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Understanding Bioengineered Foods

March 04, 2024 by FreshByte Software

If bioengineered foods had their own relationship status it would certainly be “it’s complicated.”

KSAT reported that the National Academies of Sciences Commission said that sweeping statements about genetically engineered crops are problematic because issues related to them are multidimensional.

“In other words — it’s complicated,” said the KSAT report.

Bioengineered Foods and GMOs: Hot Button Topic

Bioengineered foods, often referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), are a controversial and hot-button topic for several reasons:

  • Health Concerns: One of the primary concerns surrounding GMOs is their potential impact on human health. Critics argue that introducing foreign genes into plants could lead to unforeseen allergic reactions or other health issues. While many scientific studies have found GMOs to be safe for consumption, there is ongoing debate and skepticism regarding the long-term health effects.
  • Environmental Impact: GMOs can have unintended consequences on the environment. For example, crops engineered to be resistant to certain herbicides may lead to increased herbicide use, potentially harming non-target plants and animals. There are also concerns about the potential for GMOs to crossbreed with wild plants, leading to the spread of engineered genes into natural ecosystems.
  • Corporate Control of Agriculture: A significant portion of the opposition to GMOs is driven by concerns about corporate control of the food supply. Large agricultural biotechnology companies, such as Monsanto (now owned by Bayer), dominate the GMO seed market. Critics argue that these companies prioritize profits over environmental and social concerns, leading to a concentration of power and control in the hands of a few corporations.
  • Labeling and Transparency: Many consumers advocate for clear labeling of GMO products to allow them to make informed choices about the food they eat. However, the issue of GMO labeling has been a subject of controversy, with industry groups often opposing mandatory labeling laws. Some argue that consumers have a right to know whether their food contains GMOs, while others believe that mandatory labeling could stigmatize GMOs unfairly.
  • Ethical and Social Concerns: Beyond health and environmental issues, there are ethical and social concerns associated with GMOs. These include questions about the ownership and patenting of life forms, the impact of GMOs on small-scale farmers in developing countries, and the potential for GMOs to exacerbate social inequalities in access to food and agricultural resources.

“It is very likely you are eating foods and food products that are made with ingredients that come from GMO crops. Many GMO crops are used to make ingredients that Americans eat such as cornstarch, corn syrup, corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, or granulated sugar,” says the FDA.

What is Bioengineered Food and How is It Labeled?

The USDA says bioengineered food is defined as “food that contains genetic material that has been modified through certain laboratory techniques and for which the modification could not be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.”

Ingredients and foods that meet the definition of bioengineered (BE) food must include a disclosure on the package or label.

BE food labels are for marketing purposes and do not convey any information about the health, safety, or environmental attributes of that food compared to non-bioengineered counterparts. Labeling includes:

  • A BE symbol in black and white or color.
  • An electronic or digital link such as a QR code.
  • A phone number that consumers can text for information.
  • The phrase: “Contains a bioengineered food ingredient.”

If you look closely at your supermarket cart, you might have seen some of this labeling recently as food manufacturers and retailers have been required to provide BE disclosure since Jan. 1, 2022.

Department of Agriculture List of BE Crops or Foods

The Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) developed the List of Bioengineered Foods to identify the crops or foods that are available in a bioengineered form throughout the world, and for which regulated entities must maintain records.

These records inform regulated entities about whether they must make a bioengineered food disclosure. The current list includes:

  • Alfalfa: BE alfalfa is commercially produced in Canada and the United States. BE alfalfa is also approved for commercial cultivation in Mexico and Japan; however, no BE alfalfa is currently produced in these two countries. Producers of alfalfa sprouts should maintain records to demonstrate that they sourced non-BE alfalfa seeds.

  • Apple (ArcticTM varieties): BE apples are in commercial production only in the United States. BE apples have also been approved for commercial production in Canada, but no trees have been planted yet. The first BE apple trees were planted in 2015 and current production is relatively minor.

  • Canola: BE canola is commercially produced in three countries: Australia, Canada, and the United States. Canola from these three countries should be presumed to be BE canola. In 2017, 30 percent of all global canola production was BE canola.

  • Corn: BE corn is produced commercially in 15 countries. In the following 7 countries, BE corn production represents more than half of all corn production: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Honduras, South Africa, the United States, and Uruguay. Corn sourced from these countries should be presumed to be BE corn. The following 8 countries also produce BE corn: Colombia, Czech Republic, Paraguay, The Philippines, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Vietnam. In 2017, 32 percent of all global corn production was BE corn.

  • Cotton: BE cotton is produced commercially in 12 countries. In the following 8 countries, BE cotton production represents more than half of all cotton production: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, South Africa, and the United States. Cotton from these countries should be presumed to be BE cotton. Burma, China, India, and Pakistan also produce BE cotton commercially; however, the BE cotton produced in these four countries has not been reviewed by the FDA. In 2017, 80 percent of all global cotton production was BE cotton.

  • Eggplant (BARI Bt Begun varieties): BE eggplant is commercially produced only in Bangladesh. However, news reports suggest that BE eggplant is also being grown in India. Farmers in Bangladesh have been producing BE eggplant since 2014. In 2017, about 5 percent of the Bangladesh eggplant crop was BE eggplant. For phytosanitary reasons, USDA-APHIS does not admit fresh eggplant fruit into the United States from Bangladesh.

  • Papaya (ringspot virus-resistant varieties): BE papaya is produced commercially in only two countries: China and the United States. Papaya produced in the United States should be presumed to be BE papaya. For phytosanitary reasons, USDA-APHIS does not admit fresh papaya fruit into the United States from China.

  • Pineapple (pink flesh varieties): BE pineapple with pink flesh is grown in Costa Rica. According to Del Monte, BE pineapple is available for sale in the United States. Yellow flesh pineapple may be presumed to be non-BE pineapple.

  • Potato: BE potatoes are in commercial production in the United States and Canada. Current production is relatively minor. BE potato versions have been developed for three potato cultivars: Atlantic, Ranger Russet, and Russet Burbank. All other potato cultivars may be presumed to be non-BE potatoes. Some fresh market BE potatoes are sold under the trade name White Russet™.

  • Salmon (AquAdvantage®): BE salmon is currently produced in Canada and the U.S. (Indiana). AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. received approval from the FDA to produce BE salmon at a facility in Indiana. Salmon eggs are shipped from Canada to Indiana for grow-out to market size.

  • Soybean: BE soybean is produced commercially in the following 8 countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Paraguay, South Africa, The United States, and Uruguay. In all of these countries, this production represents more than 80 percent of total soybean production. In 2017, 77 percent of all global soybean production was BE soybean. Similar to corn, soybean grain moving in global commerce should be presumed to be BE soybean. In the United States, more than 90 percent of soybean production is BE soybean.

  • Squash (summer, coat protein-mediated virus-resistant varieties): BE summer squash is commercially produced at a low level in the United States.

  • Sugarbeet: BE sugar beets are produced in only two countries: Canada and the United States. Adoption rates are above 90 percent in both countries; all sugar beets produced in these two countries should be presumed to be BE sugar beets.

  • Sugarcane (Bt insect-resistant varieties): Brazil has begun commercial production of insect-resistant sugarcane.

The Difference between Bioengineered Food and GMO

So, are bioengineered foods and GMOs the same thing? Essentially, yes.

"Bioengineered" is a newer term adopted by the USDA to encompass the concept previously addressed by "Genetically Modified Organisms" (GMOs).

Here's a clarification:

  • GMOs: This term broadly refers to organisms with altered genetic makeup, encompassing plants, animals, and even microbes.

  • Bioengineered foods: This term specifically refers to food items derived from GMOs.

Therefore, all bioengineered foods are GMOs, but not all GMOs are directly consumed as food (e.g., genetically modified bacteria used in industrial processes).

The Case For (and Against) Bioengineered Foods

Like any hot-button issue, there are vocal arguments for and against bioengineered foods.

Arguments for:

  • Enhanced nutrition: Bioengineering can introduce beneficial traits like higher vitamin content or extended shelf life in fruits and vegetables.

  • Improved resistance: Crops can be engineered to resist pests, diseases, and harsh weather conditions, potentially reducing reliance on pesticides, and leading to higher yields.

  • Reduced environmental impact: Engineering crops for pest resistance can decrease dependence on insecticides, potentially creating a more sustainable agricultural system.

Arguments against:

  • Potential health risks: Long-term effects of consuming bioengineered foods are yet to be conclusively determined, raising concerns about unknown allergies or unintended consequences.

  • Environmental concerns: Genetically modified crops can potentially cross-pollinate with natural ones, raising worries about unintended consequences for ecosystems.

  • Corporate control: Increased reliance on bioengineered seeds controlled by large corporations could lead to issues of farmer autonomy and seed availability.

Health Risks of Bioengineered Foods

The health risks of bioengineered foods and GMOs have been in the news for more than a decade with The Cornucopia Institute saying in 2009 that the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) called on “Physicians to educate their patients, the medical community, and the public to avoid GM (genetically modified) foods when possible and provide educational materials concerning GM foods and health risks.”

KSAT reported that others have examined the health risks of bioengineered foods with different conclusions:

  • A National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee examined in-depth the potential negative effects and benefits of genetically engineered crops and found no substantiated evidence that foods from bioengineered crops were any less safe than foods from non-bioengineered crops.

  • The FDA also says that bioengineered foods are safe to eat and pose no risk to your health.

  • Bioengineered foods don’t contain any more antibiotics or steroids than non-bioengineered versions of foods. The crops aren’t changed in any ways that would increase the risk for cancer, and they’re no more likely to cause allergies than non-bioengineered foods, the FDA says.

“GMO foods have been available to consumers since the early 1990s. Since then, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have worked to ensure that GMOs are safe for people, animals, and the environment,” says the FDA. “GMO foods are as healthful and safe to eat as their non-GMO counterparts. Some GMO plants have actually been modified to improve their nutritional value.”


Tags: Safety, Food Trends, FDA

FreshByte Software

Written by FreshByte Software

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