Posts Tagged: GMO
True to its name, a listicle published on BuzzFeed News about genetic modification of foods caused a buzz during Thanksgiving week. Writer Stephanie Lee reported that many techniques have been used over the centuries to tinker with the DNA of fruits, vegetables and animals to make them prettier, tastier and easier to grow.
Largely based on an interview with UC Cooperative Extension specialist Alison Van Eenennaam, the article said some changes were accidental acts of nature, some from traditional cross breeding, and others are crop improvements by genetic engineering. None of these changes make food fundamentally unsafe or unhealthy.
"It's up to us as parents or humans to seek out correct information," Van Eenennaam said. "And that's why my kids are vaccinated, we drink pasteurized milk, and we happily eat GMOs."
Cross breeding and selection have transformed scrawny poultry into today's plump, meaty domestic turkey. Corn is descended from a barely edible grass. Spontaneous mutations from solar radiation produced Washington navel oranges. Seeds exposed to radiation by scientists "randomly scrambles the genes inside them and yields desirable traits," the article said.
More than 90 percent of U.S. corn is genetically modified. Most goes to ethanol plants, animal feed or processed food, but, "In 2011, Monsanto began growing sweet corn engineered with a protein that helps fight off pests. It's meant to be eaten directly and sold in grocery stores."
The article generated a few online conversations, with comments from those praising the article and others suggesting it was not balanced.
"I cannot believe this is your header Thanksgiving article," wrote one reader. "Seriously, who paid you?
Another said, "The anti-GMO movement isn't really about food safety ... it's primarily an anti-corporate movement."
The article said the FDA requires that food derived from GMO plants to meet the same food safety requirements as food from traditionally bred plants.
"What I would be more worried about is undercooking my turkey, because then I could actually be exposed to salmonella — that actually could kill people," Van Eenennaam said.
Sonoma County residents are voting today whether to join neighboring counties in a ban of genetically modified agricultural crops, reported Filipa Ioannou in the San Francisco Chronicle.
County voters rejected a similar ordinance 11 years ago. However, judging from the money donated to the campaigns in favor and against Measure M, some minds have been changed. In 2005, more than a $1 million went into the fight, with opponents outspending supporters by about $55,000. This time, the supporters have raised more than detractors, with the campaign in favor receiving $278,233, and the campaign against $67,500, the article said.
This comes despite an impact report by the director of UC Cooperative Extension in Sonoma County, Stephanie Larson. The report says few genetically engineered crops are now grown in Sonoma County and the potential impact of the ordinance on the growth of the local agricultural industry is not known. Larson's report says GMO crops have bee consumed by humans in billions of servings of food over 20 years without a single documented health problem.
“Is this maybe a solution in search of a problem? I wonder about that,” said Kim Vail, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau. “We live in a free-market economy. Consumers have choices, producers should have choices. Let the market decide.”
Passage of Measure M would align the county with its neighbors. Marin County, which passed Measure B in 2004, was the first to ban GMOs in the United States. Four other Northern California counties - Humboldt, Mendocino, Santa Cruz and Trinity - have banned genetically modified agricultural crops.
Update: Measure M passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
Clover Stornetta Farms of Petaluma will be adding non-GMO certification to its conventional milk in early 2017. The move upset organic and conventional farmers, as well as a few agriculture scientists, reported Tara Duggan in the San Francisco Chronicle.
The non-GMO designation means the milk comes from dairy cows who have been raised with no genetically engineered corn, soy or other products in their diets.
The article featured comments from Alison Van Eenennaam, UC Cooperative Extension specialist based at UC Davis. She said non-GMO animal feed crops have a larger ecological impact than genetically engineered versions because of their decreased resistance to disease and pests, and lower yields.
“We are really talking marketing here — developing a product line to differentiate it from a product that already does not contain GMOs,” she said. “As a company they of course can develop whatever products they want and if they see a profitable market — then it is a good business decision.”
Van Eenennaam said she is concerned that suggesting non-GMO milk is a safer or more environmentally sound product could have a chilling effect on agricultural science advances necessary to feed a world population set to hit 9 billion by 2050.
“We can keep taking technologies away from farmers by pandering to fearmongering around safe technologies — at the end of the day it just increases the environmental footprint of a glass of milk with no food safety benefit," she said.
In the story, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources expert expressed disappointment in the company's plan to market mini pigs as pets. Alison Van Eenennaam, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis, said the company's decision reflects the "global regulatory gridlock" around genetically engineered food animals.
"Genome editing is a powerful technology that can be used for many beneficial applications … such as producing disease-resistant animals and other things that would have real benefits for the sustainability of food production," she said.
Americans seem to be open to genetically engineered pets. A glowing fish created in Singapore by inserting jellyfish and sea anemone genes into zebrafish eggs has been accepted by many U.S. consumers.
"People are happy to have them in their aquarium, but it's when it's on their dinner plat that they have a different attitude," Van Eenennaam said.
Scientists used different processes in creating glowing fish and miniature swine. With the fish, genes from other organisms were inserted into the DNA. The mini pigs were made by cutting tidbits of DNA out of the pig genome. According to the article, Van Eenennaam believes gene editing animals is no different from traditional selective breeding. Furthermore, she said the FDA's unwillingness to approved genetically engineered food animals is impeding the technology. Companies are deterred from investing in research by the uncertainty.
"(There's too much financial risk) if you go to all the effort of making an animal and it's unclear whether you're going to be able to market it," Van Eenennaam said.
The review study also found that scientific studies have detected no differences in the nutritional makeup of the meat, milk or other food products derived from animals that ate genetically engineered feed.
The review, led by Alison Van Eenennaam, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis, examined nearly 30 years of livestock-feeding studies that represent more than 100 billion animals.
Titled “Prevalence and Impacts of Genetically Engineered Feedstuffs on Livestock Populations,” the review article is now available online in open-access form through the American Society of Animal Science. It will appear in print and open-access in the October issue of the Journal of Animal Science.
Genetically engineered crops were first introduced in 1996. Today, 19 genetically engineered plant species are approved for use in the United States, including the major crops used extensively in animal feed: alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, soybean and sugar beet.
Food-producing animals such as cows, pigs, goats, chickens and other poultry species now consume 70 to 90 percent of all genetically engineered crops, according to the new UC Davis review. In the United States, alone, 9 billion food-producing animals are produced annually, with 95 percent of them consuming feed that contains genetically engineered ingredients.
“Studies have continually shown that the milk, meat and eggs derived from animals that have consumed GE feed are indistinguishable from the products derived from animals fed a non-GE diet,” Van Eenennaam said. “Therefore, proposed labeling of animal products from livestock and poultry that have eaten GE feed would require supply-chain segregation and traceability, as the products themselves would not differ in any way that could be detected.”
Now that a second generation of genetically engineered crops that have been optimized for livestock feed is on the horizon, there is a pressing need to internationally harmonize the regulatory framework for these products, she said.
“To avoid international trade disruptions, it is critical that the regulatory approval process for genetically engineered products be established in countries importing these feeds at the same time that regulatory approvals are passed in the countries that are major exporters of animal feed,” Van Eenennaam said.
Collaborating on the study was co-author Amy E. Young in the UC Davis Department of Animal Science.
The review study was supported by funds from the W.K. Kellogg endowment and the California Agricultural Experiment Station of UC Davis.
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- Alison Van Eenennaam, Department of Animal Science, (530) 902-0875, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pat Bailey, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-9843, email@example.com