What Everybody Ought to Know About GMO Labeling
The GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) are the organisms with the genetically engineered genetic material. While it sounds absolute scientific and safe, there have been controversies about GMO's food safety. In lack of sufficient awareness, there is a general hesitation if GMO's are safe to eat. In the United States, the regulation of GMOs falls under United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with each agency dealing with different regions of regulations. The EPA evaluates for ecological safety. USDA assesses if something is safe to grow whereas FDA decides if it is safe to eat. The EPA mandates that crop growers obtain the license and it regulates GMOs those contain a pesticide, like B. thuringiensis. The USDA regulates by conducting a field testing before release. The USDA also runs groups responsible for evaluating and monitoring GMO crops for safety. These groups may destroy the products and can stop the growing or movement of suspected crops.
Under FDA regulation, a genetically modified plant does not need a license if it meets the following
Is not a harmful weed
The genetic material that was infused is stably incorporated into the plants own genes
The operational behavior of the introduced gene is well known and does not cause plant disease.
Is not toxic to non-target organisms.
Will not cause the production of new plant viruses.
Does not contain genetic material from human or animal pathogen.
The firms creating genetically modified food do not have to consult with FDA for testing of the grown GMO material since the FDA does not test the products but instead, it sets the guidelines for safer food and drugs. Since 1992, the FDA has claimed no testing is necessary and considered GMOs as safe. This however, triggered questions like are GMOs the biggest experimentation on humans without their knowledge? Should GMOs be labeled? The FDA though doesn't demand to label the foods that are genetically modified, with the reasoning that they are substantially equivalent to non-GMO foods.
Safety is the most controversial facet of GMO production. There are concerns about allergy, transfer of antibiotic resistant markers along with other unknown effects. Also, there are concerns like is there a possibility of ecological effects on other organisms i.e. possible transfer of trans-genes through cross-pollination, loss of flora or fauna along with biodiversity?
In 1996, Monsanto introduced Roundup ready crops those were genetically modified to resist Roundup and in beginning, soya beans, followed by corn were tested for being Roundup ready crops. (Roundup is the brand-name of a herbicide produced by Monsanto, with active ingredient Glyphosate).
Glyphosate traverses rapidly within plants and gathers in meristems growth areas. It then inhibits protein synthesis and targeted plants do not grow. While this herbicide was primarily invented to control unwanted plants within crops, they actually affected the main crop as well. Such crop while contaminating groundwater by infiltration through wells, it also is damaging to foraging animals. Also, glyphosate is known to remove minerals from the soil once sprayed. This necessitated the need for Roundup Ready i.e. GMO modified crops so that effect of glyphosate limits within unwanted weeds and not on the main crop, however at the cost of being “GMOed”!
The question still remains, what if and when GMOs would be labeled ?
Renu Joshi, Ph. D.