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What is a GMO?

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Genetically modified organism (GMOs) are plant, animal, microorganism or other organisms that have had their characteristics changed through the modification of their DNA in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology. This creates combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.

Creating a genetically modified organism is a multi-step process. Genetic engineers must isolate the gene they wish to insert into the host organism and combine it with other genetic elements, including a promoter and terminator region and often a selectable marker. A number of techniques are available for inserting the isolated gene into the host genome. Recent advancements using genome editing techniques, notably CRISPR, have made the production of GMO's much simpler.

Most GMOs have been engineered to withstand the direct application of herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide. However, new technologies are now being used to artificially develop other traits in plants, such as a resistance to browning in apples, and to create new organisms using synthetic biology. Despite biotech industry promises, there is no evidence that any of the GMOs currently on the market offer increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any other consumer benefit.

In the absence of credible independent long-term feeding studies the safety of GMOs is unknown. Increasingly citizens are taking matters into their own hands and choosing to opt out of the GMO experiment.

Sixty-four countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, require genetically modified foods to be labeled. Canada and the United States do not currently require any GMO labeling.

However, the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS) was published in the Federal Register on December 21, 2018. This law, which you may have heard called the DARK Act, is the start of mandatory GMO labeling in the United States. It means that some, but not all products containing GMOs will have to be labeled by 2022. In its current form, categorical exemptions prevent this law from delivering the meaningful protections Americans deserve.

Most packaged foods contain ingredients derived from corn, soy, canola, and sugar beet — and the vast majority of those crops grown in North America are genetically modified.

The Non-GMO Project also considers livestock, apiculture, and aquaculture products at high risk because genetically engineered ingredients are common in animal feed. This impacts animal products such as: eggs, milk, meat, honey, and seafood.

GMOs also sneak into food in the form of processed crop derivatives and inputs derived from other forms of genetic engineering, such as synthetic biology. Some examples include: hydrolyzed vegetable protein corn syrup, molasses, sucrose, textured vegetable protein, flavorings, vitamins  yeast products, microbes & enzymes, flavors, oils & fats, proteins, and sweeteners.

Because GMOs are novel life forms, biotechnology companies have been able to obtain patents to control the use and distribution of their genetically engineered seeds. As a result, the companies that make GMOs now have the power to sue farmers whose fields have been contaminated with GMOs, even when it is the result of the drift of pollen from neighboring fields.

Genetically modified crops therefore pose a serious threat to farmer sovereignty and to the national food security of any country where they are grown.

More than 80% of all genetically modified crops grown worldwide have been engineered for herbicide tolerance. As a result, the use of toxic herbicides, such as Roundup®, has increased fifteenfold since GMOs were first introduced. In March 2015, the World Health Organization determined that the herbicide glyphosate (the key ingredient in Roundup®) is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Genetically modified crops also are responsible for the emergence of “superweeds” and “superbugs,” which can only be killed with ever more toxic poisons such as 2,4-D (a major ingredient in Agent Orange).

Most GMOs are a direct extension of chemical agriculture and are developed and sold by the world’s largest chemical companies. The longterm impacts of these GMOs are unknown. Once released into the environment, these novel organisms cannot be recalled.

Many objections have been raised over the development of GMO's, particularly their commercialization. Many of these involve GM crops and whether food produced from them is safe and what impact growing them will have on the environment. Other concerns are the objectivity and rigor of regulatory authorities, contamination of non-genetically modified food, control of the food supply, patenting of life and the use of intellectual property rights. Although there is a scientific consensus that currently available food derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food, GM food safety is a leading issue with critics. Gene flow, impact on non-target organisms and escape are the major environmental concerns. Countries have adopted regulatory measures to deal with these concerns. There are differences in the regulation for the release of GMOs between countries, with some of the most marked differences occurring between the US and Europe. One of the key issues concerning regulators is whether GM food should be labeled and the status of gene edited organisms.

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