Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be present in many processed foods, especially those containing conventionally-grown soy, corn and canola products. Some produce may also be genetically modified. In general, in the U.S. such foods are not labeled as containing GMOs. Even stores that specialize in "natural" or "organic" foods, such as the Davis Food Co-op, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods Market sell some products containing GMOs. However, Whole Foods has promised to label genetically engineered ingredients in its American and Canadian stores by 2018. Also, several local stores (Davis Food Co-op, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's) have signed on to the Friends of the Earth Pledge for GE-Free Seafood, which asks grocers to commit to the following: "It is our policy to not knowingly purchase or sell genetically engineered (GE) salmon or other GE seafood, should it come to market."
Davis is the historic birthplace of the commercial GMO! The first modern GMO to be put on the food market was the Flavr Savr Tomato created by the Davis-based Calgene LLC. Calgene was later bought out by GMO giant Monsanto which continues its operations in Davis and Woodland to this day.
Davis was also the literal breeding ground for the first square tomato, but this was created well before the development of modern gene manipulation techniques.
There is a ballot initiative campaign to label GM foods in California, with a local group that meets in Davis every Thursday from 7 to 8 p.m. in the clubhouse at Eleanor Roosevelt Circle, 675 Cantrill Drive. They collected signatures at the Davis Farmers Market. Combined with statewide efforts, enough signatures were gathered to officially create Proposition 37, which will be put to the vote on November 6, 2012. The Occupy Monsanto movement will once again protest the Davis location on September 17th, in large part to draw awareness to the proposition.
See also: Biotechnology
(Much of this discussion began on the Whole Foods Market page and was moved from there).
It is interesting to note that humans have been genetically modifying foods for thousands of years through selective breeding. Some people have ethical concerns about the more advanced direct molecular modification that can be used today.
- I think there is a big difference between selective breeding, which chooses breeding pairs from among members of the same species or members of related species (if possible for those species, as it is possible for many plants species), and between today's GMOs, where one can introduce DNA from one species into a very distantly related species (the classic example being a fish gene introduced into a tomato, which shows the possibility of, and interest in, producing such products). —CovertProfessor
- What is the disadvantage to doing so, if any? —IDoNotExist
- Well, one risk is that someone could introduce a gene from a species that someone is allergic to into a species that someone is not allergic (or sensitive) to. If GMOs were labeled properly, this might not be an issue, but in the U.S., the industry has fought labeling tooth-and-nail, and won. This is far less likely to happen with related species, where if you were allergic to one, you would probably be allergic to another. It also raises the likelihood of unintended side effects. Genes cannot just be swapped in and out like beads on a string. Genes affect the expression of other genes, and you don't necessarily know what you're going to get; you're trying to get trait A and you do, but you also end up getting traits C, D, and E. Finally, some GMOs raise other possibilities, such as the creation of superweeds if pesticide or herbicide resistance is transferred from one plant species to another through gene flow. These may all sound like alarmist, worst-case scenarios, but they seem like scenarios worth taking seriously, and U.S. industries don't have a great track record, IMO. It's usually deploy first, withdraw later when the bad effects show up, fight the lawsuits as necessary. —CovertProfessor
- Actually there is a LOT of regulation to protect against unintended Gene Flow. I know for experiments with GM plants by labs I've worked for, we have to plant a "buffer" zone which actually ends up having more plants than the ones we are testing. The intention is to plant non GM plants that are never consumed but are going to be where winds and bugs cross pollinate to. This way by the time a lone bee makes it across the field from the center, it has discarded the pollen from the GM plants. The bigger issue is in small farms that don't have the money to do this or farmers doing seed swaps. The concerns about this are one reason why I think terminator genes are worth toying around with...though they present more of those nasty political and socio-economic qualms.—oy
- If the regulation against unintended gene flow is so good, then why can small amounts of modified organisms be found among supposedly non-GMOs? —CovertProfessor
- GMO grass has established itself as far as 3.8 kilometers downwind of a test bed; spraying RoundUp "...could enhance introgression of CP4 EPSPS transgenes and additional establishment. Obligatory outcrossing and vegetative spread could further contribute to persistence of CP4 EPSPS transgenes in wild Agrostis populations, both in the presence or absence of herbicide selection." That's "gene flow," and since grasses and canola/rape are very hard to control anyway, there's significant concern about undesirable traits spreading, with unintended but bad consequences. —DougWalter
- I admit this is something where, most of the time, regulations or "suggestions" aren't followed. I think that "terminator technology" i.e. modifying a plant so it can't reproduce is a promising idea for controlling gene flow. It also is appealing to businesses for the control aspect. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_use_restriction_technology Any thoughts? I'm not sold on this issue one way or the other so it would be interesting to get more discussion about it.
- I think this piece sums up pretty well the problems with terminator technology, especially if it's true that the reason for doing GM technology is to feed the world's people (instead of, e.g., making money for Monsanto et al.) —cp
- Regulation is ineffective. Just look at the Starlink case. There was little to no enforcement, communication, etc. and everybody at every level (the farmers, Aventis, the EPA, processors, the people at the grain elevators) pushed the blame and responsibility onto everybody else. I suggest reading Marion Nestle to learn more about the politics of food safety and exactly how far companies will go to keep consumers from knowing what they are putting into their bodies. —MeggoWaffle
- I hate regulation as a rule but that's a completely different issue. The starlink case though is an example of people in the food industry being deceptive and evil. Same thing happened with baby formula and dog food coming out of China in the last few years and has been happening since the 1930s when companies were putting sawdust into boxed cereal. While this is certainly a case of GM food getting used for human consumption when it shouldn't have been, that's less on GM and more on shady business practice in general I think. That's a whole different can of worms. Good case for buying local though! Know your food suppliers.—oy
- Point taken, but I still recommend Nestle. She presents some interesting information about the differences in the way scientists approach risk versus the public. Each define risk in different ways. I guess I would characterize one as a value-based approach while the other is simply based on cost/benefit analysis. An interesting read about how corporations invoke the science-based approach to obscure their own interests. -Megan
- While the political/economic issue is too difficult to wrangle on the wiki, the human health issue is more or less moot at this point. The reality is GMO food is 100% safe itself. The elements that comprise DNA are universal across every organism on the planet and 100% "organic". There has been a large push by some groups to label these things as "frankenfoods" and mark them as unnatural. This is not the case since you are dealing with the same basic elements that make up the food on its own. There are only two valid health concerns for GMOs. 1. Allergens. DNA functions as a blueprint to make proteins. Sometimes humans react to these proteins and have allergic reactions—peanuts for example. So most GM products avoid using DNA sequences that make proteins from foods known to be highly allergenic. Someone tried to use a Brazil Nut protein once and while that specific protein might not trigger allergies, it's still a bad idea. Thankfully there are a number of rigorous tests that the food undergoes to determine if the proteins introduced are likely to be an allergen or cause other digestive issues. If they don't pass, the product never goes through. I think this is a good reason to label GM foods so those who might have strange allergies (say pineapple) can avoid risks but not a good enough reason to ban them completely. 2. Overexposure The problem with plants given increased resistance to herbicides or pesticides isn't the plants themselves. It's that the farmers can now use 5x the level of pesticide on the plants which could potentially be toxic to us through accumulated exposure. There are other concerns regarding patents, Monsanto's aggressive prosecution of IP theft and preserving farms that desire to be GM free from cross pollination that are issues but they have nothing to do with health. These get a lot more into ethical/ideological questions of what is property, how far does one individual's rights extend etc etc. Too political for me to discuss on the wiki. —oy
- Thanks for the good explanation! —IDoNotExist
- Just because all organisms have DNA, it is still the case that different genes have different effects in different contexts. There is no way that you can support your claim that GMOs are "100% safe" on that basis. (Note that I haven't said anything about what counts as "organic" or "natural"). As for the allergens, as I said already, if these things were getting labeled that would be less of an issue, but they aren't being labeled. That is a big part of the problem, IMO. If things were labeled, people could choose whether they wanted to eat the stuff or not for whatever reasons they chose. But because it's not being labeled, people aren't given a choice. Many people don't know that they are already consuming GMOs on a regular basis. It shouldn't be for others to decide what we put in our mouths, which goes to NickSchmalenberger's point below about knowing where your food comes from being the best way to be able to make the choices you want and to have some confidence about what you're eating. —CovertProfessor
- My claim for 100% safe is that the gene coding is never for anything inherently toxic to humans. That gets screened out rather effectively through rigorous testing. When it comes down to the tomato in question, all that matters is that there aren't any new proteins being expressed that can make us sick. Allergens are person specific and I completely agree with you there on the labeling. Conversely I can understand why the food industry fights it from some focus groups I've seen. Not saying they are right—I still think the stuff needs to be labeled, I just understand why they don't want it to be. It's a tricky situation. I just want people to stop thinking they're going to sprout tentacles! Anyway said my two cents but maybe this should be moved off the WF page? Could just as easily be a matter for Trader Joes or the Co-op to deal with too.—oy
- I guess when I see all the medications — all rigorously tested — that end up being withdrawn from the market because they are later determined to be unsafe, I am not all that confident that testing will turn up the problems in the relevant samples over the course of the testing period. If I thought that GMOs were necessary, I might be more willing to tolerate the risk, but this is another point on which we disagree, I guess. Anyway, I agree that this should be moved off, except the very first two paragraphs above. Should we have a special "GMOs" page? —cp
- Sounds good to me on the page! —oy
I really really want to participate in this, but I have to wait two weeks... Daubert
Are you undergoing rigorous testing for allergic reactions before being released to the public? —tg
There's so much more to GMO's than just herbicide resistance. I absolutely hate it when Monsanto becomes the focus of agricultural biotech or it focuses on herbicide resistance. I truly believe GM is the future. People always think of plants and meats, but bacterial-produced goods!! There is so much research in trying to rewire bacteria to be able to create compounds, chemicals, drugs, food products that we'd want to harvest. People eat fermented products all the time, but what about if those bacteria and yeasts were modified to do more? Add some more nutrients, proteins, etc. Also, again, think beyond herbicide resistance. Golden Rice! How long have we all been waiting for it to go public? (BTW, a study from UCD published in Science newsroom article found that it did also reduce pesticide usage, but that wasn't the point: it was to fortify a staple food). I can only dream of what'll be available and done 100 years from now. Recombinant DNA wasn't published until 72/73. The fish tomato thing was from the late 80's, and they asked for a field trial in 1991 (interestingly, in Contra Costa County). And that's the end of the story. The goal was to create a tomato that was more resistant to frost/freezing. Nothing came of it, other than it turning into an iconic strawman. They were using relatively new technology then. In 1990, the human genome project was expected to take 15 years. Sequencing was insane, crazy, and expensive. It's a lot simpler now, with new genomes being published all the time. Sequencing your own genome went from millions to hundreds of thousands to soon thousands. I can understand the wanting to regulate and mark GMO foods completely. I'm just opposed to trying to outright ban GMO's, because I think it's a stupid thing to do. Science advances with leaps and bounds, and to shut down a future avenue that has the potential to do so much good for this planet is stupid. And biotechnology really can be the future. /rant -ES
- Well said! It's too bad that GMOs are often viewed as Frankenfood, but I can't blame an ignorant general public too much for being suspicious of new food technology, especially in light of gunk like artificial transfat that really does hurt the perception of food biotech for what are probably legitimate reasons. But to even go as far as to slightly contradict myself, here is an example of Monsanto creating products intending products to actually be healthier: http://mobile.foodanddrinkeurope.com//Retail/Monsanto-oil-to-cut-the-trans-fat-content -SM