Transgenic Foods: Easy to swallow?

Transgenic Foods: Easy to swallow?

Human health

Thanks to the extraordinary ease with which the President of the Republic Jorge Batlle took a decisive position in favor on the issue of genetically manipulated foods, which is the subject of a strong global debate, the application of the genetic engineering of food, something that worries many consumers and researchers in much of the world. The radical "bet" occurs precisely when the StarLink scandal takes place simultaneously in the United States, the cradle of GMOs. This scandal owes its name to a genetically modified corn that reached the food production chain, which was approved only for animal consumption and industrial purposes, but NOT for human consumption because it contains the Cry9C protein, a potential allergen. Since last September at least 300 foods containing this corn have been withdrawn from all points of sale.

In addition, Aventis CropScience, the manufacturer of the variety, has suspended marketing permits and withdrawn all corn production from the North American market. StarLink corn has also been found as a food ingredient in Japan, the leading North American corn importer.

A weak argument

The President of the Republic supports the production of transgenic food, saying that in the coming years 8,000 million people in the world will have to be fed,? With the same land area ?, and that? The only way to achieve it is through of genetic improvement ?.

Well, Mr. President, in that projection you are wrong. A report by FAO's Outlook Studies Unit reveals that by 2030, when the world population is expected to reach 8 billion people, the world will be able to produce enough food to meet global demand.

This conclusion was reached by FAO experts whose quantitative analysis specifically did not include as a factor the increases in production from genetically modified crops, due to current uncertainties in relation to technical performance, safety and acceptance by consumers of transgenic crops (Page 2). The FAO report emphasizes that:? Looking ahead, numerous projection studies have addressed and responded largely positively to the issue of whether the resource base of world agriculture, including its land component, can continue to develop in a flexible way. and adaptable as it has in the past, and if it can continue to put downward pressure on real food prices. "" The largely positive answer essentially means that for the world as a whole there is enough, or more than enough, food production potential to meet the growth of effective demand, that is, the demand for food from those who can pay farmers to produce it. (Page 109) The full FAO report can be found at

Among the many arguments, proponents of transgenic foods will be heard saying that genetic engineering is more accurate than traditional crossing because only the desired gene can be transferred, and that this precision makes the food safer, better characterized, and more predictable. . However, while genetic engineering techniques can be more precise in terms of the identity of the transferred genetic material, they are much less precise in terms of where that material is transferred. The process of gene insertion by genetic engineering methods is unpredictable with respect to numerous parameters, including: the number of transgenic DNA insertions, their location (chromosome, chloroplast, mitochondria), their precise position (that is, where and on which chromosome), its structure, and its structural and functional stability. The variable insertion site can affect the expression of the inserted transgene itself, as well as the expression of the host genes, leading for example to the production of an unnatural toxin, or to the increase in the level of a natural toxin, with the consequences unpredictable that this may entail for animal and human health.

Another cause for concern is the phenomenon of post-transcriptional processing, which consists in the modification of a protein by adding sugars and other molecules after its synthesis. These modifications alter the biological and physical properties of the protein, which can have a significant impact on the structure and function of a gene.

The proposed approach to resolving differences around this issue would be to require that foods go through a process similar to that required for approval of food additives. Genetically engineered foods should satisfy the requirement of "reasonable certainty of no harm", as like additives, genetically engineered foods are not essential to the food supply. Clear protocols should be established to evaluate the known risks of transgenic foods, such as the potential introduction of toxins, allergens, and nutritional changes; that they can detect any unexpected effects that have consequences for health; and that address public health risks inherent in GMOs such as exacerbation of antibiotic resistance.

A pro-active and democratic suggestion

The failure of the Ministerial Round of the member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle at the end of last year (where the Uruguay Round agreements would be reformulated) hid the also unsuccessful attempt by the United States to form a Committee on Biotechnology in the WTO, which would have prevented the participation of civil society, due to the lack of transparency and participation of this multilateral trade body. There are several forums where countries try to establish the rules to unblock this controversial issue, with broad participation, such as the Codex Alimentarius, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or the United States-European Union Transatlantic Meeting. , to name the most important.

Taking the United States as an example, the White House has formed a Consultative Forum on Biotechnology, made up of representatives of all public and private actors involved with this issue, which also include civil society groups, such as the Consumer Federation of America (consumers) and the Environmental Defense Fund (environmentalists). In the same vein, after the United States-European Union summit last May, a Consultative Forum on Biotechnology was also established, made up of twenty experts from a wide spectrum of perspectives (which includes members of civil society such as the Consumers? Association from England, Friends of the Earth from Germany and the aforementioned North American NGOs). It has been mandated to reflect, discuss and evaluate the benefits and risks of modern biotechnology, including health, safety, economic development, food safety and environmental aspects, and cross-cutting issues such as the role of science, the ethical dimension, consumer information, public perceptions, risk analysis and intellectual property rights.

We suggest, Mr. President, that you follow this example and convene a Consultative Forum of a similar nature, in order to have complete and appropriate advice to help you find the measured and equanimous course that Uruguay must travel in relation to the transgenic.