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What is Genetically Modified (GM) food?

GM food has had its DNA (or RNA) changed in a way that cannot happen in traditional breeding and selection. 

There are two main types of GM crops:

1) Herbicide tolerant. Plants designed to survive being sprayed with a weedkiller, usually Roundup, which has been classified as a probable carcinogen.

2) Insect resistant. Plants produces toxins that destroy the guts of certain insect that eat them, so they die.

Some GM crops are 'stacked' meaning they can be sprayed with weedkillers and produce toxins. 

We eat both the weedkiller and the insect killing toxin as they are on and within the GM plant. The insect killing toxin (bt) may be used for pest attacks in organic agriculture. The difference is that it is only used when needed, doesn't last long and consumers never eat it. In contrast the GM crops produce the toxin within their cells, all the time and it can't be washed off. 

Newer types of GM crops:

1) Silence genes using RNA interference (RNAi). One meal of RNAi altered the expression of 10% of a bees genes. 

2) New Breeding Techniques including CRISPR, gene editing, ZFN and more. There is a strong push from industry and some researchers to have these New Breeding Techniques seen as non-GM. Currently one Australian regulator, the Office of Gene Technology Regulator, is asking for comment on whether these new techniques should be regulated at all. Yet our food standards body, FSANZ, decided, after convening a panel of genetic engineers with a vested interest in the technology, that these products are 'identical' to their natural counterpart and so do not need to be safety tested or labelled. They may already be in our food chain, personal care and cleaning products and more. We will be doing more work on this soon. 

 

Definitions for GM from CODEX and WHO

The international food standards body, CODEX, calls GM ‘modern biotechnology’

"Modern Biotechnology means the application of:

  1. In vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles, or OR
  2. Fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family, that overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombinant barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection"

 The World Health Organisation, WHO, defines them as:

Genetically modified (GM) foods are foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, e.g. throught the introduction of a gene from a different organism.

 

How Does GM breeding differ from normal plant breeding?