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Most people probably don’t realize they’re already eating genetically engineered foods—and have been since the mid-1990s. It’s estimated that more than 60 percent of all processed foods on supermarket shelves—you know, those familiar things you reach for regularly like chips, cookies, pizza, and ice cream—contain ingredients from engineered soybeans, corn, or canola. Despite this, the concern about genetically engineered foods has reached a fever pitch as of late with countless pages of information being disseminated on both sides and from around the world. “These crops have failed to provide significant solutions,” stated the National Farmers Union in Canada. “Their use is creating problems—agronomic, environmental, economic, social, and (potentially) human health problems.”

On the other hand, Mark Tester, a research professor at the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics at the University of Adelaide, reasoned, “If the effects are as big as purported, … why aren’t the North Americans dropping like flies? GM has been in the food chain for over a decade over there—and longevity continues to increase inexorably.” Meanwhile, the headlines continue to read like science fiction. Of the thousands of headlines clamoring about the newest in GMO, we pulled five of the most relevant that show how we got here, and where we are headed.

polls

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A good debate on the GMO issue by PBS Hawaii Insights HERE.
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“Biotech papayas a threat”

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, September 11, 2004

The need:

To combat ringspot virus, which threatened to wipe out Hawai‘i’s papaya production.

The modification:

Local USDA plant virologist Dr. Dennis Gonsalves developed a genetically modified papaya variety that was resistant to ringspot: the Rainbow papaya. Similar to how vaccines can improve immunity against diseases in people, he used the ringspot virus to inoculate papaya trees and create the new version.

HELL NO:

Russell Ruderman, owner and operator of Island Natural Chain on the Big Island, said in a report by KITV that while GMO saved crops, it also “cut prices, stunted testing on traditional breeding, and fueled a negative perception. … For better or for worse, we took our whole papaya industry and put it into this category of foods that people are boycotting across the country.”

LET’S GO:

Ken Kamiya, who has been growing papaya in Hawai‘i for 40 years, said he was forced to cut down half of his orchard in the 1990s because of the ringspot virus, as did many of his fellow farmers. He began growing genetically modified papayas in 1998 and credits the transgenic papaya with saving the local papaya industry.

Status:

Virtually all of the papaya available in Hawai‘i is locally grown, and nearly 90 percent of that is genetically modified. Rainbow papayas have been sold in Hawai‘i since 1998, Canada since 2003, and Japan since 2012.
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b8

“GMO taro pits Hawaiians against some scientists”

Honolulu Advertiser, April 3, 2007

The need:

To protect taro from widespread modern plant disease.

The modification:

Researchers intended to insert resistant genes from rice, wheat, and grapes, which would ultimately alter the basic structure of the plant that many consider culturally sacred.

HELL NO:

“What we’re really angry about is that the biotech industry has turned this into a genetic modification issue,” said Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte who believes the issue is about preserving the purity of the taro rather than the scientific merits of genetic modification. “This is about us protecting our family member,” he said in a 2007 article in the Honolulu Advertiser.

LET’S GO:

“Just because there is research on a particular product does not mean it will end up as a commercial product,” wrote Stephanie Whalen, the president and director of the Hawai‘i Agriculture Research Center, in a 2008 editorial in Honolulu Magazine that opposed a moratorium on genetic engineering of taro. “Any real-world application of genetic engineering of taro would require the cooperation and support of local taro growers and significant funding from the public sector.”

Status:

Research on native Hawaiian taro remains halted, though researchers continue to conduct lab tests on a Chinese variant of taro. The moratorium on research on native Hawaiian taro expires this year.
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WTF Corn
“Monsanto corn causes tumors in rats, study finds”

Global Post, September 19, 2012

The need:

To resist herbicides and repel pests in order to increase crop yield.

The modification:

Roundup Ready sweet corn produced by Monsanto (one of the largest suppliers of herbicides in the world) is genetically modified to repel pests and withstand glyphosate, an active ingredient in herbicides such as Roundup, allowing farmers to spray their crops to kill weeds while leaving the corn unharmed.

HELL NO:

In a study where rats were fed Roundup Ready corn for two years, French scientists reported that both females and males developed cancer and died at higher rates than controls. The study, published in the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal, included pictures of mice with large tumors as evidence of their research.

LET’S GO:

Immediately after the results were published, a torrent of criticism rained down on the study, calling it a “statistical fishing trip” that used questionable methods, tumor-prone rats and poor statistical techniques. An article by Steven Salzberg in Forbes summed up one of the report’s major flaws: “There’s no dosage effect. In other words, if Seralini [the lead researcher] is right and GM food is bad for you, then more of it should be worse. But the study’s results actually contradict this hypothesis: Rats fed the highest levels of GM corn lived longer than rats fed the lowest level.”

Status:

Monsanto introduced its sweet corn seed in 2011, and it was quickly approved for planting by the USDA since the seed’s traits were previously approved for other crops in 2005 and 2008. Today, 88 percent of all the corn in the United States is genetically modified. Roundup Ready crops also include soybeans, alfalfa, cotton, sugar beets, and canola.
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Dinner_Work
“Don’t fear the Frankenfish”

The Atlantic, March 22, 2013

The need:

To satisfy the world’s insatiable desire for fish and to fight world hunger.

The modification:

AquaBounty Technologies’ AquAdvantage enables salmon to grow to market weight in about half the time of a regular North Atlantic salmon.

HELL NO:

In a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, environmentalists and consumer groups implored her to evaluate the worst-case scenario if GE salmon were introduced into the market: that it would escape the confines from which it was raised and “inflict unknown consequences on the environment.” Their evidence, according to the LA Times, leans heavily on the Trojan Gene effect, which states that a specific genetic advantage (in this case, AquaBounty salmon’s ability to grow faster) “enables it to outcompete unaltered salmon, leading to their demise.”

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LET’S GO:

William Muir, author of the Trojan Gene hypothesis and animal science professor at Purdue said his work is being misrepresented by opponents of GE salmon, who don’t get any bigger than ordinary salmon. According to an article in the LA Times, Muir stated, “The data conclusively shows that there is no Trojan Gene effect as expected. The data in fact suggest that the transgene will be purged by natural selection. In other words, the risk of harm here is low.”

Status:

With the FDA’s determination that GE salmon won’t threaten the environment, it’s likely that GE salmon will be available at grocery stores nationwide. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have already announced they would not sell the Frankensalmon.

Tags: Features