Understanding GMO Science
Our capacity to map and manipulate genetic material has evolved at a rapid pace. Although noble goals of solving environmental and public health problems guide the development of some genetically modified organisms (GMOs), too often, emerging biotechnologies are used to develop products that benefit companies’ bottom lines at the expense of people and the planet. Corporations are driven to design, patent and profit from new biotechnologies rather than protect the public good.
Despite a concerted corporate PR campaign claiming that the question is settled, there is no scientific consensus on the safety of agricultural GMOs. More than 300 scientists, physicians and scholars state this clearly in a joint statement, and the World Health Organization concurs.
Unbeknownst to the public, a new generation of GMOs 2.0 are hitting the market. In addition to transferring genetic material between organisms, like traditional GMOs, DNA and biological components can be composed synthetically and existing organisms can be genetically “reprogrammed.” A suite of new gene-editing techniques are being used to develop new biotechnologies ahead of appropriate, transparent assessment and oversight. More than 30 international environmental leaders and conservationists state the need to halt some of the most dangerous applications of the next generation of genetic engineering technologies.
GMOs and the Food Supply
The vast majority of GMOs in agriculture have been engineered for just two traits — to express Bt insecticide in all cells of the plant and to be resistant to certain herbicides. These biotechnologies further entrench the industrialization of our food and farming system by increasing the use of harmful pesticides, decreasing genetic diversity and significantly intensifying corporate control over seeds, farmers and agricultural research.
The use of glyphosate (aka Roundup®) has increased dramatically since herbicide-tolerant GMO crops were introduced two decades ago. This ubiquitous use has had negative consequences, from “superweeds” that farmers can no longer control, to the decimation of milkweed, which monarch butterflies rely on as the sole source of food for their young. Glyphosate has also been designated as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Companies that produce GMOs have far more power to determine how these technologies get used than people around the world who are affected by them. Biotech companies severely restrict the ability of independent scientists to investigate the health and environmental impacts of GMO crops since patent laws give GMO manufacturers the legal power to determine how their seeds get used, both in farming and research. Thus, independent research is often subject to seed company approval. There is also a profound lack of funding available for independent science on the safety and efficacy of GMOs.