Everything I thought you might want to know about GMO

by thetanvi

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): Genetic Modification

  • What is Genetic Engineering? What is a Genetically Modified Organism?
  • How is Genetic Engineering done?
  • What are the potential benefits of Genetically Engineered seeds?
  • What are the dangers in production and consumption of genetically modified organisms? 
  • What impacts does consumption of GMO have on human health?
  • What impacts does production of GMO have on the environment?
  • What impacts does GMO have on farmers?
  • Does GMO produce higher yield than conventional growing or reduce pesticide or herbicide use?
  • How does genetic engineering compare to traditional breeding methods?
  • When were GMO seeds first developed? How long have GMO been consumed?
  • What are the labeling standards and requirements for GMO?
  • Where and to what extent are GMOs grown and distributed?
  • What are the international laws regulating GMOs?


What is Genetic Engineering? What is a Genetically Modified Organism?

Genetic Engineering is a technique within biotechnology where artificially constructed genes are transferred into an organism in order to reproduce specific characteristics. The newly created organism is called a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO). 

Genetic engineering is the process of manipulating the pattern of proteins in an organism by altering genes. Either new genes are added, or existing genes are changed

How does the Genetic Engineering of seeds work?

 In the laboratory, DNA from a cell is extracted and a gene that carries the characteristics to be introduced is isolated. Genetically engineered cells are mass propagated through tissue culture methods to produce thousands of new life forms with new characteristics. Such life forms are often called “transgenic” because they have been created by moving genes from one species to another. Genetically Modified (GM) seeds, by their very nature, are monocultures and are therefore highly vulnerable to diseases and pests. As their characteristics have been modified at the genetic level, their progeny will have the same characteristics. [u1] 


What are the potential benefits of Genetically Engineered seeds?

Currently only two types of GMOs have been successfully introduced to the market. The first is herbicide resistant crops. The herbicide resistance trait allows crops to survive repeated contact with a companion herbicide (i.e. the GMO seeds will only survive contact with the herbicide that is sold with it). The herbicide resistance trait allows farmers to spray fields with herbicides throughout the season without killing the genetically modified crop. This reduces weeds without intensive labor. 

Biotechnology companies make claims that genetic engineering may be used to increase higher yields, improve nutritional content, and adapt crops to climate change. GMOs can also be herbicide resistant in order that a crop may be sprayed leaving the Genetically Modified variety as the only surviving plants on the field.  The second type of GMO on the market is are genetically engineered to produce the active Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) toxin, a pesticide which is released continuously by every cell of the plant; thus attempting to reduce pests.

One potential benefit of genetic modification is the hope to make food less likely to spoil in storage or in transportation in order to expand trade opportunities as well as reduce wastage incurred in transport and supply. However, a more straightforward alternative would be implementing systemic distribution adjustments ensuring fresh local produce availability within regions.


What are the dangers in production and consumption of genetically modified organisms?

GM constructs often contain genetic material of dangerous bacteria or viruses.(why- Matt can you enter in the info we had discussed here?) GE food can contain toxins, allergens as well as antibiotic resistance. Genetic material can cross the species barrier and these toxins allergens and antibiotic resistances in a plant can be transferred to the people eating them.

 Buitti 13- The so-called “unintended effects” of genetic engineering are all derived by the dynamic interactions between the inserted construct and the context at different level of organisation. 

— loosening of developmental constraints during in vitro culture leading to mutations

— quasi-random location of inserted genes leading to “position effects”

— production of “fusion RNAs” and putative new proteins

— “active” re-arrangements and  regulation of expression by host organisms

— Un-predictable interactions with host metabolic networks leading to quantitative and qualitative changes in the transcriptome, proteome and metabolome

— Interaction of the GMO with the agro-ecosystem

— Effects on health of humans and animals



–          Spread Biopollution: GM crops contaminate natural varieties and organic crops

–          Health Risk: GM foods can provoke resistance to antibiotics, allergies and new illnesses

–          Destroy biodiversity: Herbicides are poisonous for beneficial medicinal species and breed new resistant pests and weeds

–          Increase hunger: Loss of biodiversity means loss of food

–          Reduce Income: GM crops require high inputs not matched by yields in the long term

–          Enslave People: Farmers and consumers lose control over agriculture and the right to choose their food.

Sources: No GM food and crops, Handbook for Activists, Navdayna, India 2003; Independent Science Panel


What impacts does consumption of GMO have on human health?

GMOs often contain genetic material of dangerous bacteria or viruses that are used to transfer genes. GE food can contain toxins, allergens as well as antibiotic resistance genes. Genetic material is capable of crossing the so-called species barrier. Therefore the possibility exists, that the toxins, allergens and antibiotic resistance of a plant are transferred to people eating GM food.

In the only systematic investigation on GM food growth factor-like effects were found in the stomach and small intestine of young rats that were not fully accounted for by the transgenic product, and were hence attributable to the transgenic process or the transgenic contract, and may therefore be general to all GM food. No studies have been done on humans and it is not clear what the long-term effects will be on human health. Bt proteins in transgenic crops have been found harmful to a range of non-target insects- some are also potent immunogens and allergens.  Food crops are increasingly used to produce pharmaceuticals and drugs, including cytokines, interferon alpha, vaccines, and viral sequences. 

A broad spectrum of herbicides used with herbicide-tolerant transgenic crops are highly toxic to humans and other species. These systemic metabolic poisons have a wide range of harmful effects including neurological, respiratory, gastrointestional, hematological and birth defects.

Genetic engineering creates super-viruses, as transgenic DNA raises the possibility of cancer and transgenic DNA from food has survived in the bacteria in the soil and human gut. Antibiotic resistance marker genes can spread from transgenic food to pathogenic bacteria thus hindering the treatment of infections.


What impacts does production of GMO have on the environment?

Organic agriculture uses energy more efficiently and reduces CO2 emissions compared with GM agriculture in fuel and oil consumption and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. GMOs spread uncontrollably to other varieties and contain dangerous viruses and bacteria. Thus they are able to genetically pollute and contaminate natural ones. Increased use of herbicides introduces toxins into the ecosystem and reduces biodiversity. Genetically Modified (GM) seeds, by their very nature are monocultures, and are therefore highly vulnerable to diseases and pests and deplete nutrients from the soil. 


What impacts does GMO have on farmers?

Genetically Modified seeds must be purchased every crop season, creating a new expensive expenditure for farmers who otherwise would save seeds from each crop.  Genetically Modified seeds are simply identical replicas of the exact same variety; when there is a range of natural localized varieties adapted to varying conditions such as terrain, soil, and climate some plants can survive changing conditions while genetically modified monocultures mean every plant is the same prone to failure in less than ideal conditions. Additionally genetically modified seeds are designed to require the continual purchase of inputs including chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides matched to the variety making the farmer dependant on the company and expenditures in order to sustain a farm.


Does GMO produce higher yield than conventional growing or reduce pesticide or herbicide use?

For years the biotechnology industry has trumpeted that it will feed the world, promising that its genetically engineered crops will produce higher yields.  That promise has proven to be empty, according to Failure to Yield, a report by Union of Concerned Scientists expert Doug Gurian-Sherman released in March 2009. Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields.

The consistent finding from independent research and on farm surveys since1999 is that GM crops have failed to deliver the promised benefits of significantly increasing yields or reducing herbicide and pesticide use. GM crops have cost the United States an estimated @12 billion in farm subsidies, lost sales and product recalls due to transgenic contamination. Massive failures in BT cotton of up to 1000% were reported in India. Biotech corporations have suffered rapid decline since 2000.  


How does GMO compare to traditional Breeding Methods?

Genetic Engineering operates with combinations of genes that would never occur naturally. Traditional breeding never introduces genes that are foreign to the species. The only manipulation in natural mating is that parent genes are selected. Mating occurs naturally and a natural combination of the hereditary characteristics takes place. Through genetic engineering scientists now create plants or animals by manipulating genes in a way that does not happen naturally- a plant can be engineered with genes taken from another species (bacteria, animals, or even humans). If released from the laboratory into the field, GMOs are capable of replacing and interbreeding with natural ones- causing contamination of natural traditional seeds stocks.

When were GMO seeds first developed? How long have GMO been consumed?

1973: Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen combine their research to create the first successful recombinant DNA organism.

1980: The U.S. Supreme Court in Diamond v. Chakrabarty rules that genetically altered life forms can be patented. The decision allows the Exxon Oil Company to patent an oil-eating microorganism.

1982: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the first genetically engineered drug, Genentech’s Humulin, a form of human insulin produced by bacteria. This is the first consumer product developed through modern bioengineering.

1986: The first field tests of genetically engineered plants (tobacco) are conducted in Belgium.

1987: The first field tests of genetically engineered crops (tobacco and tomato) are conducted in the United States.

1992: Calgene’s Favr Savr tomato, engineered to remain firm for a longer period of time, is approved for commercial production by the US Department of Agriculture.

1992: The FDA declares that genetically engineered foods are “not inherently dangerous” and do not require special regulation.

1994: The European Union’s first genetically engineered crop, tobacco, is approved in France.

2000: International Biosafety Protocol is approved by 130 countries at the Convention on Biological Diversity in Montréal, Canada. The protocol agrees upon labeling of genetically engineered crops, but still needs to be ratified by 50 nations before it goes into effect.

Source: American Public Media- The Global Politics of Food


What are the labeling standards and requirements for GMO?

Companies producing and selling GM seed, crops and food are not required to state that their product is GM or what it contains in many countries including the United States and India.  Some governments have forbidden the sale of GM foods, or labeling practices requiring GM ingredients to be declared. If a government permits the imports of food items with GMOs they should be tested and clearly labeled, indicating the genetically modified content a product contains in order for individuals to be able to choose what to consume.


Where and to what extent are GMOs grown and distributed?

Despite years of research and aggressive marketing only four countries are growing nearly all of the world’s GM crops, with the US alone accounting for 2/3 of it. Products have been withdrawn rather than global deployment. Soya, corn, oil seeds and cotton amount to over 90% if the world’s commercial GM crop production. 


What are the international laws regulating GMOs?

IPR: Intellectual Property Rights – industrialized countries have granted patents for existing plants as well as genetically engineered plants and their seeds to the GE industry. These give companies the right to use plants as private property and consider themselves as the legitimate owners. Corporations now claim intellectual property rights which means they can withhold patented plant/seeds from farmers thus preventing farmers to replant or exchange patented seeds. If farmers don’t buy or plant GM seeds their crops can still be infiltrated by genetically modified species and the farmers can be accused and fined.

GATT: General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade Treaty

TRIPs: Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights allows for monopolistic control of life-forms, has serious ramifications for


 No GM food and crops, Handbook for Activists, Navdayna, India 2003

 Genetic Engineering A Laggard Technology, Produced by Navdanya and Farming Communities of Uttaranchal, West Bengal, Orissa, Kerala, & Karnataka

2002, Independent Science Panel

 Citizens Vote for GMO-Free Food: Global Citizens’ Report on Genetically Modified Crops and Food, Navdanya, India 2003.

 How the Terminator Terminates: an Explanation for the non-scientist of a Remarkable Patent for Killing Second Generation Seeds of Crop Plants

 Shiva, Vandana, Vanaja Ramprasad, and Radha Holla Bhar. Sustaining Diversity. Renewing diversity and balance through conservation. New Delhi: Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy, 1994.

 Union of Concerned Scientists

 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development

 For More Information:









The Global Politics of Food- Engineering Crops In a Needy World

Q&A: http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/gmos_india/pro_con.html

International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development