Mr. Genius and I went on a date this week and I took notes! I suspect you’re wondering why I took notes on a date… Well, Mr. Genius asked me if I wanted to come hear a lecture titled “Facts and Fiction about GMOs in Food” for his Genetics Retreat and I decided, “why not?! I need to get out of the house for a couple of hours and be with my man.” Dates are few and far between outside of this household sadly due to time constraints and budget but I like to help out the local teenager babysitters when I can as family isn’t nearby to extort as easily. 😛

And, I don’t mean to brag, but I might’ve known just a little more than Mr. Genius on this topic. (I introduced him to The Genetic Literacy Project and Biofortified  afterwards.) I was expecting a more genetically-minded lecture but the speaker, Ruth MacDonald, is chair and professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the rival ISU, not Genetics. But whatevs. She still knows her stuff and is listed as an expert on the Best Food Facts and GMO Answers websites.

Yes, I’ve joined the dark side, they have cookies. And yes, I took some notes to share.

We came in a little late when Prof. MacDonald was talking about a few advances in fortified GMO foods such as golden rice and a type of banana developed to be high in Vitamin A. In some parts of the world, vitamin A deficiency is still a huge problem, causing permanent blindness and even death in children as well as adults. These two crops were developed to help provide more vitamin A to the local populations who grow them rather than shipping in food (which might not be possible in politically war-torn countries). But instead, there are many roadblocks because of the fear and misinformation of GMOs. Not only is scientific literacy a problem, but also politics. Greenpeace, a once useful group even destroys crops meant for testing.

90% of soybean crops, 80% of corn, canola, and sugar beets are GMO crops. These crops are used in the making of food such as breads, cereals, and sweeteners, as well as a high amount of corn and alfalfa going to animal feed. (A good portion, not mentioned by Prof. MacDonald, of Iowa corn goes to the production of ethanol.)

Papayas have been a GMO crop since 1980 when a ringspot virus was infecting crops. GE technology saved papayas in Hawaii, you’re welcome. Some squash is also GMO. GMO tomatoes failed on the market. Most sweet corn is NOT GMO, though I did read of a farmer in Iowa with a roadside stand that sold a few types of GMO corn for human consumption that did pretty well as earcorn bugs aren’t very appetizing and tend to waste a good portion of crops.

Corn is fractionated and therefore contains no DNA or proteins in human food though there is a trace amount in the germ of animal feed. A 30 year study on animal feed was recently published in The Journal of Animal Science. evaluated GM animal feed as safe.

“Numerous experimental studies have consistently revealed that the performance and health of GE-fed animals are comparable with those fed isogenic non-GE crop lines. United States animal agriculture produces over 9 billion food-producing animals annually, and more than 95% of these animals consume feed containing GE ingredients. Data on livestock productivity and health were collated from publicly available sources from 1983, before the introduction of GE crops in 1996, and subsequently through 2011, a period with high levels of predominately GE animal feed. These field data sets, representing over 100 billion animals following the introduction of GE crops, did not reveal unfavorable or perturbed trends in livestock health and productivity. No study has revealed any differences in the nutritional profile of animal products derived from GE-fed animals. Because DNA and protein are normal components of the diet that are digested, there are no detectable or reliably quantifiable traces of GE components in milk, meat, and eggs following consumption of GE feed.”

Humans consume plant food (not just of the gmo variety) containing DNA and proteins which the body turns into useful nucleotides and amino acids.

It takes at least 10 years of testing from lab to market for a GM food product to be considered safe to consume by human or animals. To say GMOs are just thrown onto the market willy nilly and that there is no research is complete bull shiz (see Biofortified’s Genera project – a non-profit collecting project full of independent as well as company funded research on GMOs). The few research papers stating otherwise, often are flawed, unable to be replicated, and therefore promptly held in low esteem by the majority of the scientific community. Remember kids, good science is replicated.

The FDA, USDA, and EPA regulate the majority of GE technology:

  • FDA regulates food,
  • USDA protects animal and plant health from pests and disease as well as assess risks,
  • EPA determines the safety of pesticides and herbicides.

The safety testing includes:

  • comparing nutrient and chemistry to be the same as non-gmo counterparts
  • proves it contains no allergens
  • the breakdown of traits
  • environmental safety

Credible science is important. The majority of scientists and organizations have declared GMOs to be safe. Celebrities are often touting misinformation and fear mongering in order to increase viewership and profits. (Dr. Oz and negative bias.)

So what about labeling? It would be regulated by the FDA (conspiracy websites distrust the FDA and yet they would be the ones in control of labeling…ironic, eh?). Current labeling requires the identification of what the product is (i.e. Cheerios label is ‘toasted whole grain cereal’ under the brand name), a nutrition panel, ingredients listed by their scientific name (rather than vitamin C, it has to be listed as ascorbic acid), and recognized allergens (such as the major milk, gluten, soy, nut allergies). These have been the regulations since 1992. Any further labels are up to the company, such as GMO-free or certified organic, as long as they are true.

Further labeling would require extra monitoring:

  • laws would need to be passed to track and define products
  • tracking would increase food costs
  • require sensitive methods of detection (more money needed)
  • more inspections (more money needed)

All of this will require more money by raising food costs and more funding for the FDA to do such labeling would increase taxes. Is it really worth it? Companies can already choose to label their product organic. Then consumers can choose organic if they wish. Personally, our budget is tight enough right now. I don’t need food costs going up any more. People suspicious of corporations want more independent studies on GMOs and organic foods? This will require people willing to pay for it.

Farming is basic to civilization. Biotechnology is a part of farming. Plant modification is as old as agriculture. DNA technology has only helped to control and specify to get what we want most rather than years of trial and error waiting for nature (which doesn’t always produce safe outcomes either, i.e. killer bees).

Rather than a battle between organic vs conventional farming, shouldn’t we be working together? Few want to, it seems, thinking it should only be one way or the highway when they should work together.

The genetic genie is out of the bottle. Use it wisely.

Throughout audience questions, public education and scientific literacy came up as a very important role in all this as well as educating political leaders on such matters. Politics play a huge roll around the world when it comes to GE technology and laws are not always passed based on scientific results but more for who’s the louder voice or who has the bigger pocket book. Europe may look like they know what they’re doing banning GMOs but if you look closely, it’s all political.

Further resource suggestions by Prof. MacDonald: