The presence of Genetically Modified Organisms in the public market is something that consumers can no longer avoid consuming. Many people have growing concerns with the vastness of the GMO crops and the strange ways that the companies attempt to avoid labeling their crops that do contain GMO, which would allow for consumer knowledge. This paper takes a deeper look into the production of GMO crops, the legislation involved in their growing, labeling and some individual court cases in which contamination by GMO crops into otherwise GMO-free land led to a disappointing outcome in which the GMO companies have the ability to dominate in courts of law due to unrealistic patenting of seeds. The effects caused by the implication of GMO foods into our diets as well as our economies and environment have caused devastating affects already and it appears as though this is not the answer we were hoping for when the lie that is “feeding a hungry world” was brought into our minds upon their introduction. The lie immediately falls apart with the implication of “terminator seeds” which appear counterproductive for farmers who make a living by growing this food.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are not necessarily something that is “new” to our understanding. At the end of the 1980s the food safety assessment of genetically engineered foods was for the first time discussed at the international level (Plahuta & Raspor, 2007). At the international level, the precautionary principal was first recognized in the World Charter for Nature produced by the UN General Assembly in 1982. Upon the first real public introduction of GMOs into the markets, most people found interesting and did not really question things right away. But then people started to wonder – what exactly was done to these organisms to cause them to have these new traits? With gaining concern on the issue it became clear that the companies involved did not want the public to really know what was going on with the crops they were now producing in huge amounts across the USA. The prognosis of possible ecological factors and secondary effects of the spreading and commercialization of transgenetic organisms presents a case that we cannot predict (Schermer & Hoppichler, 2004). Müller (1998) compared the use of the GMO to the following principals of organic farming: necessity, ecology, low persistency, influence on human health and proximity to natural processes. He concluded that the use of GMO is not compatible with any of these principals. However two sides exist to this biological and economical issue. This is especially true for marginal regions which are less able to provide beneficial food naturally due to their locations and conditions. Some experts believe that it is necessary for less favored regions to participate in research and application of GMO. They think that this would guarantee the advantages of this technology would contribute to solve the disadvantages in these regions. But others think the global development, created or speeded up by the use of GMO will increase already existing disparities between favored and less favored regions (Schermer & Hoppichler, 2004). We see a conflict between environmental protection and “standardizing the common market” (Schermer & Hoppichler, 2004). However rejection of GMOs by some consumers worldwide has led to the creation of market signals encouraging the segregation and identity preservation (IP) of non-genetically modified grain from modified grain (GM) (Bullock & Desquilbet, 2002). A study suggested that consumers are willing to pay premium prices for organic foods, even those with less than 100% organic ingredients. Sales for organic food increased from $5.5 billion in 1998 to an estimated $13 billion by 2003 (Food Marketing Institute, 2003). The idea of “biocapitalism” – the idea of financial battle to control food production is the biggest issue at hand regarding GMO production (Asira & Okeke, 2012). There is a clear need for a compromise to be met in some regard in terms of the implication of GMO foods with organic foods since both have demand. Suggested options include creating zones in which no GMO plants are allowed within certain distances in order to avoid cross-pollination. This approach has been discussed vastly in places such as Sweden – where they believe that the biggest issue would be the administration and control of the GMO-free areas. Unintentional genetic transfer is the second biggest issue (Schermer & Hoppichler, 2004). Segregation of equipment for processing and transfer of GMO vs non-GMO foods will also need to be implemented into our infrastructure. A calculation was done for per-tonne cost of planter and combined cleaning, once per season to maintain non-GMO soybean segregation and IP, for a typical farm with 200 ha of soybeans yielding 2.8 t per hectare. Calculations assumed that labor can be hired for $15 per hour and that a typical premium paid to farmers for non-GM soybeans is approximately $7.5/t (DuPont Specialty Grains, 2001). For this farm the costs of planter and combined cleaning are small, approximately $0.066 per tonne. Clearly there is room financially for the coexistence of both types of grains.
“Feeding a Hungry World”
The companies which produce the GMOs are providing consumers with many promises for better crop production, taste, pest-resistance and other beneficial qualities. Their biggest promise of all may be the idea that they are here to feed a hungry world. In 2006 the global cultivation of genetically modified crops exceeded 100 million hectares for the first time (Demont & Devos, 2008). Monsanto- which is currently one of the largest GMO producers was originally one of America’s largest chemical companies by WWII. One of the earliest manufacturers of the pesticides DDT, the company later turned to Agent Orange, PCBs and Roundup (Robin, 2011). Monsanto was allegedly aware all the while of their products toxicity but chose to ignore the dangers by silencing critics through well-financed campaigns of misinformation (Robin, 2011). The company’s changing from a chemical manufacturer to a biotechnology company is a reflection on the internal morality issues that are involved here. The promoters of the genetically engineered crops equate the new technology to the so-called Green Revolution that began in the 1960s. That revolution effectively increased agricultural productivity in many developing nations by providing farmers with new crop varieties, pesticides and fertilizers (Asira & Okeke, 2012). Now we face a time of another Revolution, this time involving Biotechnology. The key to the new revolution will be new plant varieties, genetically engineered to produce their own pesticides and to have higher yields, increased tolerance, better nutritional quality, and other valued traits (Asira & Okeke, 2012). An example of nutritional improvement is in Golden Rice engineered to contain three extra genes that allow the rice to make beta carotene, which the body converts to Vitamin A (Asira & Okeke, 2012). In principal it is true that it’s possible to reach better conditions in agriculture in less favored regions by using GMO. Some countries show interest in the technology, including Brazil, Indonesia and China (Schermer & Hoppichler, 2004). It has been suggested in that the introduction of GMO corn into Africa would potentially help farmers (Paarlberg, 2010). While this may be true for some regions, however it is not the case for all regions in Africa. Some areas such as Zimbabwe are known to grow organic food which they sell to the U.K. when farming conditions are in good standing. The U.K. is not interested in buying GMO food and would likely not purchase it from the country, which would send them into an economic crisis. It has been found that if consumers are not willing to pay significant price premiums for GM-free crops, isolation distances generate substantial losses for GM crop producers, who are denied GM gains from growing GM crops while hardly capturing any compensatory GM-free gains. The net loss (GM gains minus GM-free gains) is in no way proportional to the weak incentives for supplying GM-free crops (Demont & Devos, 2008). However we do find that people care enough to avoid buying GM-containing products. The promise of feeding a hungry world is nothing more than a lie, with money as the real incentive. More realistically the presence of hunger in around the world has more to do with the absence of land reform, social inequality, biases against women in many cultures, lack of access to cheap credit and basic technology, rather than a lack of agribusiness super seeds (Asira & Okeke, 2012).
Tragedy of the Farmers
Although the concept of GMOs appears at first to be more of a scientifically-based trade – in reality it all comes back to the farmers who are planting these crops. They are the ones who need to be considered above the corporations, and often they are the ones who are found guilty of crimes that are out of their hands involving cross contamination by GM-crops from neighboring fields. Altieri (1999) points out that when innovations in biotechnology are mainly oriented toward profit rather than toward need it is because they want to maximize shareholder value and to do so they have to direct their research toward intensification of agriculture in areas with favorable environmental conditions and neglect the needs of the less favored. Two issues come into play: “terminator seeds” and the concept of patenting life. Self-reliance in ecological adapted seed sources is an important factor for reproduction. Recent patent protection laws and intellectual property rights, imposed by the interests of industry, restrict the farmers in the procurement of seed as well as in the possibilities of maintain an independent seed-production, on farm seed manipulation and sharing of seeds among farmers. The possibility of preserving traditional unmodified seeds on farms will be further limited by unintentional gene transfer. Farm based conservation of old and neglected varieties are vital for the maintenance of genetic diversity (Schermer & Hoppichler, 2004). The patenting of life is perhaps the greatest danger that firm such as Monsanto presents (Robin, 2011). Although patents are granted for both GM and non-GM seeds alike, and all patents expire after a set number of years (Apel, 2010), the concept of patenting seeds is something that is highly questionable. Many court cases have come from the patenting of these seeds and many farmers have experienced loss of crops due to accidental contamination which was found though random field testing done by GM companies. The second issue is “terminator seeds” which pose a serious threat to many poor farmers. On March 3, 1998 the US Department of Agriculture and cotton seed breeder, Delta and Pine Lane Company acquired US patent 5,723,765 for what they call “technology protection system” TPS. This is a system for a genetically engineered suicide mechanism into seeds of the next generation. It was dubbed a “terminator technology”. This prevents farmers from saving seeds to plant the following year (Asira & Okeke, 2012). The Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) reported that over 85% of farmers worldwide rely on “brown-bagging” (seed collection) and cannot afford the expense of buying seeds every new season (Asira & Okeke, 2012). In fact, the “terminator technology” would end up driving the cost of food higher thereby not only making less food available for the hungry world’s population but also defeating the “feed the world” argument. A final questionable though in relation to the “terminator seeds” is the idea that the new technology could be used to create plants whose desirable traits would be switched on only by the application of some specific chemicals. Farmers will have to buy seeds and the chemicals to go with them (Asira & Okeke, 2012).
GMO Detection & Risk Assessment
With the growing public concern and desire for labeling of GMO-containing foods, the detection requirements and risk assessment requirements are growing as well. However scientists have already acknowledged the limitations in risk assessment, especially in GMOs (Schermer & Hoppichler, 2004). The concentration of GMO is determined by relating protein concentration to %GMO using standard reference materials (Stave, 1999). The currently preferred method for identification and quantification of GMO in food is the real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) focusing on the amplification and detection of an event-specific fragment of the GMO (Hamels et al, 2009). However there is a need to be able to test this food in a cost-effective manner. Companies handling GMO foods must analyze their processes and identify major commodities, process inputs, critical points and control points. Labeling of final foodstuffs can be based on testing results of intermediate fractions, the characteristics of the defined process and chain-of-custody. Compliance can be enforced through audits of production documentation Understanding the food production process is also required in order to select specific test formats, testing locations and frequency of testing. Factors such as cost-per-test, turnaround time, user training (experience level), batch size, equipment costs, etc. will ultimately determine the success of implementation (Stave, 1999). Immunoassays are highly quantitative, analytical methods which comply with strict regulatory requirements mandated by government agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration and were exemplified by the clinical diagnostics industry (Stave, 1999). Annual sales of clinical immunoassay tests are about $6 billion. The number of tests sold each year worldwide is about 2.6 billion. The average cost per test ranges from $0.75 to $5.00 (Theta Reports, 1997). In order to develop an immunoassay for a specific protein antigen, relatively pure preparations of that protein are required for immunizing animals and producing antibodies. Most of the novel proteins that have been introduced into transgenic crops are proprietary to the company developing the GMO and thus are not generally available for outside parties. These companies are required to provide validated testing methods or make antigens and antibodies, or the means to produce them, available to outside parties for test development (Stave, 1999). The secrecy of these companies comes with potentially high risks. When analyzing product for GMO, quality control is used with grain lots to control their purity. Usually the control cannot be made on each grain separately. The presence of an impurity is rather assayed in groups of grains the size of which is an important parameter which can be used to find a cost optimal acceptance sampling plan among those which gave acceptable consumers’ and producers’ risks (Kobilinsky & Bertheau, 2005). Consider for instance the control described and recommended for the detection of StarLink, a GMO maize developed by Aventis CropScience which produces a protein Cry9C with insecticidal properties effective in controlling the European corn borer and which is approved for use as animal feed only. In this case they would take enough grains to feed a consumer and check that lot for the StarLink grains. If no GMO is found in them there is a very low probability of accepting a lot with an unacceptable GMO rate (Kobilinsky & Bertheau, 2005). If a proportion of 0.3% is considered unacceptable, 2300 grains have to be used to get a 0.1% probability of accepting a lot reaching this 0.3% GMO rate. It is recommended to perform this analysis on subsamples of 400 grains insuring that even 1 GM grain in the subsample is reliably detected. A lot is accepted if none of the subsamples contain GMO, allowing for the labeling of GMO-free. (Kobilinsky & Bertheau, 2005). One kind of GM soybeans, Roundup Ready soybeans are currently available for commercial planting in the US. The only market in which US soybeans currently face zero tolerance level for the presence of commercialized GM soybeans is the market for soybeans destined for the E.U. (Bullock & Desquilbet, 2002). Taking into account the producers risk appears essential in many cases. Some GM plants are very scattered today and it is almost impossible to avoid any trace of them. One reason for the dissimilation of pollen is by wind or insects which cannot be completely controlled. This is why the producer’s point of view has to be taken into account (Kobilinsky & Bertheau, 2005).
With testing for GMO presence in food products now underway and required considering the intolerance for GMO products in some countries and strict %GMO restrictions in many others it is clear that labeling is important to the public. Non-labeling and not being able to trace the product to its source is a growing issue (Schermer & Hoppichler, 2004). The Codex Alimentarius is an intergovernmental task force on foods derived from biotechnology. It is working on establishing internationally harmonized guidelines for assessment and recommendations on labeling standards for GMOs (Burlingame & Pineiro, 2007). In the US there is no labeling requirement, all labeling is done on a voluntary basis. In the UK, food products containing domestically authorized GMO transformation events, the EU passed mandatory labeling laws in January 2000, and Japan did in April 2001. It is above a 1% tolerance level in EU and a 5% tolerance level in Japan (Bullock & Desquilbet, 2002). In Japan a basic ingredient is subject to GMO labeling requirements if all three conditions are met: 1) If DNA or protein resulting from a genetic modification is present in the basic ingredient. 2) If the basic ingredient is one of the top three ingredients of the product in terms of weight. 3) If the weight of the basic ingredient accounts for 5% or more of the total product (Bullock & Desquilbet, 2002). However these labeling requirements do not apply to animal feed. Feed companies voluntarily labeling their products as non-GM need to comply with the 1 and 5% tolerance levels. In addition, food products such as soy sauce for which all traces of GM or protein DNA have been eliminated during processing are exempt from labeling requirements (Bullock & Desquilbet, 2002). In the UK, 104 samples out of 300 of maize and maize products were found to contain GMO at percentages of 5.7% and these samples did not bear the appropriate labeling (Varzakas et al., 2007). Another example is from Brazil, in which after testing 54 samples of meat from various providers in Brazil they found that 6 samples of processed meat products and soy-based products sold commercially from 2007-2008 had RoundupReady present. Only one sample would have to be labeled as GMO (Dinon et al., 2010). A more consumer-based example is the launch in the UK by Zeneca of a tomato paste clearly labeled and advertised as being derived from GMO. It is generally viewed as a commercial success as measured by high levels of consumer acceptance and high market shares (Seymour-Cooke, 1997). Pre-launch poll opinions said that the vast majority of the UK population would not buy puree from GMO tomatoes. The product was priced about 20% cheaper than non-GMO, however.
Environmental, Economic & Health Hazards
There are is a serious unpredictability involved with the spread of GMOs. Müller (1998) noted that the reasons we cannot predict what will happen include that 1) some effects cannot be known at present times (ex: DDT), in complex systems a model cannot give a true picture of reality especially in the long term, knowledge is limited by the present political, economic, and social framework and also the methods applied to risk assessment are blind for certain effects. 2) Limits in the assessment of biological and genetic risk of GMO (invasiveness, changes of the genetic pool due to cross pollination, synergistic effects) 3. Limits in the assessment of risks in products containing GMO (biochemical risks concerning allergies, toxicology risks, synergistic effects.) In terms of the environmental risks associated with GMO production – we are faced with the serious question “what are we doing to the biodiversity and resilience of the planets crops?” At the current time the scientific knowledge is inadequate and limited with regard to the total effects of growing GMOs on the biodiversity but mainly on the genetic purity of wild and cultivated species, whereas the current results from research studies of cultivated GMO appear to be rather negative and worrying (Arriaga et al., 2006). There is no doubt that the spread of high yielding varieties has been an important cause of genetic erosion (Schermer & Hoppichler, 2004). Firms should ensure that the environmental costs associated with their activities are incorporated into the cost of their products, rather than be externalized and borne by society as a whole. Firms should exercise precaution in terms of the introduction and handling of products that have uncertain impacts and that may carry risks (Clapp, 2008). Recent years have seen a number of cases of “accidental” or “unintentional” releases of genetically modified organisms that were not approved for human consumption or in some cases even for commercial planting (Clapp, 2008). Allergenicity and toxicity are major concerns and are caused by associated proteins (Stave, 1999). One should keep in mind that GM protein can leach from leaves from wine-grape vines into the wine in the situation when the harvesting and grape processing is improper for wine-making (Jackson, 1993). In general gene flow to wild plant relatives could transfer traits for herbicide tolerance or pest resistance and thus impact biodiversity (Ellstrand, 2001). With this in mind one should note that pesticide use has only risen as insects develop resistance to RoundUp and other GM solutions (Robin, 2011). In terms of health hazards there are growing concerns that genetically altered foods could spark allergic reactions or facilitate antibiotic resistance (Dauenhauer, 2003). The transformation of a chemical company into a “Green” agricultural biotechnology company may have something to do with this fear (Robin, 2011). At the present time the Chinese are experimenting with putting human genes into tomatoes and peppers in order to make them grow faster (Asira & Okeke, 2012). One could see how this could be a controversial experiment. A last perspective to consider would be the economics behind GMOs. Costs appear to come mainly from the production process of crops themselves. It is argued that a major cost for handlers comes from a flexibility loss due to the necessity of dedicating equipment to one or two handling channels (some for GMO and some for non-GMO). For maize an additional cost comes from the necessity of preventing pollination of non-GMO varieties by GM pollen at the seed and farm production stages (Bullock & Desquilbet, 2002). Contaminated crops could be shut out of markets which could cause economic losses for farmers (Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, 2002). In many poor developing nations they themselves are often too poor to be able to purchase the organic food they are producing for Europeans and Americans (Apel, 2010). The costs of regulatory compliance are so high that, with few exceptions, they can be borne by only a select few multinational corporations – perhaps as few as five: BASF, Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-bred (DuPont) and Syngenta (Apel, 2010). Ironically one of the companies that are hit hardest by the biotech products on the market are chemical companies. The chemical fertilizers are no longer used as widely thanks to the crops that can now produce them on their own (Apel, 2010).
Maize, Rice & Unintentional Releases
Genetically modified organisms come in many shapes and sizes (and species) at this point, but the most commonly/commercially used GMOs are maize, soybean and rice varieties. Roundup Ready soybean was the first genetically modified organism approved in Brazil. It confers tolerance to the herbicide Roundup Ready. In Brazil it’s necessary to label GMO content that exceeds 1% (10g kg-1) (Dinon et al., 2010). But back in the US we don’t require labeling. Most companies prefer it that way, as it would potentially affect their sales. But what happens when GM crops are unintentionally released into areas that are not used for GMO? There are three major cases of unapproved releases that are important to discuss. The three major seed releases were by major ag-biotech TNCs: StarLink (Aventis, discovered in 2000), Bt10 (Syngenta, discovered in 2005) and LLRICE601 (Bayer CropScience, discovered in 2006). In each case the unapproved GMOs made their way into the food and seed supply, and contaminated not just domestic supplies, but also made their way into exports, thus affecting numerous countries around the world (Clapp, 2008).
The first case was of the release of StarLink. It was a big deal because it was only approved for animal consumption. When it was found in the human food supply there were widespread recalls of contaminated food products (Segarra and Rawson, 2001). Under the agreement to register StarLink for non-human consumption, it was the responsibility of Aventis to ensure that farmers were aware of the restrictions and to supply them with a set of rules for its planting and handling. Aventis claimed that it had farmers sign an agreement that restricted them to only use the corn and buffer strip corn planted near it for animal feed or industrial purposes, and that bags of the seed were labeled. When the media reported that StarLink was in the food supply, many farmers claimed that they had not signed any agreements and that they were unaware of the restrictions (Pollack, 2001). The company later admitted that it had failed to give all growers of the corn proper agreements. Although the firm was not fined for its infraction of the law, the US government required Aventis to pay the costs related to the recall of StarLink maize in commodity form, as well as in processed foods. Farmers and suppliers were also awarded settlements for the costs they incurred as a result. This cost amounted to some $500 million by some accounts. But the damages went beyond the US. The DNA from StarLink has been found growing in farmers’ fields in Mexico, in food aid shipments to Central America and Africa, and in shipments of processed food products of both Japan and Korea. There was special concern for the ecological impact of the StarLink DNA found in Mexican fields, as Mexico is a center of origin of maize and gene flow from this variety has been documented, despite Mexico’s ban on the planting of GM varieties of maize (ETC Group, 2003). Aventis knew nearly a year before the news hit the media that farmers were not following required procedures, and it was aware of its failure to educate farmers on this front. Yet little was done to prevent plantings in the Spring of 2000. The company then applied to have StarLink retroactively approved for the human food supply, even though there was continued concerns about its health and environmental impacts. The company also questioned the concern over the potential allergenicity of the corn, and produced alternative studies which downplayed the risk (Clapp, 2008). Environmental groups lobbied the UN in 2001 to have Aventis expelled from the Global Compact in the wake of the incident. Aventis was criticized on many levels including its failure to locate and buy back all of the contaminated corn, as demanded by the US government. The UN was reluctant to eject the company from the Global Compact because there are no conditions to be met by firms that are participants (everything is voluntary). Aventis was purchased by Bayer to form Bayer CropScience in 2002 (Neuffer, 2001).
The second major case of contamination of the food supply was an unapproved GMO from Swiss multinational company Syngenta. Bt10 is an experimental variety of GM maize that is not approved for commercial planting in any country, but was accidently supplied by Syngenta as seed in the US for four years without anyone being aware of it (Macilwain, 2005). It was discovered in 2004 and not publically reported until 2005. By the time it was known, the maize ended up in shipments to Ireland and Japan, and likely to many other countries as well. It is unclear how many countries had been affected by imports of this maize as Syngenta declined to give a list of countries that had received it (Clapp, 2008). Upon the original media release of Bt10, the company tried to claim it was virtually identical to Bt11 which is already approved. However it was discovered that Bt10 and Bt11 are not identical. The main difference is that Bt10 contains an antibiotic resistant marker gene, which raised concerns about its health impacts as it was feared that widespread release of the variety could result in the transfer of resistance to the commonly used antibiotic ampicillin (FOE, 2005). Syngenta was fined $475,000 by the USDA for breaking US law by releasing an unapproved seed variety. The company was also required to hold a training conference on best practices in the agricultural biotechnology seed industry. Under the supervision of the USDA the company was required to destroy all of the Bt10 seed. In late 2006 the company was fined $1.5 million by the USEPA for distributing an unregistered genetically engineered pesticide on over 1000 occasions (APHIS/USDA, 2005).
The third notable case was the contamination involving the US division Bayer CropScience in 2006. The company acknowledged that an unapproved variety of genetically modified rice – Liberty Link Rice 601 – had been found in long-grain rice supplies in the US. The variety of rice contains a protein that gives it tolerance to Bayer’s herbicide Liberty. It is not clear how the contamination occurred (Clapp, 2008). When the contamination of rice was announced, the EU, Japan and South Korea immediately moved to ban shipments of long-grain rice from the US, as they could not be guaranteed that imports were free of GMO. Within days a number of lawsuits were filed against Bayer CropScience by farmers who lost export markets and were affected by the significant drop in rice prices as a direct consequence of contamination (Reuters, 2006). By late 2006 the environmental group GreenPeace had conducted tests and announced that the LLRICE601 was found in shipments of imported rice in 24 countries, including a significant number of countries in the EU, the Middle East, West Africa and Asia (GreenPeace, 2007). The company claimed that farmers and “god” are responsible, not the company for the spread of this rice, and this illustrates the company’s efforts to diminish its own liability in this instance (Clapp, 2008). In all three cases, it was not the agri-biotech firms that developed the GMO that first reported the illegal releases, indicating a failure on the part of the firms’ monitoring and self-reporting systems (Clapp, 2008).
While the 1970s saw many governments pursue a regulatory command-and-control approach, the emphasis shifted in the 1980s and 90s to an approach to regulation where voluntary corporation mechanisms plays a key role. This approach was endorsed by Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and recently was boosted by the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 (Clapp, 2008). The agricultural biotechnology industry has embraced voluntary corporate responsibility measures and in the US regulators reply on firms to voluntarily report on their compliance with the law. Application of the precautionary principal and internalization of environmental costs appear not to be high on these firms’ agendas. While Corporate Social Responsibility and the Global Compact encourage internalization of environmental costs and application of the precautionary principal amongst firms, in the case of illegal GMO releases these measures have proven extremely weak. In the case of illegal GMO releases, external, state-based regulation which places liability squarely on firms is likely to be much more successful as a means to prevent future occurrences of this problem (Clapp, 2008).
In the US the US Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services takes the lead and regulates field tests of genetically engineered plants and governs interstate shipments of GMOs. It also requires firms conducting field tests to identify and report compliance infractions. An audit on this agency in 2005 reported that the agency lacked basic information and found weaknesses in its’ inspection and enforcement processes. The US Environmental Protection Agency regulates plants engineered to produce their own pesticides. The EPA also requires firms to ensure that all field tests follow its’ regulations to prevent unintentional release into the environment and to report such releases. The Food and Drug Administration oversees a voluntary process where companies provide data on safety of genetically modified foods (Clapp, 2008). The European approach is also different because it can decline to approve a technology on grounds of uncertainty alone without any evidence of risk. This is known as the precautionary principal. In the US if standard tests for known risks such as toxicity, allergenicity and digestivity have been passed successfully there is usually no regulatory barrier to commercial release (Paarlberg, 2010).
At the international level, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety governs the transboundary movement of GMOs. This program came into force in 2001 and requires advance informed agreements for shipments containing living modified organisms (seeds) intended for release into the environment, as well as notification to importers in the case of shipments of commodities intended as food, feed, or for processing that contain or may contain GMO via the Biosafety Clearing-House, an information center that tracks such movements. As of mid-2007 this protocol has 141 parties. The US as one of the largest producers and exporters of GMOs remains outside the scope of the agreement (Clapp, 2008).
Monsanto established a CSR committee in 2000. To date there has been no industry-wide code of conduct that firms could sign onto with respect to the handling of genetically modified organisms. However the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) an industry association for firms in the biotech sector, accounted plans to establish an industry-wide voluntary standard for the agricultural biotechnology sector called the Excellence Through Stewardship Program. This is based on quality management and will set out guidelines on best practices for the industry, with plans to eventually include third party auditing (Gillam, 2007).
In the case MONSANTO CO. v. Geertson Seed Farms, the Supreme Court ignored NEPA’s purpose by declining to issue an injunction against an agency in violation of the Act. As a result the Court may have significantly weakened the force of NEPA (Gwyn, 2011). NEPA commands agencies to consider the potential environmental effects of the vast majority of their decisions. In this case the Court required environmental plaintiffs to show a likelihood of environmental harm to meet the irreparable-injury requirement of injunctive relief (Gwyn, 2011). This case originated over the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) decision to completely deregulate the genetically modified organism Roundup Ready Alfalfa (RRA), produced by Monsanto Company. The findings in this case were that 1) Planting RRA can cause genetic contamination of other crops. 2) Contamination had occurred in controlled settings. 3) APHIS is unable to effectively monitor or enforce limitations on planting. 4) Genetic contamination could decimate the American alfalfa market. However the Court did not act in according to these findings. Instead they relied on a single study within the voluminous record (Gwyn, 2011).
People Don’t Want It
Even though the sum of political and financial benefits of opposing agricultural biotechnology appear vastly to outweigh the benefits which accrue to providers of agricultural biotechnology, technology providers actually benefit from this opposition (Apel, 2010). This is another reason that people should potentially be cautious. It appears as though GMO production has taken control of either side of the fence. However a growing number of people are having more concerns about GMO production and personal consumption. In September 1999 representatives of American Farmers-Associations recommended that members not plant GM varieties of corn as the buyers in Japan and Europe would likely refuse the sale. The number of people refusing the food is growing, especially in Europe (Schermer & Hoppichler, 2004). Some argue that this growing concern is simply ignorance and failure for people to understand scientific data. However research shows that their fears may not be unfounded (Schermer & Hoppichler, 2004). A survey done in France showed that 75% of households are worried about GM foods (Schermer & Hoppichler, 2004). Another study suggests that consumers are willing to pay premium prices for organic foods, even those with less than 100% organic ingredients. Sales of organic food increased from $5.5 billion in 1998 to an estimated $13 billion in 2003 (Food Marketing Institute, 2003). Often, consumers value organic products not just because they perceive the products to be healthier, but also because they perceive them to be more environmentally friendly and more supportive of small scale agriculture and local rural communities (Williams & Hammit, 2000). It was also found that females are willing to pay higher premiums across attributes, in particular higher organic ingredient content and presticide- and GM-free ingredients, than are males (Batte et al., 2007). Farmers in Europe are few in number and they are highly productive even without GMO. In Africa by contrast 60% of all citizens are still farmers and they are not yet highly productive. Africa chooses to not use GMO, which may be bad choice for them economically (Paarlberg, 2010), but environmentally it could be very helpful to their crops and land. Zimbabwe rejected GMO food offerings because they fear that the GMO seeds will cross pollinate native species and they will no longer be able to sell their crops to Europe who are GMO-intolerant. Another country of interest is Greece, which feels that they have no serious reasons to choose the use of GMO due to the fact that the structural and pedological characteristics of the Greek agriculture favor the biological and integrated cultivation more. Greece is not in favor of the politics behind coexistence of conventional and GM plants and objects to the use of GMOs in the food and the environment because the processor has a big burden in terms of money, time and will suffer a great deal in order to prove that their products are GMO free or that any contamination adventitious or technically unavoidable. Greece owns a large variety of genetic material that they are trying to protect from patenting and commercialization (Varzakas et al., 2007).
Recommendations on Future Practices
With all the information we now have access to – one should start to realize that we need to implement new practices into the use of GMOs in order to provide ourselves and our future children with the choice between what foods they can eat and honest knowledge about those food choices. At this point it is impossible to be rid of GMOs – they have spread to the point that they are basically everywhere at least in small quantities. Now the real question is how to (realistically) set new standards that make everyone feel as though they still have options. Companies should not be allowed control of the food industry, especially when we allow that control to extend to seed patenting and uninformed species introduction. One idea that is being discussed is the concept of “strategic niche management” which supports the idea of developing and establishing technical alternatives fenced off from market forces for a certain period of time to allow proper assessment. Van der Ploeg (2000) argues that “protected spaces” are necessary to give farming styles which run counter to the dominating “technological regime” a chance for development. These “protective spaces” would be far more cost effective than a multitude of rural development studies on such farming styles. Another idea that is being discussed in Sweden are GMO-free areas. There are currently many actively open promoters of GMO-free areas (Schermer & Hoppichler, 2004). These are areas part of a biosphere park which stimulate economically sustainable endogenous development as studies done in Austria have demonstrated (Schermer & Hoppichler, 2004). It seems unlikely to justify the installation of GMO-free areas on purely natural-scientific grounds at the moment because natural science has its limitations with regard to the ability for prognosis. The whole in the ozone layer is an example: it’s existence nor the relation between cause and effect behind it were scientifically predictable, only able to be viewed in retrospect (Schermer & Hoppichler, 2004). The desire for establishing GMO-free areas is there. There was a survey among politicians, scientists, administrative personnel and NGOs in agriculture, nature and environmental protection. The general aim was to evaluate the opinion of people who are professionally confronted with these issues. It was taken by experts in Austria – 152 responded (Schermer & Hoppichler, 2004). The idea of defining the whole mountainous and alpine region of Austria as GMO-free biosphere reserve met even greater acceptance and was rated as very good or good at 78%. Main strategies supporting GMO-free production for organic farming include: agricultural environmental programs, regional food processing and marketing structures, delineating GMO-free areas for seed breeding and multiplying, demarcation of “large, GMO-free ecologically sensitive areas” (Schermer & Hoppichler, 2004).
However even with the GMO-free zones, the mixing of GMO and non-GMO products can occur at several points along the paths in which grain at a country elevator is moved, stored and loaded for shipments. It would be necessary to dedicate some storage bins to GMO and some to non-GMO. Most country elevators are not able to segregate like this currently. The conveyor belts, dryers, legs, boots, pits and other pieces of equipment are meant to remain reasonably clean but not contaminate-free (Bullock & Desquilbet, 2002). There is a trade-off present in this case. In order to provide the market with a choice between GMO and non-GMO grain, the grain handling system has to provide the market with less choice among quality levels of that grain. In the short run, given the size and number of current storage bins, the cost of the trade-off between GMO/non-GMO choice and grain quality choice cannot be avoided. In the long-run, handlers may respond to this trade-off by building more and smaller storage bins (Bullock & Desquilbet, 2002). The farmers’ major cost of non-GM segregation and IP comes from the product process itself. For many farmers, GMOs lower production costs, and a price premium must be available to convince them to give up using cost-reducing GM seeds (Bullock & Desquilbet, 2002). In order to avoid unfortunate outcomes similar to the outcome of Geertson, the threshold factor for irreparable injury should be presumed when an agency violates NEPA’s procedures (Gwyn, 2011).
The topic of Genetically Modified Organisms is an issue that needs more consideration and long-term studies on the affects they can cause on humans and other organisms in the environment. In a survey in Austria the majority of experts were “critical” one way or another on the topic, 67% define the situation as critical to very critical, 14% are in favor and 19% are slightly critical. Of these, 75% thought that the use of GMO causes a significant disturbance in areas of nature protection. They wanted a ban on releasing GMO to areas of nature protection and adjoining areas (Schermer & Hoppichler, 2004). There is a necessity to apply the principal of precaution for complex technologies. This means that the harmlessness of a measure must be proven before it can be applied, especially when the means would be irreversible (Schermer & Hoppichler, 2004). Calculations were done estimating the cost for cleaning and segregating GM and non-GM crops for an average farm and it was found that the cost was very small, at approximately $0.066 per tonne (DuPont Specialty Grains, 2001). This means that the average farmers could potentially grow both types of food if they preferred. If consumers are willing to pay substantial price premiums for GM-free crops, farmers who are denied GM gains will attempt to compensate these losses by planting non-GM crops while avoiding any adventitious mixing from GM crops and aiming to capture GM-free gains. In doing so, they risk triggering a domino effect at the landscape level by forcing other farmers to follow their example (Demont & Devos, 2008). With the growing demand for GM-free foods it is important for everyone to take a step back and consider alternatives that do not wreak havoc on our ecosystems and food supplies. The loss of biodiversity can serious threaten crop populations as whole should some type of damage be done that only affects GM-plants due to their alterations. In such a case we would be faced with an even greater food shortage. This is why we need to maintain biodiversity and organic farming as much as possible. Even the numbers speak for themselves – the cost of maintaining and implementing separation for GM and non-GM foods and the fact that some countries are becoming less willing to accept GM exports shows us that their fears are likely not unfounded and we should consider as many options for maintaining our food supplies and ecosystems as possible.
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