and rainfall conditions and occurred in half the villages studied. The increase in insecticide use for the control of these secondary insects was far smaller than the reduction in total insecticide use due to Bt cotton adoption. [298] A 2011 study based on a survey of 1,000 randomly selected farm households in five provinces in China found that the reduction in pesticide use in Bt cotton cultivars was significantly lower than that reported in research elsewhere: The finding was consistent with a hypothesis that more pesticide sprayings are needed over time to control emerging secondary pests, such as aphids, spider mites, and lygus bugs. [299] Similar problems have been reported in India, with mealy bugs [300] [301] and aphids. [302]

Gene flow

Genes from a GMO may pass to another organism just like an endogenous gene. The process is known as outcrossing and can occur in any new open-pollinated crop variety. Introduced traits potentially can cross into neighboring plants of the same or closely related species through three different types of gene flow: crop-to-crop, crop-to-weedy, and crop-to-wild. In crop-to-crop, genetic information from a genetically modified crop is transferred to a non-genetically modified crop. Crop-to-weedy transfer refers to the transfer of genetically modified material to a weed, and crop-to-wild indicates transfer from a genetically modified crop to a wild, undomesticated plant and/or crop. [303] There are concerns that the spread of genes from modified organisms to unmodified relatives could produce species of weeds resistant to herbicides [304] that could contaminate nearby non-genetically modified crops, or could disrupt the ecosystem, [305] [306] This is primarily a concern if the transgenic organism has a significant survival capacity and can increase in frequency and persist in natural populations. [307] This process, whereby genes are transferred from GMOs to wild relatives, is different from the development of so-called "superweeds" or "superbugs" that develop resistance to pesticides under natural selection.

In most countries environmental studies are required before approval of a GMO for commercial purposes, and a monitoring plan must be presented to identify unanticipated gene flow effects.

In 2004, Chilcutt and Tabashnik found Bt protein in kernels of in a refuge (a conventional crop planted to harbor pests that might otherwise become resistant a pesticide associated with the GMO) implying that gene flow had occurred. [308]

In 2005, scientists at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology reported the first evidence of horizontal gene transfer of pesticide resistance to weeds, in a few plants from a single season they found no evidence that any of the hybrids had survived in subsequent seasons. [309]

In 2007, the U.S. Department of Agriculture fined Scotts Miracle-Gro $500,000 when modified DNA from GM creeping bentgrass, was found within relatives of the same genus (Agrostis) [310] as well as in native grasses up to 21 km (13 mi) from the test sites, released when freshly cut, wind-blown grass. [311]

In 2009, Mexico created a regulatory pathway for GM maize, [312] but because Mexico is maize's center of diversity, concerns were raised about GM maize's effects on local strains. [313] [314] A 2001 report found Bt maize cross-breeding with conventional maize in Mexico. [315] The data in this paper was later described as originating from an artifact and the publishing journal Nature stated that "the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper", although it did not retract the paper. [316] A subsequent large-scale study, in 2005, found no evidence of gene flow in Oaxaca. [317] However, other authors claimed to have found evidence of such gene flow. [318]

A 2010 study showed that about 83 percent of wild or weedy canola tested contained genetically modified herbicide resistance genes. [319] [320] [321] According to the researchers, the lack of reports in the United States suggested that oversight and monitoring were inadequate. [322] A 2010 report stated that the advent of glyphosate-resistant weeds could cause GM crops to lose their effectiveness unless farmers combined glyphosate with other weed-management strategies. [323] [324]

One way to avoid environmental contamination is genetic use restriction technology (GURT), also called "Terminator". [325] This uncommercialized technology would allow the production of crops with sterile seeds, which would prevent the escape of GM traits. Groups concerned about food supplies had expressed concern that the technology would be used to limit access to fertile seeds. [326] [327] Another hypothetical technology known as "Traitor" or "T-GURT", would not render seeds sterile, but instead would require application of a chemical to GM crops to activate engineered traits. [325] [328] Groups such as Rural Advancement Foundation International raised concerns that further food safety and environmental testing needed to be done before T-GURT would be commercialized. [328]

Escape of modified crops

The escape of genetically modified seed into neighboring fields, and the mixing of harvested products, is of concern to farmers who sell to countries that do not allow GMO imports. [329] : 275 [330]

In 1999 scientists in Thailand claimed they had discovered unapproved glyphosate-resistant GM wheat in a grain shipment, even though it was only grown in test plots. No mechanism for the escape was identified. [331]

In 2000, Aventis StarLink GM corn was found in US markets and restaurants. It became the subject of a recall that started when Taco Bell-branded taco shells sold in supermarkets were found to contain it. StarLink was then discontinued. [173] [174] Registration for Starlink varieties was voluntarily withdrawn by Aventis in October 2000. [176]

American rice exports to Europe were interrupted in 2006 when the LibertyLink modification was found in commercial rice crops, although it had not been approved for release. [332] An investigation by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) failed to determine the cause of the contamination. [333]

In May 2013, unapproved glyphosate-resistant GM wheat (but that had been approved for human consumption) [334] was discovered in a farm in Oregon in a field that had been planted with winter wheat. The strain was developed by Monsanto, and had been field-tested from 1998 to 2005. The discovery threatened US wheat exports which totaled $8.1 billion in 2012. [335] Japan, South Korea and Taiwan temporarily suspended winter wheat purchases as a result of the discovery. [336] [337] [338] As of August 30, 2013, while the source of the modified wheat remained unknown, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan had resumed placing orders. [339] [340]

Coexistence with conventional crops

The US has no legislation governing the relationship among mixtures of farms that grow organic, conventional, and GM crops. The country relies on a "complex but relaxed" combination of three federal agencies (FDA, EPA, and USDA/APHIS) and states' common law tort systems to manage coexistence. [341] : 44 The Secretary of Agriculture convened an Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21) to study coexistence and make recommendations about the issue. The members of AC21 included representatives of the biotechnology industry, the organic food industry, farming communities, the seed industry, food manufacturers, State governments, consumer and community development groups, the medical profession, and academic researchers. AC21 recommended that a study assess the potential for economic losses to US organic farmers that any serious losses lead to a crop insurance program, an education program to ensure that organic farmers put appropriate contracts in place and that neighboring GMO farmers take appropriate containment measures. Overall the report supported a diverse agriculture system supporting diverse farming systems. [342] [343]

The EU implemented regulations specifically governing co-existence and traceability. Traceability has become commonplace in the food and feed supply chains of most countries, but GMO traceability is more challenging given strict legal thresholds for unwanted mixing. Since 2001, conventional and organic food and feedstuffs can contain up to 0.9% of authorised modified material without carrying a GMO label. [344] (any trace of non-authorised modification is cause for a shipment to be rejected). [344] [345] Authorities require the ability to trace, detect and identify GMOs, and the several countries and interested parties created a non-governmental organization, Co-Extra, to develop such methods. [346] [347]

Chemical use


Pesticides destroy, repel or mitigate pests (an organism that attacks or competes with a crop). [348] A 2014 meta-analysis covering 147 original studies of farm surveys and field trials, and 15 studies from the researchers conducting the study, concluded that adoption of GM technology had reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, with the effect larger for insect-tolerant crops than herbicide-tolerant crops. [349] Some doubt still remains on whether the reduced amounts of pesticides used actually invoke a lower negative environmental effect, since there is also a shift in the types of pesticides used, and different pesticides have different environmental effects. [350] [351] In August 2015, protests occurred in Hawaii over the possibility that birth defects were being caused by the heavy use of pesticides on new strains of GM crops being developed there. Hawaii uses 17 times the amount of pesticides per acre compared to the rest of the US. [352]


The development of glyphosate-tolerant (Roundup Ready) plants changed the herbicide use profile away from more persistent, higher toxicity herbicides, such as atrazine, metribuzin and alachlor, and reduced the volume and harm of herbicide runoff. [353] A study by Chuck Benbrook concluded that the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds had increased US herbicide use. [354] [355] That study cited a 23% increase (.3 kilograms/hectare) for soybeans from 1996–2006, a 43% (.9 kg/ha) increase for cotton from 1996–2010 and a 16% (.5 kg/ha) decrease for corn from 1996–2010. [354] However, this study came under scrutiny because Benbrook did not consider the fact that glyphosate is less toxic than other herbicides, thus net toxicity may decrease even as use increases. [356] [357] Graham Brookes accused Benbrook of subjective herbicide estimates because his data, provided by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, does not distinguish between genetically modified and non-genetically modified crops. Brookes had earlier published a study that found that the use of biotech crops had reduced the volume and environmental impact of herbicide and other pesticides, which contradicted Benbrook. [358] Brookes stated that Benbrook had made "biased and inaccurate" assumptions. [359]


A claimed environmental benefit of Bt-cotton and maize is reduced insecticide use. [360] [361] A PG Economics study concluded that global pesticide use was reduced by 286,000 tons in 2006, decreasing pesticidal environmental impact by 15%. [362] A survey of small Indian farms between 2002 and 2008 concluded that Bt cotton adoption had led to higher yields and lower pesticide use. [363] Another study concluded that insecticide use on cotton and corn during the years 1996 to 2005 fell by 35,600,000 kilograms (78,500,000 lb) of active ingredient, roughly equal to the annual amount applied in the European Union. [364] A Bt cotton study in six northern Chinese provinces from 1990 to 2010 concluded that it halved the use of pesticides and doubled the level of ladybirds, lacewings and spiders and extended environmental benefits to neighbouring crops of maize, peanuts and soybeans. [365] [366]

Resistant insect pests

Resistance evolves naturally after a population has been subjected to selection pressure via repeated use of a single pesticide. [367] In November 2009, Monsanto scientists found that the pink bollworm had become resistant to first generation Bt cotton in parts of Gujarat, India—that generation expresses one Bt gene, Cry1Ac. This was the first instance of Bt resistance confirmed by Monsanto. [368] [369] Similar resistance was later identified in Australia, China, Spain and the US. [370]

One strategy to delay Bt-resistance is to plant pest refuges using conventional crops, thereby diluting any resistant genes. Another is to develop crops with multiple Bt genes that target different receptors within the insect. [371] In 2012, a Florida field trial demonstrated that army worms were resistant to Dupont-Dow's GM corn. This resistance was discovered in Puerto Rico in 2006, prompting Dow and DuPont to stop selling the product there. [372] The European corn borer, one of Bt's primary targets, is also capable of developing resistance. [373]

GM food's economic value to farmers is one of its major benefits, including in developing nations. [374] [375] [376] A 2010 study found that Bt corn provided economic benefits of $6.9 billion over the previous 14 years in five Midwestern states. The majority ($4.3 billion) accrued to farmers producing non-Bt corn. This was attributed to European corn borer populations reduced by exposure to Bt corn, leaving fewer to attack conventional corn nearby. [377] [378] Agriculture economists calculated that "world surplus [increased by] $240.3 million for 1996. Of this total, the largest share (59%) went to U.S. farmers. Seed company Monsanto received the next largest share (21%), followed by US consumers (9%), the rest of the world (6%), and the germplasm supplier, Delta and Pine Land Company (5%)." [379] PG Economics comprehensive 2012 study concluded that GM crops increased farm incomes worldwide by $14 billion in 2010, with over half this total going to farmers in developing countries. [380]

The main Bt crop grown by small farmers in developing countries is cotton. A 2006 review of Bt cotton findings by agricultural economists concluded, "the overall balance sheet, though promising, is mixed. Economic returns are highly variable over years, farm type, and geographical location". [381] However, environmental activist Mark Lynas said that complete rejection of genetic engineering is "illogical and potentially harmful to the interests of poorer peoples and the environment". [382]

In 2013, the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) asked the EU to allow the development of agricultural GM technologies to enable more sustainable agriculture, by employing fewer land, water and nutrient resources. EASAC also criticizes the EU's "timeconsuming and expensive regulatory framework" and said that the EU had fallen behind in the adoption of GM technologies. [383]

Developing nations

Disagreements about developing nations include the claimed need for increased food supplies, [384] [385] [386] and how to achieve such an increase. Some scientists suggest that a second Green Revolution including use of modified crops is needed to provide sufficient food. [387] [388] : 12 The potential for genetically modified food to help developing nations was recognised by the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development, but as of 2008 they had found no conclusive evidence of a solution. [389] [390]

Skeptics such as John Avise claim that apparent shortages are caused by problems in food distribution and politics, rather than production. [391] [392] [393] : 73 Other critics say that the world has so many people because the second green revolution adopted unsustainable agricultural practices that left the world with more mouths to feed than the planet can sustain. [394] Pfeiffer claimed that even if technological farming could feed the current population, its dependence on fossil fuels, which in 2006 he incorrectly predicted would reach peak output in 2010, would lead to a catastrophic rise in energy and food prices. [395] : 1–2

Claimed deployment constraints to developing nations include the lack of easy access, equipment costs and intellectual property rights that hurt developing countries. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an aid and research organization, was praised by the World Bank for its efforts, but the bank recommended that they shift to genetics research and productivity enhancement. Obstacles include access to patents, commercial licenses and the difficulty that developing countries have in accessing genetic resources and other intellectual property. The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture attempted to remedy this problem, but results have been inconsistent. As a result, "orphan crops", such as teff, millets, cowpeas and indigenous plants, which are important in these countries receive little investment. [396]

Writing about Norman Borlaug's 2000 publication Ending world hunger: the promise of biotechnology and the threat of antiscience zealotry, [397] the authors argued that Borlaug's warnings were still true in 2010:

GM crops are as natural and safe as today's bread wheat, opined Dr. Borlaug, who also reminded agricultural scientists of their moral obligation to stand up to the antiscience crowd and warn policy makers that global food insecurity will not disappear without this new technology and ignoring this reality would make future solutions all the more difficult to achieve. [398]


US maize yields were flat until the 1930s, when the adoption of conventional hybrid seeds caused them to increase by

.8 bushels/acre (1937–1955). Thereafter a combination of improved genetics, fertilizer and pesticide availability and mechanization raised the rate of increase to 1.9 bushels per acre per year. In the years since the advent of GM maize, the rate increased slightly to 2.0. [399] Average US maize yields were 174.2 bushels per acre in 2014. [400]

Commercial GM crops have traits that reduce yield loss from insect pressure or weed interference. [401] [402]

2014 review

A 2014 review, concluded that GM crops' effects on farming were positive. [349] According to The Economist, the meta-analysis considered all published English-language examinations of the agronomic and economic impacts between 1995 and March 2014. The study found that herbicide-tolerant crops have lower production costs, while for insect-resistant crops the reduced pesticide use was offset by higher seed prices, leaving overall production costs about the same. [403]

Yields increased 9% for herbicide tolerance and 25% for insect resistance. Farmers who adopted GM crops made 69% higher profits than those who did not. The review found that GM crops help farmers in developing countries, increasing yields by 14 percentage points. [403]

The researchers considered some studies that were not peer-reviewed, and a few that did not report sample sizes. They attempted to correct for publication bias, by considering sources beyond academic journals. The large data set allowed the study to control for potentially confounding variables such as fertiliser use. Separately, they concluded that the funding source did not influence study results. [403]

2010 review

A 2010 article, supported by CropLife International summarised the results of 49 peer reviewed studies. [404] [405] On average, farmers in developed countries increased yields by 6% and 29% in developing countries.

Tillage decreased by 25–58% on herbicide-resistant soybeans. Glyphosate-resistant crops allowed farmers to plant rows closer together as they did not have to control post-emergent weeds with mechanical tillage. [406] Insecticide applications on Bt crops were reduced by 14–76%. 72% of farmers worldwide experienced positive economic results.

2009 review

In 2009, the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group opposed to genetic engineering and cloning of food animals, summarized peer-reviewed studies on the yield contribution of GM soybeans and maize in the US. [407] The report concluded that other agricultural methods had made a greater contribution to national crop yield increases in recent years than genetic engineering.

Wisconsin study

A study unusually published as correspondence rather than as an article examined maize modified to express four traits (resistance to European corn borer, resistance to corn root worm, glyphosate tolerance and glyfosinate tolerance) singly and in combination in Wisconsin fields from 1990–2010. [408] The variance in yield from year to year was reduced, equivalent to a yield increase of 0.8–4.2 bushels per acre. Bushel per acre yield changes were +6.4 for European corn borer resistance, +5.76 for glufosinate tolerance, −5.98 for glyphosate tolerance and −12.22 for corn rootworm resistance. The study found interactions among the genes in multi-trait hybrid strains, such that the net effect varied from the sum of the individual effects. For example, the combination of European corn borer resistance and glufosinate tolerance increased yields by 3.13, smaller than either of the individual traits [409]

Market dynamics

The seed industry is dominated by a small number of vertically integrated firms. [410] [411] In 2011, 73% of the global market was controlled by 10 companies. [412]

In 2001, the USDA reported that industry consolidation led to economies of scale, but noted that the move by some companies to divest their seed operations questioned the long-term viability of these conglomerates. [413] Two economists have said that the seed companies' market power could raise welfare despite their pricing strategies, because "even though price discrimination is often considered to be an unwanted market distortion, it may increase total welfare by increasing total output and by making goods available to markets where they would not appear otherwise." [414]

Market share gives firms the ability to set or influence price, dictate terms, and act as a barrier to entry. It also gives firms bargaining power over governments in policy making. [415] [416] In March 2010, the US Department of Justice and the US Department of Agriculture held a meeting in Ankeny, Iowa, to look at the competitive dynamics in the seed industry. Christine Varney, who heads the antitrust division in the Justice Department, said that her team was investigating whether biotech-seed patents were being abused. [417] A key issue was how Monsanto licenses its patented glyphosate-tolerance trait that was in 93 percent of US soybeans grown in 2009. [418] About 250 family farmers, consumers and other critics of corporate agriculture held a town meeting prior to the government meeting to protest Monsanto's purchase of independent seed companies, patenting seeds and then raising seed prices. [417]

Intellectual property

Traditionally, farmers in all nations saved their own seed from year to year. However, since the early 1900s hybrid crops have been widely used in the developed world and seeds to grow these crops are purchased each year from seed producers. [419] The offspring of the hybrid corn, while still viable, lose hybrid vigor (the beneficial traits of the parents). This benefit of first-generation hybrid seeds is the primary reason for not planting second-generation seed. However, for non-hybrid GM crops, such as GM soybeans, seed companies use intellectual property law and tangible property common law, each expressed in contracts, to prevent farmers from planting saved seed. For example, Monsanto's typical bailment license (covering transfer of the seeds themselves) forbids saving seeds, and also requires purchasers to sign a separate patent license agreement. [420] [421]

Corporations say that they need to prevent seed piracy, to fulfill financial obligations to shareholders, and to finance further development. DuPont spent approximately half its $2 billion research and development (R&D) budget on agriculture in 2011 [422] while Monsanto spends 9–10% of sales on R&D. [423]

Detractors such as Greenpeace say that patent rights give corporations excessive control over agriculture. [424] The Center for Ecoliteracy claimed that "patenting seeds gives companies excessive power over something that is vital for everyone". [425] A 2000 report stated, "If the rights to these tools are strongly and universally enforced - and not extensively licensed or provided pro bono in the developing world – then the potential applications of GM technologies described previously are unlikely to benefit the less developed nations of the world for a long time" (i.e. until after the restrictions expire). [426]

Monsanto has patented its seed and it obligates farmers who choose to buy its seeds to sign a license agreement, obligating them store or sell, but not plant, all the crops that they grow. [189] : 213 [427] : 156

Besides large agri-businesses, in some instances, GM crops are also provided by science departments or research organisations which have no commercial interests. [428]

Lawsuits filed against farmers for patent infringement

Monsanto has filed patent infringement suits against 145 farmers, but proceeded to trial with only 11. [429] In some of the latter, the defendants claimed unintentional contamination by gene flow, but Monsanto won every case. [429] Monsanto Canada's Director of Public Affairs stated, "It is not, nor has it ever been Monsanto Canada's policy to enforce its patent on Roundup Ready crops when they are present on a farmer's field by accident . Only when there has been a knowing and deliberate violation of its patent rights will Monsanto act." [430] In 2009 Monsanto announced that after its soybean patent expires in 2014, it will no longer prohibit farmers from planting soybean seeds that they grow. [431]

One example of such litigation is the Monsanto v. Schmeiser case. [432] This case is widely misunderstood. [433] In 1997, Percy Schmeiser, a canola breeder and grower in Bruno, Saskatchewan, discovered that one of his fields had canola that was resistant to Roundup. He had not purchased this seed, which had blown onto his land from neighboring fields. He later harvested the area and saved the crop in the back of a pickup truck. [432] : para 61 & 62 Before the 1998 planting, Monsanto representatives informed Schmeiser that using this crop for seed would infringe the patent, and offered him a license, which Schmeiser refused. [432] : para 63 [434] According to the Canadian Supreme Court, after this conversation "Schmeiser nevertheless took the harvest he had saved in the pick-up truck to a seed treatment plant and had it treated for use as seed. Once treated, it could be put to no other use. Mr. Schmeiser planted the treated seed in nine fields, covering approximately 1,000 acres in all . A series of independent tests by different experts confirmed that the canola Mr. Schmeiser planted and grew in 1998 was 95 to 98 percent Roundup resistant." [432] : para 63–64 After further negotiations between Schmeiser and Monsanto broke down, Monsanto sued Schmeiser for patent infringement and prevailed in the initial case. Schmeiser appealed and lost, and appealed again to the Canadian Supreme Court, which in 2004 ruled 5 to 4 in Monsanto's favor, stating that "it is clear on the findings of the trial judge that the appellants saved, planted, harvested and sold the crop from plants containing the gene and plant cell patented by Monsanto". [432] : para 68

International trade

GM crops have been the source of international trade disputes and tensions within food-exporting nations over whether introduction of genetically modified crops would endanger exports to other countries. [435]

In Canada in 2010, flax exports to Europe were rejected when traces of an experimental GM flax were found in shipments. [436] This led a member of Parliament to propose Private Member's Bill C-474, which would have required that "an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted". [437] Opponents claimed that "incorporating stringent socio-economic standards into the science-based regulatory system could spell the end of private research funding because if private biotechnology companies can't see the possibility of a return on their investment, they'll invest their research budget elsewhere". [436] The bill was defeated 176 to 97 in 2011. [438]



In 2014, 64 countries required labeling of all GM foods. [439] [440] : 7 These include the European Union, [441] [442] Japan, [443] Australia, [444] New Zealand, [444] Russia, [ citation needed ] China [445] and India. [446] As of March 2015, Israel was in the process of issuing regulations for labeling of food with ingredients from GMOs. [447] [448]

Alaska required labeling of GMO fish and shellfish in 2005, even though no GM fish had been approved by the FDA at the time. [449] A 2014 Vermont law went into effect on July 1, 2016, and some food manufacturers (including General Mills, Mars, Kellogg's, the Campbell Soup Company, PepsiCo, ConAgra, Frito-Lay, and Bimbo Bakeries USA) began distributing products either locally or nationwide with labels such as "Partially produced with Genetic Engineering". [450] [451] Other manufacturers removed about 3,000 non-compliant products from sale in Vermont. [452] [453] The federal government of the United States passed a law at the end of that month pre-empting all state laws, including Vermont's. The law requires labeling regulations to be issued by July 2018, and allows indirect disclosure such as with a phone number, bar code, or web site. [454] It is unclear whether the rules will require labeling of oils and sugars from GM crops, where the final product does not contain any "genetic material" as mentioned in the law. [455]

Prior to the new federal rules taking effect, while it does require pre-market approval, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not required GMO labeling as long as there are no differences in health, environmental safety, and consumer expectations based on the packaging. [456] [457] [458] The federal rules come after GMO labeling was debated in many state legislatures [459] [460] and defeated in popular referendums in Oregon (2002 and 2014), Colorado (2014), [461] California Proposition 37 (2012), and Washington Initiative 522 (2012). Connecticut [462] and Maine [463] had passed laws in 2013 and 2014 respectively, which would have required GMO food labels if Northeast states with a population of at least 20 million had passed similar laws (and for Connecticut, representing at least four states).

Other jurisdictions make such labeling voluntary or have had plans to require labeling. [464] [465] [466] Major GM food crop exporters like the United States (until 2018), Argentina, and Canada have adopted voluntary labeling approaches China and Brazil have major GM (largely non-food) crops and have adopted mandatory labelling. [467]


The American Public Health Association, [468] the British Medical Association [469] and the Public Health Association of Australia [470] support mandatory labeling. The European Commission argued that mandatory labeling and traceability are needed to allow for informed choice, avoid potential misleading of consumers [441] and facilitate the withdrawal of products if adverse effects on health or the environment are discovered. [442] A 2007 study on the effect of labeling laws found that once labeling went into effect, few products continued to contain GM ingredients. The study also found that costs were higher in food-exporting than in food-importing countries. [ clarify ] [ failed verification ]

The American Medical Association (AMA) [10] and the American Association for the Advancement of Science [148] have opposed mandatory labeling absent scientific evidence of harm. The AMA said that even voluntary labeling is misleading unless accompanied by focused consumer education. The AAAS stated that mandatory labeling "can only serve to mislead and falsely alarm consumers".

[Labeling] efforts are not driven by evidence that GM foods are actually dangerous. Indeed, the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe. Rather, these initiatives are driven by a variety of factors, ranging from the persistent perception that such foods are somehow "unnatural" and potentially dangerous to the desire to gain competitive advantage by legislating attachment of a label meant to alarm. Another misconception used as a rationale for labeling is that GM crops are untested. [148]

Objectivity of regulatory bodies

Groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists and Center for Food Safety that have expressed concerns about the FDA's lack of a requirement for additional testing for GMO's, lack of required labeling and the presumption that GMO's are "Generally Recognized as Safe" (GRAS), have questioned whether the FDA is too close to companies that seek approval for their products. [50]

Critics in the U.S. protested the appointment of lobbyists to senior positions in the Food and Drug Administration. Michael R. Taylor, a former Monsanto lobbyist, was appointed as a senior adviser to the FDA on food safety in 1991. After leaving the FDA, Taylor became a vice-president of Monsanto. On 7 July 2009, Taylor returned to government as a senior adviser to the FDA Commissioner. [471]

In 2001, when the Starlink corn recall became public, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was criticized for being slow to react by Joseph Mendelson III of the Center for Food Safety. [472] He also criticized the EPA and Aventis CropScience for statements at the time of the recall, that indicated they did not anticipate that such a thing would happen. [472]

The Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee that reviewed Canada's regulations in 2003 was accused by environmental and citizen groups of not representing the full spectrum of public interests and for being too closely aligned to industry groups. [473]

Most of the Chinese National Biosafety Committee are involved in biotechnology, a situation that led to criticisms that they do not represent a wide enough range of public concerns. [474]

Litigation and regulation disputes

United States

Four federal district court suits have been brought against Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the agency within USDA that regulates genetically modified plants. Two involved field trials (herbicide-tolerant turfgrass in Oregon pharmaceutical-producing corn and sugar in Hawaii) and two the deregulation of GM alfalfa. [475] and GM sugar beet. [476] APHIS lost all four cases at trial, with the judges ruling they failed to diligently follow the guidelines set out in the National Environmental Policy Act. However, the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide ban on GM alfalfa [477] and an appeal court allowed the partial deregulation of GM sugar beets. [478] After APHIS prepared Environmental Impact Statements for both alfalfa and sugar beets they were approved. [479] [480]

In 2014, Maui County, Hawaii approved an initiative calling for a moratorium on GMO production and research. The initiative specified penalties including fines and jail for knowing violations and did not limit its scope to commercial agriculture. [481] [482] The initiative passed by about 50.2 to 47.9 percent. [483]

On December 15, 2015, the New York Times ran an op-ed titled "Are You Eating Frankenfish?", saying that the United States congress will debate whether genetically engineered salmon should be labeled. [484] [485] [486]

European Union

Until the 1990s, Europe's regulation was less strict than in the U.S. [487] In 1998, the use of MON810, a Bt expressing maize conferring resistance to the European corn borer, was approved for commercial cultivation in Europe. However, in the 1990s a series of unrelated food crises created consumer apprehension about food safety in general and eroded public trust in government oversight. A bovine spongiform encephalopathy outbreak was the most publicized. [488] In 1998, a de facto moratorium led to the suspension of approvals of new GMOs in the EU pending the adoption of revised rules.

In the mid-1990s, government approval of some GMO crops in the United States precipitated public concern in Europe and led to a dramatic decrease in American exports to Europe. "Prior to 1997, corn exports to Europe represented about 4% of total US corn exports, generating about $300 million in sales . For example, before 1997, the U.S. sold about 1.75 million tons of corn annually to Spain and Portugal . But in the 1998–99 crop year, Spain bought less than a tenth of the previous year's amount and Portugal bought none at all." [488]

In May 2003, the US and twelve other countries filed a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization that the EU was violating international trade agreements, by blocking imports of US farm products through its ban on GM food. [ citation needed ] The countries argued that the EU's regulatory process was far too slow and its standards were unreasonable given the scientific evidence showing that the crops were safe. The case was lobbied by Monsanto and France's Aventis, as well as by US agricultural groups such as the National Corn Growers Association. In response, in June 2003, the European Parliament ratified a U.N. biosafety protocol regulating international trade in GM food, and in July agreed to new regulations requiring labeling and traceability, as well as an opt-out provision for individual countries. The approval of new GMOs resumed in May 2004. While GMOs have been approved since then, approvals remain controversial and various countries have utilized opt-out provisions. In 2006, the World Trade Organization ruled that the pre-2004 restrictions had been violations, [489] [490] although the ruling had little immediate effect since the moratorium had already been lifted.

In late 2007, the US ambassador to France recommended "moving to retaliation" to cause "some pain" against France and the European Union in an attempt to fight the French ban and changes in European policy toward genetically modified crops, according to a US government diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks. [491] [492]

20 out of 28 European Countries (including Switzerland) said No to GMOs until October 2015. [493] [494] [495]


In May 2014, the Supreme Court of the Australian state of Western Australia dismissed "Marsh v. Baxter". [496] [497] The plaintiff was Steve Marsh, an organic farmer, and the defendant was Michael Baxter, his lifelong neighbour, who grew GM canola. [498] In late 2010, Marsh found seeds from Baxter's crop in his fields. Later, Marsh found escaped GM canola growing amidst his crop. Marsh reported the seed and plants to his local organic certification board, and lost the organic certification of some 70 per cent of his 478 hectare farm. [496] Marsh sued on the grounds that Baxter used a method of harvesting his crop that was substandard and negligent, and on the basis that his land had been widely contaminated. [496] In its summary judgment, the court found that approximately 245 cut canola plants were blown by the wind into Marsh's property, Eagle's Rest. [497] : 2 However, Baxter's method (swathing) was "orthodox and well accepted harvest methodology". [497] : 5 "In 2011, eight GM canola plants were found to have grown up as self-sown volunteer plants on Eagle Rest", which "were identified and pulled out", and "no more volunteer RR canola plants grew on Eagle Rest in subsequent years". [497] : 4 The summary judgment stated that the loss of organic certification "was occasioned by the erroneous application of governing NASAA Standards applicable to NASAA organic operators as regards GMOs (genetically modified organisms) at the time". [497] : 4 and that "[t]he absence of a reliable underlying evidentiary platform to support a perpetual injunction against swathing was a significant deficiency". [497] : 6

On June 18, 2014, Marsh announced that he had filed an appeal. [499] One ground was the costs of $803,989 awarded against him. The appeal hearing commenced on 23 March 2015 and was adjourned on 25 March "to deal with an order to ascertain whether Mr Baxter's defence has been financially supported by GM-seed supplier Monsanto and/or the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA)". [500] [501] The Court of Appeal subsequently dismissed the appeal and ordered Marsh to pay Baxter's costs. [502]


A petition filed May 17, 2013, by environmental group Greenpeace Southeast Asia and farmer-scientist coalition Masipag (Magsasaka at Siyentipiko sa Pagpapaunlad ng Agrikultura) asked the appellate court to stop the planting of Bt eggplant in test fields, saying the impacts of such an undertaking to the environment, native crops and human health are still unknown. The Court of Appeals granted the petition, citing the precautionary principle stating "when human activities may lead to threats of serious and irreversible damage to the environment that is scientifically plausible but uncertain, actions shall be taken to avoid or diminish the threat". [503] Respondents filed a motion for reconsideration in June 2013 and on September 20, 2013 the Court of Appeals chose to uphold their May decision saying the bt talong field trials violate the people's constitutional right to a "balanced and healthful ecology". [504] [505] The Supreme Court on December 8, 2015, permanently stopped the field testing for Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) talong (eggplant), upholding the decision of the Court of Appeals which stopped the field trials for the genetically modified eggplant. [506]

Innovation in technology and regulatory law

The first genetically modified crops were made with transgenic approaches, introducing foreign genes and sometimes using bacteria to transfer the genes. In the US, these foreign genetic elements placed the resulting plant under the jurisdiction of the USDA under the Plant Protection Act. [507] [508] However, as of 2010, newer genetic engineering technologies like genome editing have allowed scientists to modify plant genomes without adding foreign genes, thus escaping USDA regulation. [507] Critics have called for regulation to be changed to keep up with changing technology. [507]

See Farmer Assurance Provision. (This bill is commonly referred to as the "Monsanto Protection Act" by its critics. [509] [510] [511] )

In 2002, in the midst of a famine, Zambia refused emergency food aid that contained food from genetically modified crops, based on the precautionary principle. [512]

During a conference in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, Kingsley Amoako, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), encouraged African nations to accept GM food and expressed dissatisfaction in the public's negative opinion of biotechnology. [513]

Studies for Uganda showed that transgenic bananas had a high potential to reduce rural poverty but that urban consumers with a relatively higher income might reject them. [514] [515]

Critics claimed that shipment of US food to southern Africa was more about promoting the adoption of biotech crops in the region than about hunger. The US was supplying Africa with meals and support during a food crisis they were facing in the early 2000s. However, once some of the African countries realized that these shipments contained GM maize, they rejected the shipments and stopped releasing the food that had been sent to them. Critics accused the US of "exploiting the Southern African famine as a public relations tool". The U.S. countered these comments by saying that European nations were letting millions of Africans suffer from hunger and starvation because of "irrational fears over hypothetical and unproven risks". The US had a pre-GMO policy of shipping US crops as food aid, rather than buying crops in/near the countries that needed aid. The US policy was claimed to be more costly than Europe's. [516]

India is an agrarian country with around 60% of its people depending directly or indirectly upon agriculture. From 1995 to 2013, a total of 296,438 farmers have killed themselves in India, or an average of 16,469 suicides per year. [517] During the same period, about 9.5 million people died per year in India from other causes including malnutrition, diseases and suicides that were non-farming related, or about 171 million deaths from 1995 to 2013. [518] Activists and scholars have offered a number of conflicting reasons for farmer suicides, such as monsoon failure, high debt burdens, genetically modified crops, government policies, public mental health, personal issues and family problems. [519] [520] [521] There are also accusations of states reporting inaccurate data on farmer suicides. [522] [523]

In India, GM cotton yields in Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu resulted in an average 42% increase in yield in 2002, the first year of commercial planting. A severe drought in Andhra Pradesh that year prevented any increase in yield, because the GM strain was not drought tolerant. [524] Drought-tolerant variants were later developed. Driven by substantially reduced losses to insect predation, by 2011 88% of Indian cotton was modified. [525] There are economic and environmental benefits of GM cotton to farmers in India. [526] [527] A study from 2002 through 2008 on the economic impacts of Bt cotton in India, showed that Bt cotton increased yields, profits and living standards of smallholder farmers. [528] However, recently cotton bollworm has been developing resistance to Bt cotton. Consequently, in 2012 Maharashtra banned Bt cotton and ordered an independent socioeconomic study of its use. [529] Indian regulators cleared the Bt brinjal, a genetically modified eggplant, for commercialisation in October 2009. After opposition by some scientists, farmers and environmental groups, a moratorium was imposed on its release in February 2010 "for as long as it is needed to establish public trust and confidence". [530] [531] [532]

As of 1 January 2013, all foods containing GMOs must be labelled. The Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 2011 states that "every package containing the genetically modified food shall bear at the top of its principal display panel the letters 'GM.'" The rules apply to 19 products including biscuits, breads, cereals and pulses, and a few others. The law faced criticism from consumer rights activists as well as from the packaged-food industry both sides had major concerns that no logistical framework or regulations had been established to guide the law's implementation and enforcement. On March 21, 2014, the Indian government revalidated 10 GM-based food crops and allowed field trials of GM food crops, including wheat, rice and maize. [533]

  1. ^"Proposals for managing the coexistence of GM, conventional and organic crops Response to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs consultation paper" (PDF) . Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. October 2006.
  2. ^ ab
  3. "Statement on Genetically Modified Organisms in the Environment and the Marketplace". Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. October 2013. Archived from the original on March 26, 2014 . Retrieved March 25, 2014 .
  4. ^
  5. "Genetically Modified Maize: Doctors' Chamber Warns of "Unpredictable Results" to Humans". PR Newswire. November 11, 2013.
  6. ^
  7. "IDEA Position on Genetically Modified Foods". Irish Doctors' Environmental Association. Archived from the original on March 26, 2014 . Retrieved March 25, 2014 .
  8. ^
  9. "Report 2 of the Council on Science and Public Health: Labeling of Bioengineered Foods" (PDF) . American Medical Association. 2012. p. 7. To better detect potential harms of bioengineered foods, the Council believes that pre-market safety assessment should shift from a voluntary notification process to a mandatory requirement
  10. ^ abc
  11. Hollingworth RM, Bjeldanes LF, Bolger M, Kimber I, Meade BJ, Taylor SL, Wallace KB (January 2003). "The safety of genetically modified foods produced through biotechnology". Toxicological Sciences. 71 (1): 2–8. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/71.1.2 . PMID12520069.
  12. ^ ab
  13. "Substantial Equivalence in Food Safety Assessment" (PDF) . Council for Biotechnology Information. March 11, 2001. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 6, 2009.
  14. ^ abcd
  15. Winter CK, Gallegos LK (2006). "Safety of Genetically Engineered Food" (PDF) . University of California Agricultural and Natural Resource Service. ANR Publication 8180.
  16. ^ abcd
  17. Kuiper HA, Kleter GA, Noteborn HP, Kok EJ (December 2002). "Substantial equivalence – an appropriate paradigm for the safety assessment of genetically modified foods?". Toxicology. 181–182: 427–31. doi:10.1016/S0300-483X(02)00488-2. PMID12505347.
  18. ^ ab
  19. "Report 2 of the Council on Science and Public Health: Labeling of Bioengineered Foods" (PDF) . American Medical Association. 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 7, 2012. Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature. (first page)
  20. ^ ab United States Institute of Medicine and National Research Council (2004). Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects. National Academies Press. Free full-text. National Academies Press. pp R9-10: "In contrast to adverse health effects that have been associated with some traditional food production methods, similar serious health effects have not been identified as a result of genetic engineering techniques used in food production. This may be because developers of bioengineered organisms perform extensive compositional analyses to determine that each phenotype is desirable and to ensure that unintended changes have not occurred in key components of food."
  21. ^ abc
  22. Key S, Ma JK, Drake PM (June 2008). "Genetically modified plants and human health". Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 101 (6): 290–8. doi:10.1258/jrsm.2008.070372. PMC2408621 . PMID18515776. +pp 292-293. Foods derived from GM crops have been consumed by hundreds of millions of people across the world for more than 15 years, with no reported ill effects (or legal cases related to human health), despite many of the consumers coming from that most litigious of countries, the USA.
  23. ^ abc
  24. Nicolia, Alessandro Manzo, Alberto Veronesi, Fabio Rosellini, Daniele (2013). "An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research" (PDF) . Critical Reviews in Biotechnology. 34 (1): 77–88. doi:10.3109/07388551.2013.823595. PMID24041244. S2CID9836802. We have reviewed the scientific literature on GE crop safety for the last 10 years that catches the scientific consensus matured since GE plants became widely cultivated worldwide, and we can conclude that the scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazard directly connected with the use of GM crops.

The presented articles suggesting possible harm of GMOs received high public attention. However, despite their claims, they actually weaken the evidence for the harm and lack of substantial equivalency of studied GMOs. We emphasize that with over 1783 published articles on GMOs over the last 10 years it is expected that some of them should have reported undesired differences between GMOs and conventional crops even if no such differences exist in reality.

When seeking to optimise the balance between benefits and risks, it is prudent to err on the side of caution and, above all, learn from accumulating knowledge and experience. Any new technology such as genetic modification must be examined for possible benefits and risks to human health and the environment. As with all novel foods, safety assessments in relation to GM foods must be made on a case-by-case basis.

Members of the GM jury project were briefed on various aspects of genetic modification by a diverse group of acknowledged experts in the relevant subjects. The GM jury reached the conclusion that the sale of GM foods currently available should be halted and the moratorium on commercial growth of GM crops should be continued. These conclusions were based on the precautionary principle and lack of evidence of any benefit. The Jury expressed concern over the impact of GM crops on farming, the environment, food safety and other potential health effects.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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For Consumers

  1. Should consumers with celiac disease only be searching for foods labeled as “gluten-free” to consume safely in their diets?

Not necessarily. Consumers with celiac disease should read and scrutinize labels to avoid gluten ingredients. “Gluten-free” is a voluntary claim that manufacturers can use in food labeling, provided that those foods meet all requirements for a “gluten-free” food. Some manufacturers may specially process or reformulate foods to be free of gluten and to be eligible to bear a “gluten-free” labeling claim. However, producers of foods that are by nature free of gluten (e.g., bottled spring water, fresh fruits and vegetables, and fresh seafood) may choose not to label these foods as “gluten-free” even though the foods could be consumed as part of a “gluten-free” diet. For foods that are by nature free of gluten, but are at higher risk of gluten cross-contact (e.g., products made from grains, legumes, and seeds), the appearance of a “gluten-free” claim on the labels would provide consumers with the expectation that, if any gluten were present, it would be present at less than 20 ppm in final product. Persons with celiac disease, especially those who may be sensitive to these low levels of gluten, and persons who are otherwise sensitive to gluten should seek the advice of their health care providers for selecting appropriate foods they can consume following a gluten-free diet.

If you think that you or a family member has an injury or illness that you believe is associated with having eaten a particular food, including individuals with food allergies and those with celiac disease, contact your healthcare provider immediately. Keep any food packages because they may contain important information. Also, suspected foodborne illness or labeling concerns may be reported to FDA in either of these ways:

  • Consumers can submit a report using FDA’s MedWatch Online reporting form for consumers, which can be found here:
  • Consumers and manufacturers can submit reports detailing product reactions to an FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator for the state where the food was purchased. A list of FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators is available, or search for “consumer complaint coordinator” at You can also call FDA at 1-888-SAFEFOOD.

Reports submitted to FDA should include as much information as possible, such as:

  • Who is reporting the incident and who was affected? Please provide names, addresses, and phone numbers.
  • The name and address of the place where the product was purchased.
  • A clear description of the reaction, including:
    • Date the reaction occurred.
    • All symptoms experienced.
    • How long after you ate or drank the product that the reaction occurred.
    • Medications used to treat symptoms.
    • Whether the reaction required further medical care, and if so, what kind. Please provide contact information for the doctor or hospital.
    • Date of purchase.
    • Any codes or identifying marks on the label or container, such as lot number, expiration date, and UPC code.
    • Photos of the product, label, ingredient statement, and lot code.

    FDA’s regulation applies to packaged foods. FDA will monitor any reported information related to unpackaged food and share any complaints received about unpackaged foods, such as those served in restaurants, with state and local government partners.

    No. A manufacturer may make a wide variety of foods, including those that are “gluten-free” and those that contain gluten. Manufacturers can voluntarily use the “gluten-free” claim to clearly inform consumers about which of their foods complies with FDA’s gluten-free regulation.

    The regulation applies to packaged foods, which may be sold in some retail and food-service establishments such as some carry-out restaurants. However, given the public health significance of “gluten-free” labeling, we recommend restaurants making a “gluten-free” claim on their menus to be consistent with our “gluten-free” definition.


    Genetically modified (GM) foods are often met with harsh public opposition, though little research has attempted to understand why this is. The research that does exist has focused on identifying the role of immutable beliefs, such as morality and politics, which are difficult to change. Therefore, research may benefit from identifying mutable predictors of science rejection—predictors which can be modified through interventions—so efforts can be made to increase public support for scientific advancements. Here we present four studies in which we investigate a lack of domain-specific science literacy—literacy of GM technology—as a strong and unique predictor of GM food skepticism. Results from Studies 1 and 2 demonstrated that knowledge of GM technology is a unique predictor of GM food attitudes above general science knowledge and demographic controls. Study 3 (preregistered) demonstrates that the unique predictive value of GM-specific knowledge replicates in the US, the UK, and the Netherlands. In Study 4, we sought to overcome this lack of knowledge by teaching people the basic science behind GM technology using a five-week, longitudinal experimental design. Results showed that learning about the science behind GM technology leads to more positive explicit attitudes towards GM foods, greater willingness to eat GM products, and lowered perceptions of GM foods as risky. Thus, the present results provide some support for the deficit model of science attitudes within the context of GM foods. These results also provide a relatively simple mold for future interventions to overcome GM skepticism, suggesting that researchers and scientists may wish to focus on communicating the basic science behind GM technology and increasing science literacy.

    Additional Sources:

    1 Transgenic pollen harms monarch larvae (Nature, Vol 399, No 6733, p 214, May 20, 1999)

    2 New tools for chloroplast genetic engineering (Nature Biotechnology, Vol 17, No 9, pp 855-856, Sep 1999)

    3 Tandem constructs: preventing the rise of superweeds (Trends in Biotechnology, Vol 17, No 9, pp 361-366, Sep 1999)

    4 Containment of herbicide resistance through genetic engineering of the chloroplast genome (Nature Biotechnology, Vol 16, No 4, pp 345-348, Apr 1998)

    5 Efforts to bioengineer intrinsic resistance to insect pests into crop plants have made use of a natural bacterial toxin, Bt, from Bacillus thuringiensis Berliner (Science, Vol 284, No 5416, p 873, May 1999)

    6 Inheritance of Resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis Toxin (Dipel ES) in the European Corn Borer (Science, Vol 284, No 5416, pp 965-967, May 1999)

    8 GM crops: public perception and scientific solutions (Trends in Plant Science, Vol 4, No 12, pp 467-469, Dec 1999)

    9 Smith, JM. Genetic Roulette. Fairfield: Yes Books.2007. p.10

    10 Hill, AB. The environment and disease: association or causation? Proceeding of the Royal Society of Medicine 1965 58:295-300.

    11 Finamore A, Roselli M, Britti S, et al. Intestinal and peripheral immune response to MON 810 maize ingestion in weaning and old mice. J Agric. Food Chem. 2008 56(23):11533-11539.

    12 Malatesta M, Boraldi F, Annovi G, et al. A long-term study on female mice fed on a genetically modified soybean:effects on liver ageing. Histochem Cell Biol. 2008 130:967-977.

    13 Velimirov A, Binter C, Zentek J. Biological effects of transgenic maize NK603xMON810 fed in long term reproduction studies in mice. Report-Federal Ministry of Health, Family and Youth. 2008.

    14 Ewen S, Pustzai A. Effects of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine.Lancet. 354:1353-1354.

    15 Kilic A, Aday M. A three generational study with genetically modified Bt corn in rats: biochemical and histopathological investigation. Food Chem. Toxicol. 2008 46(3):1164-1170.

    16 Kroghsbo S, Madsen C, Poulsen M, et al. Immunotoxicological studies of genetically modified rice expression PHA-E lectin or Bt toxin in Wistar rats. Toxicology. 2008 245:24-34.