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GM Foods -
Part 2 Genetically Modified Foods(GM) and Substantial Equivalence

The Risks of Genetically Modified Foods

GM foods (that is, genetically modified foods) are not healthy for you or the environment. So why are companies producing them? The risks of genetically modified foods and genetically modified plants are actively being researched.

Substantially equivalent GM foods are considered safe - maybe!

'Substantial equivalence', the test by which genetically modified foods are declared safe or otherwise, holds that that if a GM product is very similar to its non-GM counterpart then it is safe for human and animal consumption.

This rule, as set out by The Life Sciences Network, makes interesting (and rather mind-boggling) reading:

...the concept of substantial equivalence contributes to a robust safety assessment framework. The consultation was satisfied with the approach used to assess the safety of the genetically modified foods that have been approved for commercial use. (Substantial equivalence) embodies a science-based approach in which a genetically modified food is compared to its existing, appropriate counterpart.

The goal of this approach is to ensure that the food, and any substances that have been introduced into the food as a result of genetic modification, is as safe as its traditional counterpart.

The substantial equivalence approach is considered the most appropriate strategy for the safety and nutritional assessment of genetically modified foods..."

genetically modified foods

There are no alternative strategies that would provide a better assurance of safety for GM foods than the appropriate use of the concept of substantial equivalence.

GM Foods: Stop Quibbling - It's Red, Isn't It?

Safety assessment based on substantial equivalence is the most practical approach to address the safety of foods and food components derived through modern biotechnology.

Analyses of key substances provide increased assurance that the substances important and necessary from a nutritional or health perspective are present in acceptable concentrations.

Genetically Modified Foods

One important benefit of the substantial equivalence concept is that it provides flexibility that can be useful in food safety assessment. It is a tool, which helps identify any difference, intended or unintended, that might be the focus of further safety evaluation. is a comparative process (which) can be performed at several points along the food chain (harvested unprocessed, processed foods, individual fractions, or final food product).

The Food and Drug Administration is to be commended for constructing a framework for safety evaluation that is product based, and for taking the position that the critical consideration in evaluating the safety of (bioengineered) foods should be the objective characteristics of the food product or its components rather than the fact that new development methods were used.

Substantial equivalence evaluation is simply the first step in the food and feed safety review. The results of these analyses can yield three conclusions. The new food may be found:

  1. substantially equivalent to a conventional counterpart;
  2. substantially equivalent except for a few clearly defined differences;
  3. not substantially equivalent.

Any significant differences between the biotech food and its conventional counterpart would trigger additional tests and possible mandatory labeling under the food additive provision mentioned above.

A bio-analtyics lab in the USA states that substantial equivalence "is considered the most appropriate strategy for the safety and nutritional assessment of GM foods". There are no alternative strategies that would provide a better assurance of safety.

The lab also identifies that all GM crops fit into one of three FDA categories (this is a paraphrase of their statement)

  1. "Generally Recognized as Safe Substances": the food substance is as it appears naturally, has demonstrated long periods of consumption without recorded health issues, and the product has been analyzed scientifically and found to have no known health effect on humans.
  2. "Whole Foods": no changes to the nutritional value or profile of the food and no addition of new substances that might introduce a hazard to health.
  3. "Food Additives": require 'pre-market approval' of substances that are altered in structure or function or quantity and used to replace or be added to current food.

Somehow, by labelling the types of GM crops, the implication is that these modified crops are 'okay'. Note that none of the identifications provide an impact analysis on the environment, land, and animals and that the language of identification appears to be quite general in its application.

But of course there are alternative and better strategies, but they involve the biotechnology companies forking out a lot of cash and time, neither of which fits their modus operandi.

So, we have two tomatoes, one of them the offspring of a genetically modified plant. Certain tests will be carried out on it regarding composition, and the findings will be compared for similarity with its naturally produced counterpart.

Remember, it only has to have 'substantial' equivalence. A few discrepancies here and there can be disregarded. The trouble is, as Professor Janet Bainbridge notes:

... we do not know what we may have missed. The presumption of safety of novel GM plants on the basis of substantial equivalence lacks scientific credibility, given modern expectations of standards of evidence.

What is the Risk of GM Foods?

genetically modified tomatoes

To read more, visit the Royal Society's website and do a search for Substantial Equivalence to read a number of reports and research articles conducted by Society members.

Spot the GM tomato

... which one do you think is GM?

So, what's the damage?

Go to Part 3 - Risks of Genetically Modified Foods (link below), to find out.

Despite many warnings, such as the one in Germany, the mass planting of genetically modified plants and crops has gone ahead. By 2005, 222 million acres of the planet's land were GM cultivated. 55% of this was in the United States. And with the cost of producing food on the rise, countries and food manufacturers are looking for cheaper and faster ways to produce the food we all need to eat - no matter what the cost to our environment.

However you and your family can make a difference. Commit to eating organic food: grow your own or find out where you can access food that is grown in a more healthy and natural way.

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Eating Organic Food: Impact on Budget

No matter what, when you buy organic food you're giving your body something healthier than the alternatives (e.g. genetically engineered food).

In turn, this healthier food supports your immune system and improves overall energy levels.

While the cost of organic food is sometimes higher than the alternative, there is a financial value in those benefits (fewer trips to the doctor and better overall health)!

Stretch your food dollars by buying smaller quantities of what you need (reducing your spoilage and waste).

If you cannot buy organic all the time, then try to avoid foods known to have high levels of residual pesticides on them.

In the fruit aisle peaches, apples and strawberries are the worst three offenders (for 'holding on' to pesticides). Meanwhile, pineapple and mango are fairly safe.

In the vegetable department, try to stay away from packaged spinach, bell peppers and celery. Look to cauliflower and Brussels sprouts instead.

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