The ABCs of GMOs

Karen Adler's picture

By Karen Adler, OFRF Research Consultant

The writing is on the wall—and in newspapers, magazines, and all over the internet. Most Americans want GMO labeling—93 percent, according to this New York Times survey. Even Family Circle magazine weighed in citing their poll showing that 99 percent of their readers want labeling. It’s already heating up for 2014, with Maine becoming the second state to require GMO labels, and more than half of U.S. states with pending labeling legislation. And how about industrial food giant General Mills ringing in the New Year by announcing that they will soon take their iconic Cheerios GMO-free? (Never mind that Cheerios, being made mostly from oats, are almost GMO-free already, since there are no genetically modified oats.) What really makes this big news is that General Mills identified a consumer desire of a magnitude that is driving them to jumpstart this bandwagon on a grand scale.

With all the debates raging, basic information about genetically engineered, or genetically modified organisms—GMOs—has been lost in the shuffle. Here are some fast facts to set the record straight.

Myth: Genetic engineering is improving the quality and nutrition of our food.

Fact: Most genetic engineering in agriculture is used to grow plants that can live with direct application of the toxic herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) or to produce an insecticide. While at least one GE product, golden rice, is designed to improve nutrition, it is as yet unproven and unapproved for agricultural use.

 Myth: Genetic engineering is a form of what farmers have always done in breeding crops.

Fact: Genetic engineering is not an extension of conventional breeding. Conventional breeding develops new plant varieties by the process of selection, seeking expression of genetic material already present within a species.

Fact: Genetic engineering works primarily through insertion of genetic material. Through genetic engineering, material can be and is inserted from unprecedented sources, including materials from species, families, and even kingdoms that could not previously be sources of genetic material, as well as custom-designed genes that do not exist in nature.

Fact: These experimental combinations of genes from different species cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.

     Myth: GMO’s will feed the world by increasing yields.

     Fact: Despite claims that we need GMOs to “feed the world,” there is mounting evidence that this  technology is not living up to the promises of its supporters and manufacturers. USDA-funded research at the University of Wisconsin comparing crop yields from various varieties of corn shows that while some genetically modified varieties delivered small yield gains, others did not. “Several even showed lower yields than non-GM counterparts,” reports Tom Philpott in Mother Jones, with both the glyphosate-tolerant (Roundup Ready) and the Bt trait for corn rootworm causing yields to drop. With the exception of one trait, researchers said “…we were surprised not to find strongly positive transgenic yield effects.”

And here’s the most important fact of all: the use of GMOs is prohibited in organic production and handling.

There is already a GMO-free label, and that is organic!       

Breaking news: Tell the FDA to Deny Approval of 2,4-D resistant seeds

The USDA is poised to fast-track the approval of new GM seeds that are resistant to the highly toxic herbicide 2,4-D, also known as “agent orange,” the notorious defoliant that was used in Vietnam. OFRF believes these crops, if approved, will lead farmers to use more toxic pesticides in greater quantities. They also threaten organic farming though pesticide and genetic drift, as well as the creation of “superweeds” that know no property boundaries. The time to act is now!

 

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