In the last post we covered the argument of GMO labeling.
Here are a few key takeaways on GMO controversy and the call for labeling due to safety concerns.
The glyphosate problem
“The current evidence that points towards “safety” of Glyphosate is also poor quality.”–Internal Medicine
Many of the major GM crops grown in the US are modified to tolerate high volumes of herbicide spray. For years, this wasn’t a human health issue. With the findings shared by the World Health Organization, questions over the carcinogenicity of herbicides may determine the fate of GMO crops.
Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide that was originally associated with Monsanto’s glyphosate resistant, RoundUp ready, GMO crops; currently, glyphosate has the highest production volumes of all herbicides; It has more than 750 different agricultural, forestry, urban, and home applications. (Guyton, 2015)
Just how much glyphosate are we using on GMO crops? In 2012 alone, American growers and commercial users sprayed 280 million pounds of glyphosate on their plants, according to the US Geological Survey. It has been detected in air during spraying, in water, and in food. In addition, glyphosate has been detected in the blood and urine of agricultural workers on GMO farms, indicating absorption. (Guyton, 2015)
The World Health Organization’s carcinogenicity report examined a total of five organophosphates in addition to glyphosate; Diazinon (which is restricted to agricultural applications) was given a 2A carcinogenicity classification for showing strong mechanistic evidence, and limited human and experimental animal evidence of carcinogenicity in clinical trials. Tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, and malathion, all pesticides currently in production, were also found to be possibly carcinogenic. (Guyton, 2015)
2,4 -Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), a new pesticide in production to fight super weeds, is currently under review by the WHO only months after the glyphosate findings were shared. Government regulatory groups around the globe will need to decide if further action should be taken in light of the IARC findings. In the US, the EPA is pending registration review for the reported organophosphates.
Bans, trade restrictions, and the Non-GMO movement
In January 2015, the European Commission passed legislation which will allow EU members to restrict or ban GMOs within their borders. As of April 2015, fifty eight crops have been approved for import into the EU, but only one insect resistant crop, MON810 – genetically modified maize, has been approved for cultivation. In 2013, MON810 constituted 1.5% of the total maize surface in the EU. (“EU Fact Sheet”, 2015)
In the US, a GMO labeling movement is coupled with the resurgence of support for non-GMO and organic farming practices. The non-profit third party group called the Non-GMO Project introduced a third party verification process to distinguish crops and goods that have not been genetically modified. Consumers can find Non-GMO project butterfly labels on store shelves. A complete list of verified products, retailers and restaurants may be found online.
Several congressional bills are currently being deliberated that may determine the impending status of GMO food labeling. One current resolution would place the onus on the FDA to assign food labeling standards. If HR 4432 is passed, it is speculated that the FDA would not require premarket approval and labels would continue to be voluntary. (“FDA”, 2001)(Hopkinson,2014)
Several counter bills are also in the subcommittee in support of federally mandated labeling or individual state’s right to set labeling policy (Hopkinson, 2014)
Environmental and ethical concerns
Monsanto compared the fight against super weeds to the fight against antibiotic resistant infections in hospitals. (“Genetically Modify Food”, 2014) Though the statement was meant to evoke the need to continue to update innovative techniques using GE tech, it’s also indicative of the severe environmental effects happening as a result of excessive herbicide usage on crops, genetically modified and non-modified alike.
According to FAO’s 2012 yearbook, concerns about environmental risks include the impact of introgression of the transgenes into the natural landscape, the impact of gene flow, the effect on non-target organisms, the evolution of pest resistance and loss of biodiversity.(FAO, 2012)
Adoption of GM technologies has also evoked a range of social and ethical concerns about restricting access to genetic resources and new technologies, loss of traditions (such as saving seeds after harvest), private sector monopoly and loss of income of resource-poor farmers. (FAO, 2012)
Get involved, stay informed
Join fellow doctors online, to continue the discussion on SERMO
To find restaurants and retailers offering GMO products, check out the Eating Well Guide.
Not ready to give up on GMOs and their potential benefits? Check out part 3…