GM Foods

Do you want to know if your food has been genetically modified? A new test makes it easier to find out.

Li-Tao Yang, Sheng-Ce Tao, and their colleagues at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China recently came up with a way to combine two tests into one. The new screen lets them pinpoint about 97 percent of known commercial genetic modifications. That’s almost double the accuracy of other tests, the researchers said. And the test can be expanded to include future modified crops, they added.

The test, dubbed Multiplex Amplification on a Chip with Readout on an Oligo macroarray (MACRO), is the first system to provide a comprehensive evaluation of all the genetic modifications in a given food item.

Right now, the MACRO technology is more suitable for a well-equipped laboratory than a home kitchen, Tao said. “We are working on the second version and trying to further simplify the operation and make it more user-friendly,” he said. “By then, it may be used by the end user.” 

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Do We Still Need GMO Labels?

“No matter how powerful the technology is, I think the food labels are still necessary,” Tao said. And if food providers don’t follow regulations for genetic modifications, Tao said the technology offers a “tool to catch them easily.”

Andy Bellatti, a registered dietitian in Las Vegas, is excited about the development. He believes that it’s still “crucial” to advocate for GMO labeling laws to educate the public, however.

“Everyone has a right to know if they are eating GMOs so they can make an informed decision about their eating choices,” he said. “Knowing what you are eating should not be a privilege only available to those who can afford it; it is a universal right.”

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Dave R. Schubert, Ph.D., head of the Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological studies in La Jolla, Calif., said the technology could also pave the way for companies like Whole Foods to conduct their own GMO testing. 

“All foods that contain any genetically modified product should be labeled,” Schubert said, adding that there is a lot of evidence that herbicides used on GM crops are found in our foods.

The protein insecticide in most GM crops can also lead to an inflammatory response in the stomach and intestines, he said.

“The next round of GM crops—ones with things like vitamins and fatty acids—are going to be much more dangerous,” said Schubert, who authored a 2008 study on the topic. “And no safety testing is required for any of them.”  

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Industry Group and Non-Profits Push for Labeling

Many organizations are still pushing for national GMO labeling standards.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) recently announced that it is urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and lawmakers to make changes to the oversight and labeling of new GM foods. More than two dozen states are also looking into GMO labeling laws.

Louis Finkel, executive vice president of government affairs for the organization, said it is working on legislative and labeling proposals. Legislation would require GM and non-GM foods to be labeled, and would void state laws that did not comply. It would also force biotech crop developers to notify the FDA prior to releasing a new GM crop—right now, doing so is voluntary.

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Also, the bill would let food manufacturers give products a “GMO-free” label under certain conditions, and would stop manufacturers from implying that foods are less or more safe if GM ingredients are not included. 

The association is also pushing the FDA to define what “natural” means. Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association, told the media that consumers want mandatory labeling of GMOs and don’t want foods with GM ingredients to be touted as “natural.”

And GMO Inside, an advocacy group that in 2012 pressured food giant General Mills to remove GM ingredients from regular Cheerios, is now pushing the company to voluntarily remove GMOs from its best-selling product, Honey Nut Cheerios.

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