Genetically modified maize
Genetically modified maize (corn) is a genetically modified crop. Specific maize strains have been genetically engineered to express agriculturally-desirable traits, including resistance to pests and to herbicides. Maize strains with both traits are now in use in multiple countries. GM maize has also caused controversy with respect to possible health effects, impact on other insects and impact on other plants via gene flow. One strain, called Starlink, was approved only for animal feed in the US, but was found in food, leading to a series of recalls starting in 2000.
Herbicide resistant maize
Corn varieties resistant to glyphosate herbicides were first commercialized in 1996 by Monsanto, and are known as "Roundup Ready Corn". They tolerate the use of Roundup. Bayer CropScience developed "Liberty Link Corn" that is resistant to glufosinate. Pioneer Hi-Bred has developed and markets corn hybrids with tolerance to imidazoline herbicides under the trademark "Clearfield" – though in these hybrids, the herbicide-tolerance trait was bred using tissue culture selection and the chemical mutagen ethyl methanesulfonate, not genetic engineering. Consequently, the regulatory framework governing the approval of transgenic crops does not apply for Clearfield.
As of 2011, herbicide-resistant GM corn was grown in 14 countries. By 2012, 26 varieties herbicide-resistant GM maize were authorised for import into the European Union., but such imports remain controversial. Cultivation of herbicide-resistant corn in the EU provides substantial farm-level benefits.
Bt corn is a variant of maize that has been genetically altered to express one or more proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. The protein is poisonous to certain insect pests and is widely used in organic gardening. The European corn borer causes about a billion dollars in damage to corn crops each year.
The Bt protein is expressed throughout the plant. When a vulnerable insect eats the Bt-containing plant, the protein is activated in its gut, which is alkaline. In the alkaline environment the protein partially unfolds and is cut by other proteins, forming a toxin that paralyzes the insect's digestive system and forms holes in the gut wall. The insect stops eating within a few hours and eventually starves.
Approved Bt genes include single and stacked (event names bracketed) configurations of: Cry1A.105 (MON89034), CryIAb (MON810), CryIF (1507), Cry2Ab (MON89034), Cry3Bb1 (MON863 and MON88017), Cry34Ab1 (59122), Cry35Ab1 (59122), mCry3A (MIR604), and Vip3A (MIR162), in both corn and cotton.:285ff Corn genetically modified to produce VIP was first approved in the US in 2010.
In 2013 Monsanto launched the first transgenic drought tolerance trait in a line of corn hybrids called DroughtGard. The MON 87460 trait is provided by the insertion of the cspB gene from the soil microbe Bacillus subtilis; it was approved by the USDA in 2011 and by China in 2013.
GM sweet corn varieties include "Attribute", the brand name for insect-resistant sweet corn developed by Syngenta. and Performance Series™ insect-resistant sweet corn developed by Monsanto.
Products in development
In 2007, South African researchers announced the production of transgenic maize resistant to maize streak virus (MSV), although it has not been released as a product.
As of 2014, there have been a few MSV-tolerant cultivars released in Africa. A private company Seedco has released 5 MSV cultivars. While these seeds are more expensive, the price of maize is subsidized by the government so even the poorest of farmers can afford it.
US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations require farmers who plant Bt corn to plant non-Bt corn nearby (called a refuge) to provide a location to harbor vulnerable pests. Typically, 20% of corn in a grower's fields must be refuge; refuge must be at least 0.5 miles from Bt corn for lepidopteran pests, and refuge for corn rootworm must at least be adjacent to a Bt field.
The theory behind these refuges is to slow the evolution of resistance to the pesticide. EPA regulations also require seed companies to train farmers how to maintain refuges, to collect data on the refuges and to report that data to the EPA. A study of these reports found that from 2003 to 2005 farmer compliance with keeping refuges was above 90%, but that by 2008 approximately 25% of Bt corn farmers did not keep refuges properly, raising concerns that resistance would develop.
Unmodified crops received most of the economic benefits of Bt corn in the US in 1996-2007, because of the overall reduction of pest populations. This reduction came because females laid eggs on modified and unmodified strains alike.
Seed bags containing both Bt and refuge seed have been approved by the EPA in the United States. These seed mixtures were marketed as "Refuge in a Bag" (RIB) to increase farmer compliance with refuge requirements and reduce additional work needed at planting from having separate Bt and refuge seed bags on hand. The EPA approved a lower percentage of refuge seed in these seed mixtures ranging from 5 to 10%. This strategy is likely to reduce the likelihood of Bt-resistance occurring for corn rootworm, but may increase the risk of resistance for lepidopteran pests, such as European corn borer. Increased concerns for resistance with seed mixtures include partially resistant larvae on a Bt plant being able to move to a susceptible plant to survive or cross pollination of refuge pollen on to Bt plants that can lower the amount of Bt expressed in kernels for ear feeding insects.
In November 2009, Monsanto scientists found the pink bollworm had become resistant to first-generation Bt cotton in parts of Gujarat, India – that generation expresses one Bt gene, Cry1Ac. This was the first instance of Bt resistance confirmed by Monsanto anywhere in the world. Bollworm resistance to first generation Bt cotton has been identified in the Australia, China, Spain and the United States. In 2012, a Florida field trial demonstrated that army worms were resistant to pesticide-containing GM corn produced by Dupont-Dow; armyworm resistance was first discovered in Puerto Rico in 2006, prompting Dow and DuPont to voluntarily stop selling the product on the island.
There is a scientific consensus that currently available food derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food, but that each GM food needs to be tested on a case-by-case basis before introduction. Nonetheless, members of the public are much less likely than scientists to perceive GM foods as safe. The legal and regulatory status of GM foods varies by country, with some nations banning or restricting them, and others permitting them with widely differing degrees of regulation.
The scientific rigor of the studies regarding human health has been disputed due to alleged lack of independence and due to conflicts of interest involving governing bodies and some of those who perform and evaluate the studies.
GM crops provide a number of ecological benefits, but there are also concerns for their overuse, stalled research outside of the Bt seed industry, proper management and issues with Bt resistance arising from their misuse.
Critics have objected to GM crops on ecological, economic and health grounds. The economic issues derive from those organisms that are subject to intellectual property law, mostly patents. The first generation of GM crops lose patent protection beginning in 2015. Monsanto has claimed it will not pursue farmers who retain seeds of off-patent varieties. These controversies have led to litigation, international trade disputes, protests and to restrictive legislation in most countries.
Effects on nontarget insects
Critics claim that Bt proteins could target predatory and other beneficial or harmless insects as well as the targeted pest. These proteins have been used as organic sprays for insect control in France since 1938 and the USA since 1958 with no ill effects on the environment reported. While cyt proteins are toxic towards the insect orders Coleoptera (beetles) and Diptera (flies), cry proteins selectively target Lepidopterans (moths and butterflies). As a toxic mechanism, cry proteins bind to specific receptors on the membranes of mid-gut (epithelial) cells, resulting in rupture of those cells. Any organism that lacks the appropriate gut receptors cannot be affected by the cry protein, and therefore Bt. Regulatory agencies assess the potential for the transgenic plant to impact nontarget organisms before approving commercial release.
A 1999 study found that in a lab environment, pollen from Bt maize dusted onto milkweed could harm the monarch butterfly. Several groups later studied the phenomenon in both the field and the laboratory, resulting in a risk assessment that concluded that any risk posed by the corn to butterfly populations under real-world conditions was negligible. A 2002 review of the scientific literature concluded that "the commercial large-scale cultivation of current Bt–maize hybrids did not pose a significant risk to the monarch population". A 2007 review found that "nontarget invertebrates are generally more abundant in Bt cotton and Bt maize fields than in nontransgenic fields managed with insecticides. However, in comparison with insecticide-free control fields, certain nontarget taxa are less abundant in Bt fields."
Gene flow is the transfer of genes and/or alleles from one species to another. Concerns focus on the interaction between GM and other maize varieties in Mexico, and of gene flow into refuges.
In 2009 the government of Mexico created a regulatory pathway for genetically modified maize, but because Mexico is the center of diversity for maize, gene flow could affect a large fraction of the world's maize strains. A 2001 report in Nature presented evidence that Bt maize was cross-breeding with unmodified maize in Mexico. The data in this paper was later described as originating from an artifact. Nature later stated, "the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper". A 2005 large-scale study failed to find any evidence of contamination in Oaxaca. However, other authors also found evidence of cross-breeding between natural maize and transgenic maize.
The French High Council of Biotechnologies Scientific Committee reviewed the 2009 Vendômois et al. study and concluded that it "..presents no admissible scientific element likely to ascribe any haematological, hepatic or renal toxicity to the three re-analysed GMOs." However, the French government applies the precautionary principle with respect to GMOs.
A 2011 Canadian study looked at the presence of CryAb1 protein (BT toxin) in non-pregnant women, pregnant women and fetal blood. All groups had detectable levels of the protein, including 93% of pregnant women and 80% of fetuses at concentrations of 0.19 ± 0.30 and 0.04 ± 0.04 mean ± SD ng/ml, respectively. The paper did not discuss safety implications or find any health problems. The paper was found to be unconvincing by multiple authors and organizations. In a swine model, Cry1Ab-specific antibodies were not detected in pregnant sows or their offspring and no negative effects from feeding Bt maize to pregnant sows were observed.
In January 2013, the European Food Safety Authority released all data submitted by Monsanto in relation to the 2003 authorisation of maize genetically modified for glyphosate tolerance.
Starlink corn recalls
StarLink contains Cry9C, which had not previously been used in a GM crop. Starlink's creator, Plant Genetic Systems had applied to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to market Starlink for use in animal feed and in human food.:14 However, because the Cry9C protein lasts longer in the digestive system than other Bt proteins, the EPA had concerns about its allergenicity, and PGS did not provide sufficient data to prove that Cry9C was not allergenic.:3 As a result, PGS split its application into separate permits for use in food and use in animal feed. Starlink was approved by the EPA for use in animal feed only in May 1998.:15
StarLink corn was subsequently found in food destined for consumption by humans in the US, Japan, and South Korea.:20–21 This corn became the subject of the widely publicized Starlink corn recall, which started when Taco Bell-branded taco shells sold in supermarkets were found to contain the corn. Sales of StarLink seed were discontinued. The registration for Starlink varieties was voluntarily withdrawn by Aventis in October 2000. (Pioneer had been bought by AgrEvo which then became Aventis CropScience at the time of the incident,:15–16 which was later bought by Bayer
Fifty-one people reported adverse effects to the FDA; US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which determined that 28 of them were possibly related to Starlink. However, the CDC studied the blood of these 28 individuals and concluded there was no evidence of hypersensitivity to the Starlink Bt protein.
A subsequent review of these tests by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act Scientific Advisory Panel points out that while "the negative results decrease the probability that the Cry9C protein is the cause of allergic symptoms in the individuals examined ... in the absence of a positive control and questions regarding the sensitivity and specificity of the assay, it is not possible to assign a negative predictive value to this."
On December 19, 2013 six Chinese citizens were indicted in Iowa on charges of plotting to steal genetically modified seeds worth tens of millions of dollars from Monsanto and DuPont. Mo Hailong, director of international business at the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Co., part of the Beijing-based DBN Group, was accused of stealing trade secrets after he was found digging in an Iowa cornfield.
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- Nicolia, Alessandro; Manzo, Alberto; Veronesi, Fabio; Rosellini, Daniele (2013). "An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research" (PDF). Critical Reviews in Biotechnology: 1–12. doi:10.3109/07388551.2013.823595.
We have reviewed the scientific literature on GE crop safety for the last 10 years that catches the scientific consensus matured since GE plants became widely cultivated worldwide, and we can conclude that the scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazard directly connected with the use of GM crops.
The literature about Biodiversity and the GE food/feed consumption has sometimes resulted in animated debate regarding the suitability of the experimental designs, the choice of the statistical methods or the public accessibility of data. Such debate, even if positive and part of the natural process of review by the scientific community, has frequently been distorted by the media and often used politically and inappropriately in anti-GE crops campaigns.
- "State of Food and Agriculture 2003–2004. Agricultural Biotechnology: Meeting the Needs of the Poor. Health and environmental impacts of transgenic crops". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
Currently available transgenic crops and foods derived from them have been judged safe to eat and the methods used to test their safety have been deemed appropriate. These conclusions represent the consensus of the scientific evidence surveyed by the ICSU (2003) and they are consistent with the views of the World Health Organization (WHO, 2002). These foods have been assessed for increased risks to human health by several national regulatory authorities (inter alia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, the United Kingdom and the United States) using their national food safety procedures (ICSU). To date no verifiable untoward toxic or nutritionally deleterious effects resulting from the consumption of foods derived from genetically modified crops have been discovered anywhere in the world (GM Science Review Panel). Many millions of people have consumed foods derived from GM plants – mainly maize, soybean and oilseed rape – without any observed adverse effects (ICSU).
- Ronald, Pamela (May 5, 2011). "Plant Genetics, Sustainable Agriculture and Global Food Security". Genetics. 188: 11–20. doi:10.1534/genetics.111.128553.
There is broad scientific consensus that genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat. After 14 years of cultivation and a cumulative total of 2 billion acres planted, no adverse health or environmental effects have resulted from commercialization of genetically engineered crops (Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Committee on Environmental Impacts Associated with Commercialization of Transgenic Plants, National Research Council and Division on Earth and Life Studies 2002). Both the U.S. National Research Council and the Joint Research Centre (the European Union's scientific and technical research laboratory and an integral part of the European Commission) have concluded that there is a comprehensive body of knowledge that adequately addresses the food safety issue of genetically engineered crops (Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health and National Research Council 2004; European Commission Joint Research Centre 2008). These and other recent reports conclude that the processes of genetic engineering and conventional breeding are no different in terms of unintended consequences to human health and the environment (European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation 2010).
- But see also:
Domingo, José L.; Bordonaba, Jordi Giné (2011). "A literature review on the safety assessment of genetically modified plants" (PDF). Environment International. 37: 734–742. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2011.01.003.
In spite of this, the number of studies specifically focused on safety assessment of GM plants is still limited. However, it is important to remark that for the first time, a certain equilibrium in the number of research groups suggesting, on the basis of their studies, that a number of varieties of GM products (mainly maize and soybeans) are as safe and nutritious as the respective conventional non-GM plant, and those raising still serious concerns, was observed. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that most of the studies demonstrating that GM foods are as nutritional and safe as those obtained by conventional breeding, have been performed by biotechnology companies or associates, which are also responsible of commercializing these GM plants. Anyhow, this represents a notable advance in comparison with the lack of studies published in recent years in scientific journals by those companies.
Krimsky, Sheldon (2015). "An Illusory Consensus behind GMO Health Assessment" (PDF). Science, Technology, & Human Values: 1–32. doi:10.1177/0162243915598381.
I began this article with the testimonials from respected scientists that there is literally no scientific controversy over the health effects of GMOs. My investigation into the scientific literature tells another story.
Panchin, Alexander Y.; Tuzhikov, Alexander I. (January 14, 2016). "Published GMO studies find no evidence of harm when corrected for multiple comparisons". Critical Reviews in Biotechnology. doi:10.3109/07388551.2015.1130684. ISSN 0738-8551.
Here, we show that a number of articles some of which have strongly and negatively influenced the public opinion on GM crops and even provoked political actions, such as GMO embargo, share common flaws in the statistical evaluation of the data. Having accounted for these flaws, we conclude that the data presented in these articles does not provide any substantial evidence of GMO harm.
The presented articles suggesting possible harm of GMOs received high public attention. However, despite their claims, they actually weaken the evidence for the harm and lack of substantial equivalency of studied GMOs. We emphasize that with over 1783 published articles on GMOs over the last 10 years it is expected that some of them should have reported undesired differences between GMOs and conventional crops even if no such differences exist in reality.
Yang, Y.T.; Chen, B. (2016). "Governing GMOs in the USA: science, law and public health". Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 96: 1851–1855. doi:10.1002/jsfa.7523.
It is therefore not surprising that efforts to require labeling and to ban GMOs have been a growing political issue in the USA (citing Domingo and Bordonaba, 2011).
Overall, a broad scientific consensus holds that currently marketed GM food poses no greater risk than conventional food... Major national and international science and medical associations have stated that no adverse human health effects related to GMO food have been reported or substantiated in peer-reviewed literature to date.
Despite various concerns, today, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the World Health Organization, and many independent international science organizations agree that GMOs are just as safe as other foods. Compared with conventional breeding techniques, genetic engineering is far more precise and, in most cases, less likely to create an unexpected outcome.
- "Statement by the AAAS Board of Directors On Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods" (PDF). American Association for the Advancement of Science. October 20, 2012. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
The EU, for example, has invested more than €300 million in research on the biosafety of GMOs. Its recent report states: "The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies." The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.
Pinholster, Ginger (October 25, 2012). "AAAS Board of Directors: Legally Mandating GM Food Labels Could "Mislead and Falsely Alarm Consumers"". American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
- "A decade of EU-funded GMO research (2001–2010)" (PDF). Directorate-General for Research and Innovation. Biotechnologies, Agriculture, Food. European Commission, European Union. 2010. doi:10.2777/97784. ISBN 978-92-79-16344-9. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
- "AMA Report on Genetically Modified Crops and Foods (online summary)". American Medical Association. January 2001. Retrieved March 19, 2016.
A report issued by the scientific council of the American Medical Association (AMA) says that no long-term health effects have been detected from the use of transgenic crops and genetically modified foods, and that these foods are substantially equivalent to their conventional counterparts. (from online summary prepared by ISAAA)" "Crops and foods produced using recombinant DNA techniques have been available for fewer than 10 years and no long-term effects have been detected to date. These foods are substantially equivalent to their conventional counterparts. (from original report by AMA: )
"REPORT 2 OF THE COUNCIL ON SCIENCE AND PUBLIC HEALTH (A-12): Labeling of Bioengineered Foods" (PDF). American Medical Association. 2012. Retrieved March 19, 2016.
Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature.
- "Restrictions on Genetically Modified Organisms: United States. Public and Scholarly Opinion". Library of Congress. June 9, 2015. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
Several scientific organizations in the US have issued studies or statements regarding the safety of GMOs indicating that there is no evidence that GMOs present unique safety risks compared to conventionally bred products. These include the National Research Council, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Medical Association. Groups in the US opposed to GMOs include some environmental organizations, organic farming organizations, and consumer organizations. A substantial number of legal academics have criticized the US's approach to regulating GMOs.
- "Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects". The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (US). 2016. p. 149. Retrieved May 19, 2016.
Overall finding on purported adverse effects on human health of foods derived from GE crops: On the basis of detailed examination of comparisons of currently commercialized GE with non-GE foods in compositional analysis, acute and chronic animal toxicity tests, long-term data on health of livestock fed GE foods, and human epidemiological data, the committee found no differences that implicate a higher risk to human health from GE foods than from their non-GE counterparts.
- "Frequently asked questions on genetically modified foods". World Health Organization. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
Different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways. This means that individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods.
GM foods currently available on the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved. Continuous application of safety assessments based on the Codex Alimentarius principles and, where appropriate, adequate post market monitoring, should form the basis for ensuring the safety of GM foods.
- Haslberger, Alexander G. (2003). "Codex guidelines for GM foods include the analysis of unintended effects". Nature Biotechnolgy. 21: 739–741. doi:10.1038/nbt0703-739.
These principles dictate a case-by-case premarket assessment that includes an evaluation of both direct and unintended effects.
- Some medical organizations, including the British Medical Association, advocate further caution based upon the precautionary principle:
"Genetically modified foods and health: a second interim statement" (PDF). British Medical Association. March 2004. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
In our view, the potential for GM foods to cause harmful health effects is very small and many of the concerns expressed apply with equal vigour to conventionally derived foods. However, safety concerns cannot, as yet, be dismissed completely on the basis of information currently available.
When seeking to optimise the balance between benefits and risks, it is prudent to err on the side of caution and, above all, learn from accumulating knowledge and experience. Any new technology such as genetic modification must be examined for possible benefits and risks to human health and the environment. As with all novel foods, safety assessments in relation to GM foods must be made on a case-by-case basis.
Members of the GM jury project were briefed on various aspects of genetic modification by a diverse group of acknowledged experts in the relevant subjects. The GM jury reached the conclusion that the sale of GM foods currently available should be halted and the moratorium on commercial growth of GM crops should be continued. These conclusions were based on the precautionary principle and lack of evidence of any benefit. The Jury expressed concern over the impact of GM crops on farming, the environment, food safety and other potential health effects.
The Royal Society review (2002) concluded that the risks to human health associated with the use of specific viral DNA sequences in GM plants are negligible, and while calling for caution in the introduction of potential allergens into food crops, stressed the absence of evidence that commercially available GM foods cause clinical allergic manifestations. The BMA shares the view that that there is no robust evidence to prove that GM foods are unsafe but we endorse the call for further research and surveillance to provide convincing evidence of safety and benefit.
- Funk, Cary; Rainie, Lee (January 29, 2015). "Public and Scientists' Views on Science and Society". Pew Research Center. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
The largest differences between the public and the AAAS scientists are found in beliefs about the safety of eating genetically modified (GM) foods. Nearly nine-in-ten (88%) scientists say it is generally safe to eat GM foods compared with 37% of the general public, a difference of 51 percentage points.
- Marris, Claire (2001). "Public views on GMOs: deconstructing the myths" (PDF). EMBO Reports. 2: 545–548. doi:10.1093/embo-reports/kve142.
- Final Report of the PABE research project (December 2001). "Public Perceptions of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Europe". Commission of European Communities. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
- Scott, Sydney E.; Inbar, Yoel; Rozin, Paul (2016). "Evidence for Absolute Moral Opposition to Genetically Modified Food in the United States" (PDF). Perspectives on Psychological Science. 11 (3): 315–324. doi:10.1177/1745691615621275.
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- Sifferlin, Alexandra (October 3, 2015). "Over Half of E.U. Countries Are Opting Out of GMOs". Time.
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