Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and genetically engineered (GE) foods and products have had some of their genetic material altered using recombinant DNA technology. Biotech firms take DNA molecules from different sources, and combine them into one molecule to create a new set of genes. This DNA is then transferred into an organism.
No independent studies have proven that GMOs are safe for human consumption. In fact, there is growing evidence to the contrary. As our FAQ on genetically engineered foods notes, studies on laboratory animals have shown that GMOs can cause birth defects, high infant mortality rates, fertility problems, sterility, immune system deregulation, and accelerated aging, in addition to many other side effects.
Over twenty years ago, the FDA decided to deny consumers the right to know whether their food has been genetically engineered or not. Michael Taylor, who was then the FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods, declared that genetically modified food was “substantially equivalent” to naturally grown food, and therefore should not be subject to any additional regulations. This determination was of course a boon to the biotech industry manufacturing these “frankenfoods,” but a blow to the overwhelming majority of consumers who wanted to know whether their food contained GMOs or not.
In 2012, the Center for Food Safety, on behalf of over 400 organizations and businesses, filed a Citizen Petition with the FDA which states that genetically engineered foods are being mislabeled because consumers are mislead as to their origin and cannot differentiate GMO foods that have known health problems from non-GMO foods.
The petition challenges FDA’s claim that GE foods are “substantially equivalent” to non-GE foods and that they therefore do not need to be labeled. According to the petition, non-GE foods that are not labeled as such are in fact misbranded—which FDA must, by law, take seriously.
“Substantial equivalence” assumes that foods possessing similar amounts of the basic components (fat, protein, carbohydrates) are essentially the same. This standard was proposed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international trade group, not a scientific one—and this standard has been criticized by numerous scientists.
GMO crops are not “substantially equivalent” to regular crops because GE crop technology thwarts the natural reproductive process. Because it shares genetic combinations across different species, it circumvents the mechanisms which nature has built in to protect against dangerous combinations. Another way GMOs are not substantially equivalent is that GE soy, canola, corn, and experimental rice varieties have nutritional, size, and textural differences.
When FDA first stated this “substantial equivalence” policy in 1992, 98% of the public comment opposed it. Despite the fact the FDA has received strong pushback against their stance, FDA has never bothered to address any concerns, nor has the agency ever completed or released any information assessing the human health or environmental effects of genetically modified organisms. Given the agency’s disregard for public health in other areas in the interest of protecting the profits of large corporations, this should come as little surprise.
GMO regulation is almost non-existent
Biotech companies claim that GMO foods are strictly regulated. But no GMO food has ever been certified as safe by the FDA. Biotech companies, not government agencies, conduct research on new GMO crops. And the standard for GMO safety is completely arbitrary: GMOs are considered as safe as conventional products if they have, for example, the same nutritional value. However, what is actually being measured is carbohydrate value, not nutritional value. This criteria does nothing to prove safety or consistency.
More to the point, biotech companies are always looking for backdoor ways to release new GMO crops onto the market with minimal pre-approval. To date, the FDA and other federal agencies have been more than willing to accommodate the biotech industry in this regard.
It is unconscionable that GMO foods are being approved without studies proving their long-term safety. Because the FDA has reneged on its duty to protect Americans, millions of unsuspecting consumers could be exposing themselves to harm.