Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are transgenic organisms that are derivatives of genotypic manipulation that does not normally occur in nature. Meaning, GMOs are not the product of conventional mating, recombination or other natural phenomena that occur fairly frequently and provide a species with genetic alterations. Whether a crop is genetically modified depends on the breeding strategy used to produce it. Plant breeding strategies are divided into two general categories: classical breeding and genetic modification.
The main goal of classical breeding is to obtain the desired trait(s) in an organism while maintaining or increasing the genetic diversity in the mean time. Typical desired traits usually have to do with increased crop yield, insect and drought tolerance and increased nutritional benefits. An increase in genetic diversity would allow the organism to be more resilient; in turn, this would allow it to be able to bounce back faster from various unexpected events such as wildfires, floods or a disease outbreak. Improved plant varieties can be obtained by breeding well performing lines with a line containing the desired trait. Cell culture techniques can be used to induce fertility in a normally sterile offspring of two related species if the desired trait is not found in the respective species. Finally, chemical mutagenesis can be performed to obtain a mutant line with the desired characteristic(s); that is, if the preferred trait is not found in the original species or any related species. There are many ways to chemically mutate an organism’s DNA including irradiation, naturally occurring genetic elements and alkylating agents.
GMO crops are crafted by the use of biotechnological methods, but have similar aims as the classically breed varieties. Both methods seek to obtain the “best” crop, which ideally contains the desired qualities (such as increased nutritional value and ecological plasticity). Methods that are labeled as “unnatural” and are classified under this category are: cell/protoplast fusion techniques, recombinant DNA techniques and methods of direct DNA introduction among others. These methods of genotypic alteration are limited to a single gene at a time. To obtain a genetically modified line of more than one gene introduction or alteration, two single gene mutant lines must be crossed. This however, is much more complex to execute due to the potential implications of altering or introducing two genes and the ability to predict what this might do the viability, crop yield and overall performance among other potential phenotypic modifications that might negatively impact the crop.
GMO seeds and crops have been in use throughout the world for over several decades now. They began to be widely employed as pragmatic and alternative choices to their traditional counterparts since the mid-1990s. Since then, the safety and ethics of GMOs and GMO-derived products have come into serious question. Strict regulations dealing with novel foods and food ingredients (which included GMOs) were adopted in May of 1997 by the fifteen states that make up the European Union (EU). These novel food regulations assess the overall safety of genetically modified organisms. For a genetically modified organism to be approved for public consumption, it must be approved under the set regulations, which have three safety criteria: the GMO must be safe, nutritionally adequate, and must not mislead the consumer. The novel food regulations split novel foods into six categories and two of them are dedicated to novel foods that are derived from/are obtained via genetic modification. These two categories are: foods or ingredients made from GMOs and ones that are produced from GMOs but don’t contain GMOs (for example, various types of oils). A safety assessment can be carried out by the proposing state (member of the EU) over a period of 90 days. Once that is complete, the assessment must be given to the deciding commission, which has 60 days to agree or disagree with the findings. If the product is ruled to be safe and comparable to its conventional variety, then it becomes available for public distribution and consumption, but labeling it as “genetically modified” is required. This gives the consumer a choice between purchasing products that are genetically modified or the conventional varieties.
The United States government introduced rules and regulations for GMOs in 1992. Three different government agencies carry out these functions: the food and drug administration (FDA), the U.S. department of agriculture (USDA) and the environmental protection agency (EPA). The USDA ensures that the products are safe to grow, the FDA ensures that they are safe to eat and the EPA ensures that the products are safe for the environment. Not only do these agencies look at overall safety of the product, but they also investigate the GM crops compared to the conventional varieties with regards to nutritional values, natural toxins and allergenicity potential. If a GMO crop is found to be fairly equivalent to the normal crop, it is allowed to be placed on the market for consumption. US GMO products that are available for purchase are not required to be labeled, while EU GMO product labeling is mandatory. GMO-derived ingredients are not labeled as well in the US, because the GMO crops they are synthesized from abide by the regulations are equivalent to conventional crops.
The US does not require the labeling of GMO crops and other products, but some companies have chosen to label their non-GM products as “nongenetically modified” or something to that end. Of course, the company must substantiate this labeling because the consumers must not be misled. The companies that choose to label their products must guarantee that their crops are GM-free to justify the differential labeling. The company must then establish agreements with suppliers that they will only provide non-GM products. This, in turn, requires the farmers and processors to maintain separation between the conventional crops and their GM counterparts. The identity of each line must be maintained and kept as homogenous as possible throughout the complete process from farmer to packaging and labeling. For companies choosing to label voluntarily, the FDA has required data to substantiate the claims of the label; that is, the label must be truthful and not mislead the consumer. Consequently, this is a very difficult status to maintain because it is difficult to keep crops from cross contaminating each other. This is especially true for processed foods that contain many ingredients and all of them have to be maintained as GMO crop free for the processed food itself to also be labeled “nongenetically modified.” The use of GMOs has now created a demand to potentially track the genes that were introduced or modified in the genetically manipulated crop; that is, tracking gene flow. As GMOs evolve and become more complex, more elaborate techniques will have to be developed to track the gene flow of these products.
NOTE: a short background introduction that I feel will be very helpful to understanding GMOs, biotechnology, and the policies that are entail. I’m tired or seeing ignorant comments and reblogs regarding this topic, so I thought I’d dig this up and provide some basic background about genetically modified organisms, how they are genetically engineered, and the regulations behind such products. please read thoroughly, and ask away if you have any questions.
Okay, so you are correct in the basic facts but neglecting the realities. Plants are being modified with genes from insects, bacteria, and even fungi - not crossing of their genes with the genes of another plant. When a plant produces a toxin that will kill insects, I have a hard time believing that it’s a good idea for us to be eating it. As for FDA rules, please don’t act like they are helpful. The rules were created by the FDA (which is run by former heads of the gmo producing companies) along with the companies so they are not made to protect citizens, they are there to protect company profits.