Genetic modification has been with us for millennia. It is ubiquitous and includes much more than the relatively simple changes associated with crossing one tomato plant with another. Breeders regularly move genes between wholly unrelated species. Scientists long ago discovered, for example, how to give crop plants new traits by forcibly mating them with unrelated wild species known to contain natural pesticides, carcinogens, and anti-nutrients. On average, we consume dozens of these varieties of fruits, vegetables, and grains every day.
Breeders also routinely use radiation or chemical mutagens on seeds to scramble a plant’s DNA to generate new traits. More than 2,250 of these “mutant” varieties have been bred in the United States and at least 50 other countries. They include some of our most popular fruits and vegetables, such as Ruby Red grapefruit and most of the durum wheat varieties used to make pasta.
That history might be a little unsettling to some, but these are conventional breeding methods, not GE. They are subject to no mandatory testing, and as now, they would not have to be labeled under the terms of Proposition 37.
The genetic changes that result from any conventional technique are far less precise, predictable, and controllable than those associated with modern genetic engineering. That is why dozens of scientific bodies, ranging from the National Academy of Sciences to the UN’s World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization, agree that genetic engineering is at least as safe as, and often safer than conventional breeding.
It is also why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require blanket labeling of GE foods. The FDA doesn’t take a laissez-faire approach to novel foods, however. The feds do require an intensive review and can require labeling if foods differ significantly from their conventional counterparts in ways related to safety or proper use – such as a reduction in nutrients, the introduction of an allergen where consumers would not expect it, or a change in customary storage or preparation characteristics.
I dare say, many of the ORGANI growers may be completely surprised when they are notified they must label THEIR produce as GMO as well!