The inconvenient truth about GMO labeling

posted in: Commentary | 56

GMO-label-shutterstockOver the past few months, there have been several big stories on the labeling of GMOs: Chipotle, a chain of restaurants popular in the United States declared that they were going to eliminate GMOs from their menu. A perhaps more interesting story is that the USDA stated that they would  start providing a verification program for companies whose products are non-GMO.

In writing and researching GMO labeling bills proposed in different states and nations as well as looking into companies that have decided to take the non-GMO plunge, the one factor that stands out more than any other is what each of these entities choose to define as “GMO”. I use the word “choose”, because that’s what it boils down to. There’s no single definition on what is or is not a GMO, so companies and legislators get to decide how to define it. From a molecular biology perspective, a transgenic animal or crop is one where a gene from an unrelated species is added to another. But the term “GMO” as used in the current debate doesn’t have a clear definition.

For example, is milk derived from a cow that is fed GM-grain a GMO? According to the Non-GMO Project, an organization that certifies ingredients as non-GMO, milk from a cow fed GM-grain cannot be certified as non-GMO. GMO Inside, one of the organizations leading efforts to label, also abides by this definition. The USDA’s Organic label also adheres to these standards. The Food Babe used the same criteria in her campaign against “Monsanto Milk” in Starbucks beverages. However, Ben & Jerry’s, an ice cream company and one of the first large organizations to declare that it was going GMO-free and supports labelingsources its milk from cows fed GM-grain. Ben & Jerry’s website explains their criteria for GMOs by stating “if you eat a corn chip containing GMO corn, it doesn’t make you a genetically modified human.”

Saccharose2.svg
Sucrose from any source tastes just as sweet

What about sugar that is derived from a GM-beet? As Dr Kevin Folta outlines in this graphic, sugar is sugar. There’s no protein and no DNA in what we buy at the store. As such, it cannot be distinguished from sugar derived from non-GM beet. To obtain Non-GMO Project certification, this is resolved by looking at the supply chain (see bullet 2.6.1.1.4). But Australia and New Zealand labeling standards define a GM-ingredient as one that contains novel DNA or protein, so sugar from GM-beet would be exempt from labeling.

The definition even changes from one state to the next. In Vermont, the labeling bill states that you don’t need to label if the amount of GM material makes up less than 0.9% of the total weight of processed food, but in California‘s proposed (and failed) bill the cutoff was set at 0.5%. Perhaps GMOs have more GMOiness in California so the state can’t handle as much of it. Colorado’s proposed (and failed) bill stated that chewing gum was exempt from labeling. In Colorado, Vermont, and California, alcoholic beverages were exempt, but I could find no such exemption in the bill from Connecticut.

Some may argue that it’s better that we just start somewhere. Anywhere. They will argue that any form of labeling is better than none. But the immediate consequence of a labeling bill that does not meet everyone’s requirements is the fact that the number of labels and verification-criteria will explode. Certifiers will try to sell consumers on the purity of their criteria and benefits of their definition of a GMO. Here’s an example: as you may know, the USDA’s organic label excludes GMOs and is often used by those who wish to avoid GMOs in their diet. However, according to GMO-awareness.com, the USDA’s organic label isn’t stringent enough because there are a handful of exemptions, so the organization embraces the Non-GMO Verified seal.

Personally, I like Australia and New Zealand’s criteria. The difference between a GMO and a non-GMO crop is the DNA for the gene that has been added and the protein(s) that it produces. So if the very thing that make a crop a GMO cannot be detected in a food product, then it shouldn’t be labeled. Australia and New Zealand extend their labeling criteria to foods that are designed to be different from their non-GMO counterparts, such as high oleic soy or the Innate potato: these must be labeled as genetically engineered.

But that’s my personal opinion, and it probably would not meet the demands of most GMO-labeling proponents. Since there’s no hard rule each person can have their own criteria, which will probably lead to a bureaucratic nightmare where lobbying groups for different foods and ingredients will argue as to why their product should or should not qualify as a GMO. And who’s to say they’re wrong?

Here’s a list of common ingredients whose classification as “GMO” is debatable:

  • Vitamin and nutritional additives produced through genetic engineering, commonly used in fortified foods. Vitamin C, for example, can be made through fermentation of corn (which could be a GMO). Riboflavin can be synthesized by a GM-bacteria.
  • Oils, sugars, and starches, which have no trace of protein or DNA
  • Animal products from animals fed GMO grain (i.e. eggs, milk, meat, etc).
  • Animal products from animals who have received GE vaccines
  • Cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products whose production may use GE bacteria
110 car trains combine grain from many farms
The commodity food system for grains makes 0.0% admixture unachievable

There’s also the all important topic of “cut-off”. How much GMO is acceptable in a product? Some would argue that it should be 0.0%, but that’s not realistic considering the fact that equipment is often shared in the supply chain. How do we decide whether it is 0.5% (California’s criteria) or 0.9% (Vermont’s criteria) that makes a food item a GMO? There’s no scientific answer, so again, it will have to be decided via politics and lobbying.

I don’t have an answer here, and I write this only to highlight the many nuances that are perhaps ignored, and the bureaucratic disaster that a poorly designed federal, or worse yet state-level, labeling bill could turn into. Feel free to comment on what ingredients you think should be labeled in a federal voluntary or mandatory labeling law.

Follow Layla Katiraee:

Layla Parker-Katiraee holds a PhD in Molecular Genetics from the University of Toronto and a Bachelors degree in biochemistry from the University of Western Ontario. She is currently a Staff Scientist in DNA Sequencing Product Development. All views and opinions expressed are her own.

  • Michael Dzakovich

    One thing that’s worth adding in to the mix is considering people who avoid GM products based on their connection to industrialized farming. Tricky to argue with people that recognize that GM is safe, but they simply don’t want to support “Big Ag”.

    • Joanna Lidback

      But this idea is also subjective- many small farms rely on GE crops. As a small dairy farmer (50 cows) I rail against the idea that I can’t or don’t take advantage of technology simply because I’m small. Thus, yet another can of worms is opened- what defines industrial ag? And are they really to blame for certain environmental concerns? Or is the collection of small farms – too small to set off any regulatory concern- somehow responsible too?

    • rick

      I don’t dispute that. But how do you define “Big Ag”, is it the government’s responsibility to make sure customers are aware that a product is made by big ag, and if so, does a gmo label provide that information. Big Ag is not a precise thing, it is a vague concept, and a term used more for its connotation than any actual meaning.

      • kurzweilfreak

        We could simply not give a damn about people’s preference for not wanting to support “Big Ag” or not. Federal and state regulations shouldn’t be based on people’s personal whims. If people don’t want to support “Big Ag”, Monsanto, or whatever their personal boogie man is, that’s their problem and not something we should be making public policy based on.

        • rick

          When I said “I don’t dispute that” I meant I don’t dispute that many advocates of ge content or source labeling claim that the justification for the label is so that it will help them avoid big ag. But, I hope it is evident that I absolutely dispute that mandating labeling for that purpose is a responsibility of government or that a ge label is even a competent means of providing that information. What’s more, a desire to avoid big ag, whatever that means, is much better served through the voluntary labels and certifications that currently serve the marketplace. I can choose to purchase food at farmers markets, join a food cooperative, utilize subscription farmers, grow some of my own, share with neighbors, shop for certain certifications, etc. I am not seeing why I can’t do these things unless and until ge foods are labeled.

  • Mike

    In Canada, if the non-genetically engineered bacteria or virus used to produce a vaccine is grown on genetically engineered feeder cells, then the vaccine is considered GMO and can not be used in Canadian organic production.

    • Would you know if that same standard applies in the US?

      • Chris Preston

        The USDA list of allowed and prohibited substances can be found here http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&SID=9874504b6f1025eb0e6b67cadf9d3b40&rgn=div6&view=text&node=7:3.1.1.9.32.7&idno=7 Vaccines are an allowed synthetic substance, provided they are not made with excluded methods. In practice this means that vaccines containing GM organisms or subunit vaccines would not be permitted.

        There is current discussion around vaccines grown in GM cells. There is a proposed change to the wording that would allow vaccines made with excluded methods to be used only under conditions where an emergency was declared and that the animals would retain their organic status if this was done. I don’t know if this has been adopted yet.

      • First Officer

        @Mike, do you think vaccine companies are going to pioneer and certify dual processes for vaccines?

    • In the US, the Organic Consumers Association is trying to get GMO vaccines banned from the approved list. But nobody can figure out what that means. https://storify.com/mem_somerville/traditional-breeding-of-vaccines

      • First Officer

        And, if they did, i don’t think vaccine producers are going to go through the approval hoops for two different processes to make the same vaccine. The GMO will win as it’s development phase is much quicker and the market, that’ll at least accept them, much larger than those willing to keep risking the disease.

        • Chris Preston

          Almost certainly not. This is one of the issues of concern to the USDA with respect to organic rules. Some vaccinations are only available commercially grown in GM cells.

  • Your last paragraph asks for comments about which ingredients should need to be labeled. But in each of the proposals I have seen which has made it to the stage of a proposed law, the law would not require that the ingredient be identified. They would not even consider it sufficient to identify the ingredients. This is curiously inconsistent with the argument so often used in support of mandatory labeling, which is that people should have a right to know what’s in their food.

    There’s a case to be made that GMO-ness is not something that should be labeled at all, but let’s aim the following discussion at people who have already decided that they want a mandatory label. Then do it ingredient by ingredient on the food’s list of ingredients.

    Certainly there must be some people who have a more complicated view of the GMO issue than just all or nothing. Maybe they approve the idea of Bt crops and hate the idea of herbicide tolerant crops, or they have heard that some agency considers glyphosate a probable carcinogen. Maybe they have been convinced that Monsanto is guilty of various bad practices but are happy to have foods fortified with vitamins. Maybe somebody who knows that sugar has no DNA or protein would choose to either accept or avoid GMO sugar for other reasons. All these people would need the “GMO” ingredient identified, on the ingredients list, to make their choices. What possible justification would there be for forcing a consumer to jumble together all the different ingredients, derived from recombinant DNA technology in all sorts of different ways, as if they are one thing?.

    • Yes, I’ll have to clarify my question to state “What GMO ingredients would trigger a label stating that the food product contains GMOs.” And the article should not be construed as an argument for labeling, rather, as an exploration of what should be labeled if a labeling law is enacted. The messiness of defining a GMO is actually one of my arguments against labeling: to me, it highlights the subjective nature of the matter.

      I agree that listing the trait would be the most informative, but I also think that it would be the most difficult way of labeling for food manufacturers. They’d be locked in to buying crops with the traits indicated on the label.

    • Rickinreallife

      I like the ingredient labeling idea. What if on the ingredient panel, place ansterisc next to each ingredient that is derived from or could be derived from a ge source. Then immediately below the panel have a statement corresponding to the asterisk stating something like “ingrdient is/may be derived from ge source.”

      This is far more informative and precise than any general “contains GMOs” or “may contain gmo’s”. I don’t dispute anybody’s right to know, the issue is whether you are entitled to government mediating that right by compelling speech that the best assessment tells us is immaterial to the guality or safety of the product. If we ask our government to compel speech, it is not necessary that government is obligated to compel speech to cater to lowest denominator understanding, to compel falsehood or to compel false warning, like front panel declaration “contains gmos” I think it is reasonable to expect consumers to bear some resonsibility to inform themselves.

      The ge identifier by asteric next to only possible ge ingredients would disclose what portion of the product is possibly ge source. It seems inaccurate and unfair if for example, a box of Uncle Bens rice where the only ge source ingredient were a small amount of sugar processed from ge beets. The general “contains gmos” would falsely inform the consumer that the rice, herbs etc were ge source when in reality only a minor ingredient, perhaps less than 1% by weight or volume, would be ge source.

      One last labeling thought. Foods that are sold to a final consumer in whole unprocessed form, like fruits and vegetables from the produce section, should be able to meet any ge disclosure by being sold under a unique varietal nomenclature. For example, golden rice, rainbow papaya, Russet inate potato, granny smith arctic. This is essentially already the case. Government will have facilitated the consumers right to know. USDA could maintain a list of ge varietals for anyone interested, and of course all the usual parties (greenpeace, Food an Water Watch, etc) will likely inundate their membership with info about what varietals are ge varieties. I don’t believe right to know necessarily means right to no personal responsibility.

      Would welcome your thought on these ideas.

      • I agree that it’s a lot more informative than “contains GMOs”. By just placing an asterisk and not having to spell out the trait, it also gives the food manufacturer more leeway to change vendors. It would also mean that the food supply wouldn’t have to segregate by trait. I think it’s a good proposal!

      • I agree with Layla. I could totally get behind this idea. This is the ingredient list for corn flakes, which I’ve modified to add asterisks and the note as you describe – is this sort of what you meant, Rick?

        I’ve gone a step further and added an equivalence statement. I imagine that for GE foods where there is a significant difference, that ingredient could use another symbol like a dagger † and state what the difference is.

        Milled corn*, sugar*, malt flavor, contains 2% or less of salt. BHT added to packaging for freshness. Vitamins and Minerals: Iron, vitamin C* (sodium ascorbate, ascorbic acid), niacinamide, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), vitamin B2* (riboflavin), vitamin B1 (thiamin hydrochloride), vitamin A palmitate, folic acid, vitamin D, vitamin B12*.

        * Ingredient may be derived from a genetically engineered source. No significant difference has been shown between these GE and non-GE foods.

        My source for the GE status of the vitamins is GMO Compass. As a side note, check out the last paragraph. Carriers of vitamins such as starches are not considered to be part of food even though they are in the food so they don’t have to be in the ingredient list!

        • Rick Leonard

          Yeah, that’s what I had in mind. I like the added disclaimer

        • Rickinreallife

          One last thought. I wonder if it is possible to avoid even the term “ge foods” as it implies ge food is something different than food? Perhaps something like “No significant difference difference has been shown in safety or nutritional value of food ingredients as a result of the use of genetic engineering.”

          Yes Rick Leonard a d Rickinreallife are one and the same. Blew my cover!

  • More importantly, the labels shouldn’t be dependent on the location of the food. As in the California bill, a bag of potato chips using GM canola oil would have to be labeled in a grocery store, but not in a deli or hospital.

    Personally, I’m glad that organic food is labeled as such, so I can avoid it.

  • Or these pro-labeling people could simple educate themselves, wise up, and realize that labeling is pointless and without scientific merit and is simply not justified by their whims, no matter how loudly they scream “right to know!!!”

    But let’s not kid ourselves…

    • Ed G

      Yes, as dictator of the world, you decide who is wise and who is not. Must be nice.

      • I don’t have to decide who is wise; they can decide for themselves whether they want to remain scientifically illiterate or not. They can be entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. And the fact is there is no scientific justification for special labeling for GMO foods.

  • George L

    To suggest that only foods having GE content in them should be labeled GMO, ignores the L-triptophan disaster of 1989 which sickened 15,000 and killed 80 people. The toxic L-triptophan supplement itself did not have any GE content, rather it was manufactured as the byproduct of GE material. It turns out that this process of synthesizing L-triptophan using GE materials introduced a novel and toxic compound, which killed people.

    Is there a way to ensure that sugar as a byproduct of GE beets contains no trace toxins?

    Recommended reading: Altered Genes and Twisted Truths by Steven Druker

    • There was no evidence that any novel toxic compounds were created by that GE bacteria. Instead, that is the assumption that certain activists have made.

      • Mlema

        “There was no evidence that any novel toxic compounds were created by that GE bacteria.”

        Showa Denka destroyed the engineered bacteria after the EMS became apparent. So, it’s true – there was no evidence.
        In a comment elsewhere, Dr. Katiraee provided a link to this 1990 NEJM article:
        http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199008093230601#t=article+Results
        It indicates that EMS correlations were narrowed down to: the strain of bacteria and the amount of powdered activated carbon used. I think that scientists like David Schubert are comfortable talking about the GE bacteria as the cause because we now know that the contaminants that were identified and also related to the EMS cases were structurally related to tryptophan or biosynthetic intermediates.
        http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/pdf/10.1089/jmf.2008.0094
        I’ve read that the pre-engineered bacteria weren’t found to produce these contaminants. I think it would be tough to explain how changes in filtration would produce them. The bacteria were engineered to produce more tryptophan. Altered metabolites were found. I don’t think it’s unlikely that the GE bacteria were the source.

        • Mlema

          To be accurate, Schubert didn’t even mention the GE bacteria, he used the instance to show that “..minute amounts of a compound contaminating a dietary supplement can be lethal and that chemical modifications of common, small molecules such as amino acids can lead to biologically active derivatives.” He then goes on to talk about engineering maize to produce more lysine, and also ending up with high tryptophan levels. I guess he’s trying to scare us…

        • Chris Preston

          I’ve read that the pre-engineered bacteria weren’t found to produce these contaminants. I think it would be tough to explain how changes in filtration would produce them. The bacteria were engineered to produce more tryptophan. Altered metabolites were found. I don’t think it’s unlikely that the GE bacteria were the source.

          What you have read seems to be the speculation that occurred shortly after the incidents. Tryptophan-based EMS was known before the Showa Denka product came onto the market and continued to occur after it had been removed.

          It has since been determined that consuming high concentrations of tryptophan that interfere with the degradation of histamine are sufficient to produce the condition.

          http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00011-005-1380-7

          • Mlema

            I don’t think I was reading speculation. The CDC did the investigation.
            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8895184
            Over a period of years before the outbreak, millions of people took tryptophan from a number of manufacturers. In 1989-90, 1500+ people were sickened and 38 died from the Showa Denka tryptophan – specifically: batches that had 6 particular contaminants. These were batches that were apparently newly manufactured with GE bacteria and a change in filtration. The resultant tryptophan ban was lifted in 2005, and one or two people have developed EMS since. (documented as recently as 2011)

            As Schubert explained (in the link I supplied above on nutritionally enhanced foods) we now better understand the etiology of EMS, and the role of tryptophan metabolism. There are people who have developed EMS without taking any tryptophan supplements at all. Increased tryptophan intake can contribute to triggering EMS in certain individuals, as your 2005 study explains.
            So, you can’t necessarily avoid EMS by not taking tryptophan supplements. There are other factors that can make an individual susceptible.
            I admit, there are probably cases that don’t get reported – and the diagnosis is still tricky. With regard to the outbreak linked to Showa Denka GE bacteria, do you have epidemiological info that contradicts the CDC’s?
            Here I just have to say: it’s been fascinating to read the progression of research from the time of the outbreak until now. God bless scientists.

            • Chris Preston

              The CDC did an investigation and found a potential contaminant. They speculated that this contaminate was causing the problem; however, they had no evidence that was the case.

              Since that time additional evidence has appeared that has both identified a mechanism for the condition and how high doses of tryptophan trigger that mechanism.

              It has nothing to do with any particular brand of L-tryptophan.

              • Mlema

                The outbreak was conclusively linked to Showa Denka. No other brands were implicated. Please provide some contrary evidence if you insist on saying otherwise.

                • Chris Preston

                  http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00001502.htm

                  “A follow-up study compared 30 EMS cases fitting the CDC surveillance case definition of EMS (1) with 36 asymptomatic users of LTCPs who responded to a public request and contacted the Minnesota Department of Health. Twenty (67%) case-patients reported using brands of LTCPs from one particular tablet manufacturer”

                  • Mlema

                    Chris – Please read the NEJM and CDC link above. There are no contradictions between all the links, including your own. There’s no evidence that anything other than contaminated Showa Denka tryptophan supplements caused the 1989-90 outbreak. The tryptophan supplement ban was lifted in 2005 and there’ve only been one or two cases since then.

                    Please explain how your link – an early, interim, and outdated report, contradicts the CDC’s own subsequent conclusions that the Showa Denka tryptophan was responsible for the outbreak.

    • Chris Preston

      It was originally thought that a filtering problem led to an impurity in L-tryptophan samples associated with EMS and not GE L-tryptophan. More recent research has shown that EMS is associated with consumption of high doses of L-tryptophan, not with the impurity or with GE products.

      Druker’s book is full of similarly debunked claims he got from his fellow Maharashi follower Jeffrey Smith. On that basis, it is hardly worth reading.

    • Rickinreallife

      Why do you believe Steven Druker entitled to unquestioning acceptance of his claims? People have long been well aware of the allegations regarding ge sourced L-tripotophan that Druker is just one more in a list of people to attempt to sensationalize. Long before Mr. Druker wrote his book repeating these claims, the allegation he repeats have been questioned and largely debunked. Mr. Druker’s allegations in the book do not come as some shocking revelation to anyone here and have been openly discussed and analyzed, and further researched, not suppressed as you appear to imply. Where have you been that the allegations in Mr. Druker’s book come as news to you?

  • Leigh

    Decades from now when a handfull of people have made millions (or billions) off of convincing companies and governments that labeling is necessary and selling their special services/solution, I feel like we will look back on this like we do with Y2K.

  • If we’re going to have it, I think that labeling is only appropriate in a case where there is a discernible material difference. If an inspector can’t detect a transgene or associated protein in the product using standard methodology (PCR I presume), then there should be no requirement for a label (otherwise how would the law be enforced?)

  • RE: Glyphosate resistance. The efflux pumps we hijacked from bacteria to put in round-up ready crops have the same negative signal capacity as LTA and LPS in bacteria. This stimulate the body’s production of cationic antimicrobial peptides, like ll-37. This would normally attack the anionic proteins and lipid bilayer of the invader except our food is zwitterionic and looks neutral to our cationic peptides. What’s the next thing it attacks? Red blood cells. Blebbing occurs, and apoptosis, causing potential cytotoxic affects that further stimulate the immune system.

    Immune system stimulation is only good when the inflammation and organ stress is accompanied by your body attacking an invader — it is NOT good when there is no pathogen, and the body will end up attacking itself and becoming slowly sicker and sicker. If you look at the gene array analyses relevant to this comment there is no question what is happening slowly, over time… much longer than the longest Phase 3 or post-approval study, and laughably longer than the shortened Reagan-era regulatory hurdles.

    I worked for a company that is pretty much the world’s authority in AMPs like ll-37, and when I saw how the food was made resistant to round-up it shot a red flag out of the top of my head.

    I have send this basic bit of logic to more than 500 scientists and regulators. I have had 5 “this makes sense” answers, dozens of “this isn’t what the published literature says” answers, and 0 substantive retorts.

    My first child was born 6 days ago – food quality and money are both important to me. If someone can pick apart my logic here please let me know so I can save some money.

    “Let’s face it, our bodies don’t evolve fast enough to catch up with what we do to the food – we’ll figure it out 50 years from now.” ____, P&G
    “My kids eat organic, end of story.” ____, Battelle Memorial Institute
    [Each in personal conversations with me during/after business-related discussions]

    Quotes remain nameless due to NDA, which I’m technically violating as I write this right now, and when I sent this to each of the 500+ people to whom this was previously sent… but some things are more important.

    Again, substantive retorts please… professors, doctors, and industry scientists can’t seem to do it. Maybe you can – I truly would like to think I don’t have to go broke being healthy.

    Ben Davidson
    Director, The Mobile Observatory Project
    Former employee of the pharma/chem industry

    [email protected] – for any intelligent discussion.

    • The gene that gives GMO crops resistance to roundup is EPSP Synthase, not an efflux pump. What is your source for all these claims you make?

    • Chris Preston

      This is one of the stranger explanations I have read.

      The genes used for Roundup Ready crops are a resistant form of the target enzyme 5-Enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS for short) and an enzyme that breaks glyphosate down glyphosate oxidase (GOX for short). The latter is only in canola.

      The vacuolar pump is a resistance mechanism that has turned up in weeds.

      Because Roundup Ready crops don’t contain efflux pumps from bacteria, so the rest of your concerns are baseless.

  • Cliff Steiger

    If a GMO label is required, it needs to also educate the consumer about any proven hazards of GMO. Consumers need to know that there are no safety concerns.

    • I agree; if a labeling law passes at a Federal level, then I think that a disclaimer would probably get added (similar to what is currently used for rBST http://www.biofortified.org/2009/09/labeling-gmos/). But I don’t think there’s any reason why private, 3rd-party verification services would have to use the disclaimer.

      • First Officer

        A forced disclaimer would probably be shot down, as it was for rBST. However, voluntary disclaimers by those forced to label GMO’s would be much harder to stop. It may be possible to use the ruling against forced disclaimers to shoot down any GMO labeling law. Both are cases of unwilling compelled speech for no substantial state purpose.

  • “Let’s face it, our bodies don’t evolve fast enough to catch up with what we do to the food – we’ll figure it out 50 years from now.” ____, P&G”

    Curious logic. I’m pretty sure none of my ancestors EVER encountered macadamias, kiwis, quinoa, or dozens of other species and varieties that are now staple, or at least common. Each of those introduces hundreds, probably thousands, of new genes, proteins and other chemicals into my diet, sometimes through ordinary breeding practices. Is the poster suggesting a gargantuan testing program to make sure that Vavilov didn’t introduce anything new (= scary)?

  • Ed G

    A simple solution is to devise a standard traffic signal style system like Europeans use for fats, sugar, and salt. The right light would indicate direct GMO content, yellow means derived from GMO-fed sources, green means GMO free. Right below the traffic light would be the URL of the manufacturer’s web data sheet that explains what the GMO content, sourcing, chemical structure, etc. are of each direct or indirect GMO ingredient.

    Those with cellphones, which is a large majority today, could immediately look up GMO data. Those without cellphones could record the website and look up the data later on their home or other computer. Those without any computer access could write the manufacturer for a data sheet. Or alternatively, grocery stores could keep a small stock of product data sheets on hand.

  • Ed, presumably, you meant “The red light would indicate direct GMO content”.

    Do you recognize that your proposal sends an anti-GMO message? Why was the red light, which is universally associated with a warning, STOP, used for the GMO and the green light, associated with SAFE TO GO, used for GMO-free?

    How would you like your proposal if the GMO content was a smiley face, derived from a GMO source was a circle and GMO-free was a triangle?

  • Ray Kinney

    Any color scheme could work well, as people would quickly adjust. We can’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

  • ang

    GMO food is indeed different to “selective breeding”” or trying a new type of fruit or vegetable. GMo corn actually has toxins in it from dead caterpillars…….I dont eat dead caterpillars. I think the author has done a wonderful job with this article. And if it labelled GMO, why a disclaimer saying it is safe? That is silly, labelling is there to inform, not make a judgement statement.

    • GMOs do not have “toxins from dead caterpillars,” I think you are misunderstanding the nature of how the Bt insect resistance trait works.

    • Rickinreallife

      You ought see what else is lurking in our food [http://chem103csu.wikispaces.com/Solanine]. Food and seed companies don’t tell us that a number of the foods we eat contain a substance that has fungicidal and pesticidal properties, and some formulations of it have been used as a commercial pesticide. This poison found throughout the plant, is very toxic to humans even in small amounts — 2 to 5 mg per kilogram of body weight can cause toxic symptoms in adults, and doses of 3 to 6 mg per kilogram of body weight can be fatal. It is also recommended that humans consume no more than .5 mg. per kilogram of body weight daily to avoid chronic health problems. This stuff is a neurotoxin that causes gastrointestinal and neurological disorders. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, burning of the throat, cardiac dysrhythmia, headache and dizziness, and in severe cases, hallucinations, loss of sensation, paralysis, fever, jaundice, dilated pupils, hypothermia and death. Rat feeding studies have suggested that it is a carcinogen.

      Of course, the mainstream medical and scientific community, and all the agribusiness giants and big pharma pooh pooh the risks, but here is a link to an article by a practitioner who bucks the mainstream to warn that we should take the presence of this toxin in our food supply more seriously. [http://alternative-doctor.com/allergies/solanine-poisoning-is-common-and-underdiagnosed/]

  • Ray kinney

    FYI a recent study analyzing dozens of studies was published by NAS and found that the high prices organic products fetch makes them more financially sustainable that conventialal AG, and is a growing market globally (as much as 22 to 35 percent increased return when premium pricing was done). also, substantiating studies were done of transitioning from convential farming to organic farming profit. Hmmmm… interesting piece of the puzzle. Now, how fast will this conversion advance? How widespread across the globe. Will these premium prices still hold up for enough consumers to keep the profit advantage as more competition switches over?
    will it all petre out as just another fad, with subsequent conversion back into the fold of pesticide resistent cropping? hmmmmm.

  • Mlema

    The outbreak was conclusively linked to Showa Denka. No other brands were implicated. Please provide some contrary evidence if you insist on saying otherwise.

  • Mlema

    Some comments I made on this page before Biofortified moved to Discus, have been removed. My remaining comments have been moved from where they were in the conversation. This has changed the intent and context of my comments. Please correct. Thank you!

    • Mlema

      One of Chris Preston’s comments was removed also. I’m not saying the blog doesn’t have the right to remove comments. The content wasn’t anything profound. But just having them disappear wouldn’t seem to be in keeping with the nature of open discussion.

    • Thanks for your patience as we are working on updates to the site. There has been zero intentional removal of comments, it’s just a bug. I can see your comments in the database, they just aren’t displaying. We may end up going back to the native WordPress comments. Again, thanks for your patience.

      • Mlema

        Thanks Anastasia. Hope it works out. The site looks gorgeous.