GMO has become a catch-phrase for many referring to plants, animals or bacteria that have been genetically-modified using recombinant engineering techniques. These techniques typically involve taking DNA molecules from one source and splicing or adding them into a new source creating a new set of genes that now express this introduced DNA.
This technique allows plants, animals or bacteria to then 'express' traits or produce compounds that previously were absent in that orgnism. In its most benign form, this might represent something as simple as rice producing a vitamin previously absent in a normal rice granule. Doesn't sound so bad, right?
Now imagine something a little different: transgenic splicing, i.e. taking something from the DNA of one species (animal or plant) and adding it into the genome of an entirely different species, plant to animal, animal to plant, plant to plant, etc. Now its sounding a little more strange, isn't it?
Well why bother then? I mean, just because we can, does that mean we should?
The large agribusiness companies would say this is to improve the quality of life for humans everywhere by eliminating or decreasing our dependence on insecticides, help protect biodiversity, increase yields, and improved livelihood for family farmers.
As someone who believes that modern agriculture is flawed in its most basic principles and ideas, you can imagine which side of the fence I fall on in regards to this issue.
My feeling is that most of the problems these genetically-modified plants and animals were created to counter, are the direct result of modern agriculture's desire to grow monocultures of plants and animals under inherently unhealthy or unnatural conditions.
So , what kind of evidence is there that these GMO's are harmful?
One of the more interesting studies was a French study published in the International Journal of Biological Science (2009; 5:706-726, A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health Joël Spiroux de Vendômois1, François Roullier1, Dominique Cellier1,2, Gilles-Eric Séralini1,3 ) which looked at Montesanto's own data from their own experiments which they felt proved safe 3 varieties of GM corn, two with bacillus thunbergens insecticidal proteins and one with innnate resistance to Montesanto's herbicide ROUNDUP.
So the codex has become one forum in which the GM food battle is being played out, between the United States, Canada and Argentina on the one hand, and Europe on the other. Europeans have been resolute in their opposition to GM foods, despite some more recent softening of the stance of certain governments and trade bodies.
To paraphrase other sources more versed on the workings of the Codex: currently in the EU, food containing more than 0.9% GM ingredients must be labelled as such. Canada and the USA are challenging this in the Codex Committee on Food Labeling, which is hosted by Canada.
The host countries of Codex Committees, which also chair the meetings, have a disproportionate influence over the proceedings. They select the Chair, who is privy to more information than the rest of the Committee, such as declarations of conflicts of interests and relevant documents submitted by external organisations. How this is shared with the rest of the Committee is at the Chair’s discretion.
These chairs are also responsible for guiding the meeting towards a 'consensus'. Health Canada, the dep't responsible for the Codex, has come under fire for its lax approach to testing the safety of GM crops and was at the centre of a scandal in 1999 involving Codex's Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).
The Observer newspaper uncovered that a scientist on the JECFA panel representing Canada had been 'suggested' by Monsanto and was in fact a registered Monsanto lobbyist. The Canadian Senate Agriculture Committee has heard complaints from government scientists who say they were 'muzzled' after expressing doubts over Monsanto's safety testing in regards to bovine growth hormone.
So, you can see that there remain significant concerns involving the release safety of GMO products and that the government agencies that are responsible for protecting consumers and the environment from these potentially dangerous products are often the same people producing, marketing, and profiting from them.
If you'd like to become more involved in opposing GMO products and strengthening labeling laws worldwide, here are two organizations involved in these issues: