How did GMO technology start?
GMO technology came into existence in 1973, when Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen worked together to engineer the first successful genetically engineered (GE) organism. The two scientists developed a method to cut out a gene from one organism and paste it into another. This scientific discovery would open up a whole new can of worms for mankind, one of countless possibilities and another, frightful concerns. GMO is an acronym for “Genetically Modified Organisms.”
While our ancestors had no concept of genetics, they were still able to influence the DNA of other organisms by a process called “selective breeding” or “artificial selection.” These terms, coined by Charles Darwin, describe the process of choosing the organisms with the most desired traits and mating them with the intention of combining and propagating these traits through their offspring. Repeated use of this practice over many generations can result in dramatic genetic changes to a species. While artificial selection is not what we typically consider GMO technology today, it is still the precursor to the modern processes and the earliest example of our species influencing genetics.
Many organisms have been selectively bred or artificially selected thousands of years ago: animals, plants, vegetables. Now with the onset of Genetically Modified Organisms, this brought further concerns to scientists. By cutting out a part of one gene and pasting into another, Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen were able to create a gene that encodes antibiotic resistance from one strain of bacteria into another giving antibiotic resistance to the recipient. Later, by repeating the same technique, they could introduce foreign DNA into mouse embryos creating the first GMO animal (mice).
But experiments did not stop there:
- 1980- Bacteria was genetically engineered to break down crude oil to help with oil spill improvement.
- 1982- Humulin was created, a genetically engineered bacteria that mimics human insulin.
- 1992- The the first genetically engineered tomato was created and approved for consumption.
- 1995/6: Approval was given for the first pesticide producing crops and herbicide producing crops.
- 2000, Golden Rice was engineered to alleviate vitamin A deficiency.
- 2009: approval was given to the first biological product produced by a GE animal, ATryn, a drug used to treat a rare blood clotting disorder.
As of September 1st 2013, The Scientific American website stated that “Around 70 percent of processed foods in the U.S. contain genetically modified ingredients.”
~ Article: “Labels for GMO Foods Are A Bad Idea”
Here in Canada, cban (Canadian Biotechnology Action Network) tells us: “There is some GM salmon sold in Canada and five GM crops are grown in Canada: corn, soy, canola, white sugar beet and a small amount of alfalfa. These GM crops are widely used as ingredients in processed foods and as animal feed in meat and dairy production. There is also very small amount of GM sweet corn on the market, but there is no GM popcorn. Also, GM cotton (cottonseed oil) and some papaya and a few types of squash are grown in the U.S. and can be imported into Canada. GM apples and potatoes could soon be sold as food in Canada.” So how can we avoid GMO foods here in Canada? cban further states: “Our government does not require labeling. But you can still make a choice:
Buy certified organic food. Genetic modification is prohibited in organic farming. This includes organic dairy, eggs and meat because animals in organic farming are not fed GM grains like corn or soy.
Avoid processed foods with corn, canola and soy ingredients.
Buy cane sugar to avoid eating sugar from GM sugar beets.
Choose products with the Non-GMO Project Verified seal.
Support farmers who reject GM: buy food directly from farmers who do not plant GM alfalfa, corn, canola or soy or use GM grains for meat, dairy or egg production.
Do not eat farmed salmon: Read cban’s guide “How to Avoid Eating GM Salmon“
These are the foods currently GMO & Non-GMO sold here in Canada:
GM Crops and Foods On the Market in Canada
Alfalfa (for animal feed only)
Papaya (from Hawaii)
Salmon (GM Atlantic salmon)
Squash (from the US: some varieties, including yellow crookneck squash)
Sugar beet (white sugar beet for sugar processing only)
Cotton Seed Oil (grown in the US, China, India)
Milk ingredients and products from the US produced with the use of recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone
Who is cban?
The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) brings together 16 groups to research, monitor and raise awareness about issues relating to genetic engineering in food and farming. CBAN members include farmer associations, environmental and social justice organizations, and regional coalitions of grassroots groups.
GM Crops and Foods NOT on the Market in Canada
Unlike the United States there is no PLU (price look up) code that tells a consumer if the product is GMO. The code number “8” was formally utilized to identify a GMO product however in 2015 this was changed. The code number “9” is still used to distinguish organic produce and classically produced fruits and vegetables. “Organic produce is identified with a number that begins with “9”: for example, 4011 identifies a conventionally grown papaya and 94011 identifies an organically grown papaya.”- cban
New GE Technologies
Cban asserts that: “There is a range of new genetic engineering techniques emerging from the laboratory and that there is a global debate raging over the regulation of these new techniques.” This includes: Genome Editing or Gene Editing, Synthetic Biology, Nanotechnology, Genetically Engineered Gene Drives.
So What are the definitions of these new techniques?
- Genome Editing (Gene Editing): the modification of the genome at a specific, targeted location. Using enzymes that act as molecular scissors to cut DNA along with natural DNA repair mechanisms of cells, the genome can be modified by adding, deleting or altering parts of the DNA sequence. This can be distinguished from transgenic approaches that introduce foreign genetic material (into unspecified locations within the genome), though most genome editing techniques still use familiar genetic engineering tools such as the use of recombinant DNA (a combination of DNA elements from multiple sources) and also involve transformation of plant cells (uptake of the DNA by a cell).
- Synthetic Biology: Synthetic biology is a form of extreme genetic engineering. It is an emerging technology that is developing quickly yet remains largely unregulated. With synthetic biology, instead of swapping existing genes from one species to another (as is done through rDNA technology/genetic engineering), scientists can write entirely new genetic codes on a computer, “print” them out and insert them into living organisms. Scientists are even trying to create life from scratch. Artificial DNA is engineered into living things to fundamentally change their character. Nobody knows how to asses synthetic organisms for safety and, until now, governments and companies have refrained from releasing these organisms into the environment because they may threaten the natural world. Companies have commercialized several products already, including a vanilla substitute grown by synthetically modified yeast, a coconut oil replacement produced by engineered algae, and engineered versions of patchouli and vetiver fragrances.
- Gene Drives: Gene drives are an experimental genetic engineering technology intended to aggressively spread a specific bioengineered trait among a species or population in nature. Normally, a genetically modified organism that is released into the wild would pass on its bioengineered traits (e.g. herbicide tolerance) to only about half of its offspring. Gene drives are designed so that the bioengineered traits will be passed on to all or most offspring (even though they are unlikely to be one hundred percent effective). If a gene drive were to be successful, the chosen genetically engineered traits would spread and become dominant in wild populations over a few generations of the species. A successful gene drive could intentionally or accidentally alter a species or crash it to extinction. So far, these artificial gene drives are developed using the new ‘gene- editing’ system known as CRISPR-Cas9. Gene drives may be deliberately introduced into invasive species to eradicate them from the wild for conservation purposes, or into weed species to remove them from farmers’ fields. They could be used to exterminate crop and livestock pests and destroy herbicide resistance in superweeds. Several groups have recently made news for proposing gene drive mosquitos to suppress or make extinct the species that transmit malaria. Gene drives might also be pressed into use for military purposes as bioweapons, or to suppress food harvests.
- Nanotechnology: Nanotechnology refers to the manipulation of matter on the scale of the nanometer (one billionth of a meter). Nanoscale science operates in the realm of single atoms and molecules. At present, commercial nanotechnology involves materials science (i.e. researchers have been able to make materials that are stronger and more durable by taking advantage of property changes that occur when substances are reduced to nanoscale dimensions). In the future, as nanoscale molecular self-assembly becomes a commercial reality, nanotech will move into conventional manufacturing. While nanotechnology offers opportunities for society, it also involves profound social and environmental risks, not only because it is an enabling technology to the biotech industry, but also because it involves atomic manipulation and will make possible the fusing of the biological world and the mechanical. There is a critical need to evaluate the social implications of all nanotechnologies; in the meantime, CBAN Supporter ETC group believes that a moratorium should be placed on research involving molecular self-assembly and self-replication.
May 2010: Canada has banned nanotechnology in organic food production. An amendment was added to Canada’s national organic rules banning nanotechnology as a “Prohibited Substance or Method.” The section lists substances or techniques that are prohibited in organic food production, including genetic engineering, synthetic pesticides, irradiation, and cloned animals, among others.
~ all definitions of the above technologies borrowed from www.cban.ca. More information on the above can be accessed from cban’s website.