It’s been over 25 years since the sale of the first GMOs occurred for human consumption. The techniques used in the development of the first generation such as GMO corn, soy, and canola, entailed moving DNA crudely from one organism to another experimentally using “transgenic” techniques or “recombinant DNA”.
Now, there’s been a development of more advanced techniques to engineer and alter life forms at the genetic level.
The new genetic techniques are GMO 2.0 or synthetic biology. With the emergence of new modification techniques, the development of modified organisms can occur more easily, cheaply, and quickly than before. The techniques seek to change the food system, with unknown consequences. Here’s what you should know.
Synthetic biologists implement techniques that enable them to redesign the genetic composition of living organisms more significantly through adding, constructing, silencing, deleting, or rewriting DNA completely and other genetic constituents.
They comprise of (but not limited to) genome editing, DNA synthesis, RNA interference, and metabolic engineering. For now, most of the commercial use of these methods entails re-engineering microbes, for instance, yeast, algae, or E. coli for the excretion of new chemical compounds to take place from those organisms.
Synthetic biology firms working with huge fragrance, flavor, and ingredient companies use the re-engineered microbes to produce artificial versions of popular ingredients. Since the process entails fermentation, the ingredients for GMO 2.0 are at times misleadingly called “nature-identical” or “natural” when the production technique is far from natural.
Current applications for synthetic biology include food-processing oils (including for baby foods, supplements, and formula). Versions of common ingredients, for instance, saffron, vanilla, and coconut are underway.
The introduction of these food products in the marketplace is taking place via the food service sector instead of supermarkets. The multiplication of synbio organisms occurs faster than ordinary organisms and while they’re contained and produced in laboratories, escape poses real threats to the broader environment.
The use of GMO 2.0 organisms for producing consumer ingredients raises several of the same concerns as the first GMO generation regarding ownership, biosafety, justice and other concerns.
Concerns about GMOs 2.0
The next generation of genetically modified foods is in a nearby grocery store and you might never know you’re consuming them. Some of the GMO 2.0 foods include arctic apples, which have undergone genetic modification so they don’t brown. You’ll find them pre-sliced in bags as snack foods.
Similar to the first GMOs, a number of experts are concerned about the lack of testing or oversight when it comes to the next generation GMOs. A number of experts assert that gene-editing technologies and genetic engineering are rather unpredictable and prone to unforeseen side effects.
Furthermore, no safety evaluations specific to the new methods are necessary and there’s no regulatory oversight in place for the fast-moving set of technologies. Some companies are even taking advantage of the huge gaps in federal regulations and are rushing gene-edited products to the market with little understanding regarding negative impacts on the environment or our health and without informing consumers.
Some companies are marketing some of the GMO2.0 foods legally since USDA policies haven’t caught up with the emerging biotech. An example is cibus canola oil, which has undergone genetic editing to be herbicide resistant, eluding USDA regulations.
However, consumer concerns over GMO foods have impelled fast food chains like Wendy’s and McDonald’s to reject the Arctic apple. Similarly, McDonald’s has declined to use new potato varieties in their French Fries. The potato varieties have undergone gene engineering to resist the pathogen that resulted in the Irish potato famine.
Moreover, over 60 grocery chains like Walmart have decided not to sell the AquAdvantage salmon. Consumers must be proactive to avoid new gene-edited products and GMOs. Consequently, they’re relying on labels such as “Organic” certification or “Non-GMO Project Verified” to shun genetically-engineered ingredients.
Reasons to Avoid Genetically Modified Foods
- They increase the use of herbicides
Most of these crops are meant to be herbicide-tolerant. As a result, farmers have to use more deadly herbicides annually. This doesn’t just cause environmental harm. GM foods comprise higher residues of poisonous herbicides.
- Harmful side effects
By combining genes from unrelated species, various unpredictable side effects arise from genetic engineering. Furthermore, the procedure of developing a GM plant can lead to immense collateral damage that generates new allergens, toxins, and carcinogens.
It’s easy to comprehend why Americans are indifferent to GMOs. While supermarket aisles are full of these products, consumers are yet to see tangible GMO benefits. If you’re still uncertain about GMOs 2.0, I hope this guide has shed some light.