Genetic engineering on the main menu? - TÜV Süd


Dec 10, 2012 (4 years and 6 months ago)


10St or y I Genet i c engi neer i ng i n f ood
In Europe, virtually the only
GM food that reaches shelves
comes in the form of corn and
soy products – and these have
to be labelled accordingly.
Genetic engineering
on the main menu?
n November 2003, the European Union enacted two
directives that, in particular, set out to regulate the
authorization and labelling of genetically modified (GM)
food and feed. However, that did not really reassure many
consumers, especially since a strict ban on the import and
cultivation of GM plants had been lifted in 2004. Now critics
fear a rise in the mixing of GM foods with natural foods.
Indeed, there was international outrage in August
2006 because the presence of unauthorized GM rice
grown in the United States and produced in China was
detected worldwide in food samples. This unauthorized
rice was also discovered in 31 of 195 samples tested in
Baden-Württemberg. Although only minimal traces of
the impurities were found in all cases, even such traces
are impermissible under EU law.
Why genetically modified food at all?
There are many reasons for carrying out research in this
area and for developing GM plants. Improving the com-
mercial viability of production methods plays a role. In
some cases, the aim is to also effect product improve-
ments such as longer shelf life or greater resistance to
pests. Plants such as corn and rice, known as trans-
genic, are designed to be more resistant to certain
viruses and insects as well as herbicides, for example,
while genetically modifying the fatty-acid profile of soy
beans achieves a longer shelf life.
In the medical field, experts are carrying out
research to develop pharmaceutical plants, which, for
example, could produce vaccines in their cells. In the
case of the »Golden Rice,« researchers succeeded in
fortifying the staple food rice with vitamin A, which is
actually foreign to the species.
Risks frighten opponents and many consumers
Criticism of GM food and feed is primarily directed at
its broad use in the food industry. Although authoriza-
tion procedures are now in place worldwide for GM
At the moment, the number of genetically modified plants grown in Europe and Germany is
still very limited. Nevertheless, the topic still arouses heated debates and many people are
concerned: What does »genetically modified« mean when referring to food – and where will
consumers come across such products?
St or y I Genet i c engi neer i ng i n f ood
EU labelling requirements

Subject to the labelling requirement under EU directives are:
All foods, supplements or additives made from genetically modified orga-
nisms (GMOs) irrespective of traceability (e.g., oil from soy beans/canola,
starch, dextrose or glucose syrup made from corn); all foods that are them-
selves GMOs (e.g., potatoes, corn on the cob, tomatoes, fish – such products
have been forbidden in the EU up to now); all foods containing GMOs (e.g.,
yoghurt with GM bacteria or wheat beer with GM yeast – these products
have also been forbidden in the EU up to now).

Products made from animals that were fed with GM feed must not be
labelled (e.g., meat, milk,eggs).

No fixed identifier or particular formulation has been stipulated – however,
the designation must be clearly visible on the list of ingredients or on the
label. In the case of non-pre-packaged foods, a label on the display of the
product is obligatory.
foodstuffs, opponents of GM food have grave doubts
about these measur
es sufficiently ruling out any danger
to humans. It is difficult to prove the effects of GM food
on the human organism – in both directions. Although
it has been possible to prove in animal testing that
gene fragments from genetically modified organisms
(GMOs) can be found in the internal organs and also
in the blood of laboratory animals, what health conse-
quences these can have is an open question. Up to
now, there has been no known case of a person suffer-
ing harm from eating authorized GM food. However,
from a clinical point of view, it is still far too early to
rule out long-term damage with complete certainty.
Other rules apply outside Europe
Unlike in western Europe, where the release of trans-
genic plants is either subject to state regulations (like
in the EU) or strictly forbidden (like in Switzerland since
2005), GM fruit and plants are cultivated on a large
scale not only in North and South America, but also in
Asia. The most common crops cultivated are corn,
canola, tomatoes, soy and potatoes. The United States
is the worldwide leader with a cultivated area of 49.8
million hectares, followed by Argentina with 17.1 mil-
lion hectares, Brazil with 9.4 million hectares, Canada
with 5.8 million hectares and China with 3.3 million
hectares (as of 2005). In comparison, in the same year
60,000 hectares of GM corn were cultivated in the EU,
of which 1,000 hectares were in Germany. However,
GM corn and GM soy beans are also imported to Europe
as feed.
EU banking on strict labelling laws
On European markets, products that were manufactured
from GM plants or contain proportions of such GMOs
must be clearly labelled. This requirement applies irre-
spective of whether traces of GMOs can still be detect-
ed in the products or not. This requirement does not,
however, apply to meat, milk and eggs from animals
that were fed with GM feed, because these products
were not made »from« but »with« GM products. The
threshold for the labelling requirement is a random or
technically unavoidable GMO trace level of 0.9 percent
of the food. And for those consumers who want to be
really sure, there is the label »GM-free!« ■
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