November 27, 2002
GENETICALLY MODIFIED PLANTS
By: Joseph Holstead, Research Analyst
You asked several questions about genetically modified plants and foods. Specifically, you wanted background on (1) genetically modified plants and their use to inoculate pigs, (2) Oregon's Measure 27, (3) U.S. Representative Dennis J. Kucinich's recent genetically modified organism (GMO) labeling legislation, and (4) Europe's stance on GMOs.
A report will follow on the inoculation of pigs with GM corn, as we are awaiting further information.
A plant that scientists have altered by inserting a gene from an unrelated species is referred to as genetically modified (GM), transgenic, genetically engineered, or more broadly as a GMO. Farmers grow GM plants (1) to enhance yield due to better resistance to insects or better herbicide tolerance, for example; (2) for increased nutrition or value, such as a rice strain containing high vitamin or iron content; (3) for livestock consumption; or (4) to produce pharmaceuticals.
Two basic regulatory issues surround GM foods (1) keeping GM crops intended for animal or other use separate from those intended for human consumption and (2) requiring labels for foods containing some portion of GM material.
Currently, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulate portions of the GMO process.
Companies have had to recall corn products when GM corn intended for livestock consumption accidentally entered the human food market and GM crops used for pharmaceutical production contaminated crops intended for food consumption. Farmers and food organizations as well as those opposed to GMOs have called for tighter regulation.
FDA guidelines do not require labeling of GM foods unless the food differs significantly from its natural version. The basic argument for labeling all GM foods is the consumers' right to know versus the cost of labeling. Labeling proponents contend that GM foods could have yet unseen affects on the environment (as one report on monarch butterflies hypothesized) and humans.
Labeling opponents argue that labels could unnecessarily scare off consumers. They say a recently updated USDA labeling system for organic products, which emphasizes non-GMO products, makes more sense given the ubiquity of foods with GM material.
Oregon's Ballot Measure 27 would have required companies to label all processed foods containing GM material sold in Oregon. Oregon voters rejected the measure by a margin greater than 70%. Corporations spent a reported $5.5 million on an anti-labeling advertisement campaign just before the November 5, 2002 election. The FDA officially opposed the measure.
Several other states have been unsuccessful in passing GMO labeling legislation.
U.S. Representative Kucinich introduced five bills in May 2002 addressing the need to regulate GM crops and protect farmers of such crops. The House referred the five bills to committees during the just-completed 107th session. None came to a floor vote.
Many European countries oppose GM foods. The European Union as a whole is currently deciding on the extent of GM food labeling it will require.
GENETICALLY MODIFIED (GM) PLANTS
GM plants, also known as transgenics or genetically engineered plants, are plants that scientists have genetically altered by extracting selected genes from one organism and artificially inserting them into a different organism. Scientists have altered more than 40 plant species to date, allowing more prolific crops and nutrient enriched foods, according to the USDA's website.
Over 70% of the food sold in U.S. grocery stores contains some portion of genetically modified material, according to a November 6, 2002 article at Forbes.com - a copy of which is included in the attached binder. Soybeans are the largest GM crop; with more than 75% of the 2002 U.S. crop genetically modified.
Monsanto first introduced a GM soybean crop in 1996. Since then, farmers and food industry officials have accepted GM foods for production agriculture, with approximately 30% of corn and 35% of cotton acres planted to GMOs, according to the American Corn Growers Association (ACGA).
Reasons for Genetic Modification
GM crops can be divided into four simple categories, crops that are modified:
1. for better crop production, such as wheat modified to better tolerate herbicide;
2. to be healthier than naturally occurring foods, such as “Golden Rice” with enhanced Vitamin A content for developing countries consuming rice as a staple;
3. for livestock feed; or
4. to produce pharmaceuticals.
The federal government regulates GM foods through current plant and animal inspection, pesticide and toxic substance, and food safety laws and regulations. The USDA, FDA, and EPA regulate different aspects of GM plants and food. Table 1 lists each federal agency and what it regulates.
Table 1: Federal Agency GMO Regulation (Click agency acronym for more information)
● oversees plant and animal safety concerns through the Animal, Plant and Health Inspection Service
● determines whether a company's GM plant or animal development poses a risk as a plant pest and if it has any adverse human health or environmental effects
● defines and approves pesticide uses through the federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, (which covers the pesticidal benefits of biotechnology)
● establishes maximum tolerance levels for pesticide residues in foods
● requires new microorganisms, including GMOs, to be registered under the Toxic Substance Control Act before being manufactured or imported
● ensures the safety of foods, including those GM foods; companies must prove foods are safe through tests before marketing
● covers food labeling; prohibits false and misleading labels; and requires disclosure of material, including ingredients, nutritional information, and name and place of the manufacturer
Source: Farquhar, Doug and Crystal Biggerstaff, State Legislatures, “ Playing God with Potatoes,” (January 2002).
Effects on the Environment
Monarch butterflies. A study in 1999 found that GM corn called Bt corn might harm Monarch butterflies. Bt corn contains bacterium genes causing it to produce proteins that protect it from pests. But more recent, USDA studies found Bt corn's effect on Monarch Butterflies negligible, according to USDA's February 2002 issue of Agricultural Research Magazine. The Pew initiative on Food and Biotechnology, an independent research group based in Washington, DC, recently published an article entitled, “Three Years Later: Genetically Engineered Corn and the Monarch Butterfly.” The article focuses on using the scientific process to strike a balance in the bioscience debate. A copy is included in the attached binder. Or see: http://pewagbiotech.org/resources/issuebriefs/monarch.pdf
Still, opponents say GM foods are still new and could have negative effect on the environment and humans. Concerns have prompted moratoriums in Europe and around the world and have state legislatures across the U.S. considering requiring labels on GM products.
GM Crops Not Meant for Human Consumption
GM Crops produced (1) for pharmaceutical purposes, also referred to as “biopharm” or “pharm crops,” and (2) for livestock consumption are not intended for human consumption. GMO critics, including farmers and food organizations, are increasingly concerned about these GM crops corrupting fields intended for human food consumption. Although concern over GM foods is currently less apparent in the U.S. than in Europe, the accidental distribution of GM foods for purposes human consumption made with corn intended only for livestock consumption has raised fear.
StarLink corn. In 2000, Kraft Foods accidentally used StarLink corn, genetically modified with a protein (Cry9C) for livestock feed, in its taco shells. Kraft recalled 2.5 million taco shell boxes nationwide, according to a National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) January 2002 magazine article, “Playing God with Potatoes.” The NCSL article reported that a mill in Plainview, TX, shipped the GM corn intended for livestock to a processing plant in Mexicali, Mexico, calling into question the effectiveness of the regulatory process. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found no adverse affects to humans from the Cry9C protein, according to the article.) A copy of the NCSL article is included in the attached binder. Or see:
ProdiGene Inc. More recently, GM corn crops grown to produce pharmaceuticals entered soybean fields intended for human consumption, an article at MSNBC.com reported. USDA inspectors found the stray corn plants in ProdiGene, Inc. soybean fields and ordered them destroyed in September 2002. As of November 14, 2002, the USDA is investigating the company for failing to remove thoroughly all of its GM crop for pharmaceuticals in Nebraska and Iowa. ProdiGene faces large fines.
The ACGA is debating the value of growing GM corn and is concerned, along with the National Food Processors Association and the Grocery Manufacturers of America, about the regulatory process, according to he MNNSBC.com article. The article is included in the attached binder. Or see: http://www.msnbc.com/news/835455.asp.
Federal regulations do not require labeling of GM foods, but has updated organic labeling regulations. The FDA does not require disclosure of GM materials in food if they are not significantly different from that which occurs naturally. Manufacturers may voluntarily offer this information. For a summary of the FDA's current stance, see attached binder for or more information, or click: FDA.label.
Approved organic products, however, may now be stamped with one of three USDA labels, (1) 100% organic, for products entirely organic; (2) "organic," for products that are at least 95% organic; and (3) "made with organic ingredients," for foods with 70% or less of organic ingredients. These labeling options do not preempt USDA or other requirements.
See attached binder for or more information. Or visit: USDA.Organic
OREGON'S BALLOT MEASURE 27
Measure 27 would have required all genetically modified processed food sold in Oregon to be labeled as such (including milk from cows that ate modified feed). The proposed law was defeated on November 5, 2002; more than 70% of voters opposed it.
The FDA officially opposed the measure in a letter it sent to Oregon's governor as “impermissibly interfering with manufacturers,” USA Today reported, October 9, 2002 - copy in attached binder. Corporate opponents of the measure, concerned about labeling costs, use the claim that 70% of food in U.S. grocery stores contain some genetically modified material as reason to focus on labeling organic, rather than GM, foods.
Companies like Monsanto, DuPont, General Mills Inc, and H.J. Heinz donated approximately $5.5 million to the anti-labeling campaign, Forbes.com reported. Advocates of Measure 27 say this significantly swayed early voter support for labeling determined in local polls.
Efforts in other states have also failed to require labeling of GM foods. Iowa attempted to require labeling of genetically modified seeds, and New York legislation would have authorized labeling food as GMO free. Legislatures in California, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nebraska, Colorado, Maine, and Pennsylvania have also considered labeling laws, according to the NCSL January 2002 article.
More information on Measure 27 in included in the attached binder.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE KUCINICH'S GMO LEGISLATION
In May 2002, Representative Dennis Kucinich introduced five bills to establish a tighter regulatory framework for developing and introducing GM foods. All five bills were assigned to committee.
The bills were:
1. HR 4812 – The Genetically Engineered Crop and Animal Farmer Protection Act of 2002;
2. HR 4813 – The Genetically Engineered Food Safety Act of 2002;
3. HR 4814 – The Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act of 2002;
4. HR 4815 – Real Solutions to World Hunger Act of 2002; and
5. HR 4816 – The Genetically Engineered Organism Liability Act of 2002.
In 1999, Kucinich introduced the “Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act of 1999” (HR 3377), which required labeling of all genetically altered foods. He withdrew it without a vote as an amendment to the 2001 agriculture appropriations bill. His “Genetically Engineered Food Safety Act of 2000” (HR 3883) required mandatory safety testing for all genetically engineered food and prohibited certain products, according to his website.
Summaries of the five bills are in the attached binder. For more information see:
Many European countries oppose GM foods. The European Union as a whole is currently deciding on the extent of genetically modified food labeling it will require.
Individual countries such as Sweden and France call for labeling all GM products (including pet food in France). France, Italy, Luxembourg, Denmark, Belgium, and Austria have maintained a moratorium on GM foods for four years, according to an October 15, 2002 article in the Washington Times. Europeans are more concerned with the possible
effects of GM foods and tend to be more environmentally conscious, with countries like Germany having an environmental caucus sharing power, for example. For more information see: Germany'sGreenParty.
Europe's reluctance has been costly to American farmers, estimated at a loss $200 million per year.