We have not looked at GMOs for a long time, so let us see what is the current position.

“Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) can be defined as organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. This technology is often referred to as ‘modern biotechnology’ or ‘gene technology,’ sometimes as ‘recombinant DNA technology’ or ‘genetic engineering.’ It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism to another, also between non-related species. Without a doubt, GM food was the hottest topic for the food industry in 1999, since there was extensive media coverage and controversial headlines like ‘Frankenstein foods,’ ‘Terminator technology’ and ‘Farmageddon.’ A combination of bad publicity accompanied by the adverse public reaction towards GM technology has resulted in most of the food industries banning GM ingredients from their food products.

“GM foods are developed and marketed because there is some perceived advantage either to the producers or consumers of these foods. This is meant to translate into a product of a lower price, greater benefit (in terms of durability or nutritional value) or both. The initial objective for developing plants based on GM organisms was to improve crop protection.

Currently GM foods on the market are mainly aimed at an increased level of crop protection through the introduction of resistance against plant diseases caused by insects or viruses or through increased tolerance towards herbicides. Insect resistance is achieved by incorporating a gene for toxin production from the bacterium Bacillus thuringenesis (BT) into the food plant. This toxin is used currently as a conventional insecticide in agriculture and is safe for human consumption. Virus resistance is achieved through the introduction of a gene from certain viruses which cause disease in plants.

The resistance makes plants less susceptible to diseases caused by viruses, resulting in higher crop yields.

Herbicide tolerance is achieved through the introduction of a gene from a bacterium conveying resistance to some herbicides. In situations where weed pressure is high, the use of such crops has resulted in a reduction in the quantity of herbicides used.

“There are three main issues debated that are of concern to human health and tendency to provoke allergic reaction (allergenicity), gene transfer and outcrossing.

“Allergenicity − the transfer of genes from commonly allergenic foods is discouraged unless it can be demonstrated that the protein product of the transferred gene is not allergenic. Generally, traditionally developed foods are not tested for allergenicity, protocols for tests for genetically modified foods have been evaluated by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and the World Health Organisation.

“Gene transfer − the transfer of genes from GM foods to cells of the body or to bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract would cause concern if the transferred genetic material adversely affects human health.

This would prove relevant if antibiotic resistant genes, used in creating GMOs were to be transferred. Though gene transfer probability is low, the use of technology without antibiotic resistant genes has been encouraged by a recent FAO/WHO expert panel.

“Outcrossing − this is referred to as the movement of genes from the mixing of crops derived from conventional crops or related species in the wild.

The mixing of crops derived from conventional seeds with those grown using GM crops may have an indirect effect on food safety and food security. Several countries have adopted strategies to reduce mixing, including a clear separation of the fields within which GM crops and conventional crops are grown.”