Genetically Engineered Foods: Past, Present, and Future
Genetically Engineered Foods: Past, Present, and Future Sacramento Sustainability Forum November 17, 2011
Introduction• First GE Food: Labeled and the GE protein in it regulated as a food additive• GE Foods in the U.S. since: not labeled, GE proteins not considered food additives and not regulated by FDA• GE Products in the Pipeline: Labeling? Regulation? Sustainability?
World’s First Genetically Engineered Whole Food MacGregor’sR Tomatoes Grown from Flavr SavrTM Seeds were accompanied by tomato-shaped brochures like this one
“Grown From Genetically Modified Seeds” Right on the Sticker
Engineered for longer shelf-life and vine-lifeThe gene encoding a softening enzyme in tomato was flipped upsidedown and backwards and re-inserted into tomato plants, effectively shutting down the enzyme
1-800-34TOMATO in the accompanying brochure For consumers who wanted even more information
Use of antibiotic-resistance protein explained Gene isolated from E. coli conferred resistance to the antibiotic kanamycin
After the Flavr SavrTM Tomato• No other GE protein (viral, bacterial, etc.) has been regulated as a food additive by FDA• No other GE food has been labeled in grocery stores in the U.S.• No regulation of GE foods (with a couple of exceptions) is required by FDA• Regulation of GE crops by USDA and EPA is only triggered by products containing a “pest” or “pesticide,” respectively
Sustainability of Current GE Crops• Resistance to viruses (squash, papaya): reduces use of pesticides• Resistance to insects (corn, cotton, eggplant): reduces use of pesticides but can affect non-target insects• Tolerance of herbicides (corn, soybean): increases use of herbicides and can lead to “super weeds” but can allow low-till and no-till farming
Possible Health Issues and GE Products• Resistance to antibiotics (Bt 10)• Inadvertent introduction of allergens (StarLink)• Inadvertent introduction of mutations due to fact that current GE methods are mutagenic• Inadvertent introduction of pharmaceutical proteins into the food supply (pig vaccine)
GE Products in the Pipeline• Drought-tolerant corn• Virus-resistant plum• Canola with healthier oil• High-lycine corn (more complete protein)• Crops resistant to additional pesticides (2,4-D, quizalofop, cyhalofap, haloxyfop)
The Technology of GE• Is very powerful and not, in my opinion, just an extension of traditional breeding• Is imprecise in some ways and scientists could be doing a better job of making that clear (see www.biotechsalon.com for one scientist’s attempt to rectify that situation)• Can be used to solve agricultural problems sustainably, equitably, transparently, etc.• But GE products can also be unsustainable, inequitable, unlabeled, etc.
Conclusions for the Future• GE could be used to help solve otherwise intractable agricultural problems• GE should not be used to produce pharmaceutical products in plants grown for food• GE crops should be mandatorily regulated on a case-by-case basis• All products containing GE proteins should be labeled accordingly, especially in a democratic, capitalist society like this one