WHAT IS A GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM (GMO)?
A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Organisms that have been genetically modified include micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeast, insects, plants, fish, and mammals. GMOs are the source of genetically modified foods and are also widely used in scientific research and to produce goods other than food. The term GMO is very close to the technical legal term, ‘living modified organism’ defined in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which regulates international trade in living GMOs (specifically, “any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology”).
POLICY STATEMENT FROM THE AGRICULTURE COUNCIL
Recently, the national dialogue surrounding Genetically-Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the food chain has intensified as some states have begun to pass laws requiring the labeling of food products made from field crops that have been genetically modified.
LCAC has reviewed GMOs and the debate over labeling. The amount of available information is vast, but LCAC believes the following are the most significant points:
- GMO technology has been broadly used for several decades in agriculture in, among other countries, the US, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and India.
- Hundreds of scientific studies have been conducted searching for negative GMO impacts on public health or the environment. To LCAC’s knowledge, no broad-based, scientifically-replicable study to date has identified any such negative impacts.
- GMO technology appears to offer the following benefits: (1) increased crop yields; (2) increased crop resistance to insects and microorganisms; (3) a decreased need to use chemical pesticides and herbicides; (4) a decreased need for fertilizer application; and (5) a decreased need for irrigation.
Some consumers, however, seem unpersuaded. For many of them, GMO technology is perceived as a choice between something that is standard, tested and safe (non-GMO) versus something that is unknown, exotic, and perhaps even dangerous (GMOs). However, there is no reliable scientific data to support this distinction. For this reason among others, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has indicated in its October 20, 2012 statement that GMO food labeling requirements have the potential to “mislead and falsely alarm consumers.”
Accordingly, based on current science, LCAC’s position on GMOs is as follows:
- Unless proven otherwise, we see GMO technology as a favorable development that benefits the consumer, the environment, food production, and the farming community’s ability to efficiently produce safe and nutritious food.
- At the same time, LCAC supports scientific research on an ongoing basis that examines GMO efficacy and provable benefits and risks.
- We have concerns that food labeling initiatives will be misperceived by some consumers as indicating GMO foods represent a threat to them and their families. Instead, our view of the evidence is that GMOs represent an opportunity to improve the food supply and the environment.
- With regard to food labeling, we believe that any regulation deemed to be required is best accomplished, if at all, by the federal government rather than by individual states. The food network is nationwide. Any issues related to it need to have that broader focus. The cost of compliance with and logistics of a state-by-state system would be excessive and produce no meaningful benefit over any federal regulation that might be considered to be appropriate.
Approved, Lancaster County Agriculture Council, October 23, 2014
GMO FACTS, FIGURES, AND RESOURCES
The Lancaster County Agriculture Council developed the information in the menu on the right in cooperation with the Research Unit of the Lancaster County Workforce Investment Board. Drew Kenner was the principal researcher while Scott Sheely edited the document and provided additional information.