GMO’s Go Global: Should they be labeled?

Should labeling of GMO’s be mandatory?
What do you know about genetic modification? Is genetic modification helpful or harmful? This unit will help to develop student thinking about genetic modification and food security issues around the world by discussing CODEX, an international set of rules governing food safety and regulation, and how those rules work in various countries. The case for labeling genetically modified foods has raised controversy here and abroad. This set of lessons attempts to look at the differences between genetically modified and non-genetically modified foods, and the case for and against mandatory labeling of foods across the world.

Lessons

Created in partnership with the Columbus Council on World Affairs.

Teacher background

The CODEX Alimentarius (Latin for “Food Code”) system began in 1963, to provide standards for Food Safety Regulation for 99% of the world’s population. Public concerns about food safety issues place CODEX at the center of global debates. Biotechnology, pesticides, food additives and contaminants are some of the issues discussed in CODEX meetings. CODEX standards are based on the best available science assisted by independent international risk assessment bodies or ad-hoc consultations organized by FAO and WHO. Decisions are voluntary in terms of application by members but are largely adopted as national or international legislation.

According to many estimates, about 80% of all food products have been genetically modified, (or contain GMO’s--genetically modified organisms) but not that many crops have actually been genetically engineered. This estimate includes food products that contain corn (field and sweet), soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugarbeets, papaya and squash. The conversation about genetic modification is not complete without noting that no commercially available crops in the United States were created by nature alone. All are a result of selective breeding over long periods of time to generate the fruits and vegetables we all take for granted.

Internationally, there has been hesitance to accept genetically engineered crops or food products that contain genetic modification. Some countries have refused imports from the United States due to the perception that these crops and food products are dangerous or unhealthy. However, the regulatory system in the United States has strict guidelines about the development, testing and regulatory approval of a GMO, with cost estimates approximating $150 million and up. This explains why many groups that work to develop GMO’s may collaborate with large companies that can navigate the complicated landscape of gaining approval for new traits.

A draft proposed by the committee (PROPOSED DRAFT RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE LABELLING OF FOOD OBTAINED THROUGH BIOTECHNOLOGY: DRAFT AMENDMENT TO THE GENERAL STANDARD FOR THE LABELLING OF PREPACKAGED FOODS), contains the following statements.

Specifically:

When a food or food ingredient obtained through biotechnology, as defined in section 2, is no longer substantially equivalent to the corresponding existing food or food ingredient as regards a. composition b. nutritional value, and c. intended use, the characteristics, which make it different from the reference food, should be clearly identified in labeling.

In addition:

a novel food should be considered the same as a conventional food if it demonstrates the same characteristics and composition as the conventional food be applied in establishing the safety of foods and food components derived from genetically modified organisms, be applied in establishing the safety of foods and food components derived from genetically modified organisms.

What is the best way to protect consumers’ health from any risks introduced by the production process, educate about nutritional implications resulting from changes to the composition of the food, describe any significant technological changes in the properties of the food itself and prevent deceptive trade practices?

Next gen standards

Science and engineering practices

  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Crosscutting concepts

  • Cause and effect
  • Systems and system models
  • Stability and change

Disciplinary core ideas/content

  • ESS3C Human impacts on Earth systems
  • LS1D Information processing
  • LS2D Social interactions and group behavior
  • PS2B Types of interactions
  • ETS2A Interdependence of science, engineering and technology

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