What are some examples of good GMOs


Christof Potthof

To person

works for the genetic ethical network and is responsible for the area of ​​genetic engineering in agriculture and food. The Gen-ethische Netzwerk e.V. (GeN) was founded in 1986 by critical scientists, journalists, veterinarians, doctors, politicians and other people interested in genetic engineering. It provides information and contacts on the subject of genetic engineering and reproductive medicine. The task of the association is to critically examine these techniques.

Christof Potthof explains the labeling and approval of genetically modified products. Despite an extensive regulatory apparatus, there is a lack of independent testing procedures.

Note on packaging from a US manufacturer: "100% Natural". (& copy AP)

Politically and administratively, different levels are relevant when dealing with genetically modified organisms (GMOs): With regard to the legal framework, the European level is in charge. The main laws regulating GMOs are negotiated in Brussels. As a rule, these negotiations are conducted between the Council, which is made up of the line ministers of the EU member states, and the EU Parliament. The EU Commission also plays an important role. At the member state level, specifications from Brussels are primarily adopted in national laws - the exact implementation can, however, vary between the various member states.

Last but not least, there is the administrative level below the state, in Germany this concerns the federal states, in other states, for example, the regions or provinces. This is the level at which controls take place in Germany: The federal states are responsible for ensuring that laws such as the labeling rules for food are complied with.

Cultivation / release trials in D / EU

If genetically modified plants are to be grown in the EU, this is regulated by the EU Release Directive 2001/18. [1] Put simply, a distinction is made between commercial cultivation and release trials. Release attempts with GM plants have decreased significantly across the EU in recent years. In Germany, the last one took place in 2012 (as of spring 2017). [2]

Commercial cultivation of GM plants in the European Union has been constant for years at a low level. Farmers in the EU sown a total of 130,000 hectares of genetically modified, insect-poisonous maize of the MON810 line in 2016. 95 percent of this grew in Spain, the rest is spread across Portugal, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In relation to the total cultivated area of ​​maize in the EU, this is less than one percent. The cultivation of genetically modified plants has increased continuously around the world, and in 2016 it amounted to a good 180 million hectares. With a global arable area of ​​around 1.5 billion hectares, this corresponds to around 12 percent. [3]

Marking [4]

To say it in advance: According to the official interpretation, the labeling of GMOs in the EU initially has nothing to do with health risks and their avoidance. It is assumed that only GMOs that are harmless to health come onto the European market. These go through an approval process that explicitly looks for possible negative effects on the environment and health. However, it is precisely this approval process that is controversial and has been criticized - in some cases fiercely - by environmental and consumer organizations as well as government authorities in various European countries.

With or without genetic engineering?

The labeling of GMOs or products made from GMOs is primarily to be seen as part of the so-called coexistence of genetic and non-genetic agriculture and genetic and non-genetic food production. [5]


In another context, labeling also plays a decisive role in relation to safety for human health and the environment, namely in the context of so-called risk management, when unforeseen negative effects from GM products become recognizable and (further) Damage should be averted. Should a product made from or with GMOs turn out to be unsafe for the environment or health after it has come onto the market, the labeling of the product would provide the basis for product recalls - at least in theory - to be carried out.

Free choice

However, it also follows from the labeling that consumers can choose whether they want to buy and consume food made from or with GMOs or not.

From or with GMOs

In the EU, a product is labeled as a GMO if it is such an organism or consists of GMOs: A genetically modified tomato is labeled as well as compound foods, for example a frozen pizza, for which the information in the list of ingredients must be clear whether a raw material used consists of GMOs. An oil that is made from genetically modified soybeans must also be labeled. What is special about this latter case is that, as a rule, neither (GM) proteins nor (GM) DNA can be found in food oils. This means that in the supermarket the labeled oil could not be chemically differentiated from the unlabelled oil, since this would usually require DNA, in some cases at least protein. "The decisive factor here is whether the food or feed contains a substance made from the genetically modified raw material." [6] The labeling occurs on the product, its packaging or, if necessary, in the accompanying documents, in restaurants and the like on the menu.

"Without genetic technology"

Food that is produced with the help of GMOs but is not or does not contain GMOs itself is not labeled as GMO under European law. This applies in particular to those foods that are summarized under the keyword "animal products", which in this context means meat, milk and eggs that come from animals fed with GM feed. With the entry into force of the new European rules for the authorization, labeling and tracing of GMOs in spring 2004, the organizations that are critical of the use of GMOs identified a loophole at this point, through which the majority of genetically modified plants cultivated worldwide (GVP) disappears under a "camouflage" that is not transparent for the consumer.

Genetically engineered plants as fodder

Various sources estimate that around 80 percent of GMPs end up in feed troughs. Soy has been the global protein currency of animal fattening and milk production since the mid-1990s, in the EU at the latest since the ban on animal meal feed (based on the risk of BSE). In parallel to the increased demand in Europe, the cultivation of genetically modified soy spread rapidly, especially in South America. The genetically modified variety from the US genetic engineering group Monsanto, which is resistant to the broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup, is used almost exclusively there. It bears the trade name "Roundup Ready".

The feed, which is itself labeled as genetically modified, is fed to beef cattle, for example. The meat of the animals ends up - in accordance with European law - on the shelves of supermarkets without GMO labeling, because the animals do not consist of GMOs, but were only "produced" using them. The same applies to milk and eggs.

In order to make at least the opposite case, the production of said animal products without genetically modified organisms, visible, there are special rules in various European countries. This is also the case in Germany: In 2008 the grand coalition amended a regulation according to which certain food products can be designated as "without genetic engineering".

Environmental and consumer protection organizations have welcomed this new regulation, as it is seen as a tool for implementing consumer freedom of choice. [7]

Freedom of choice

On the essence of freedom of choice
"Complete and reliable information for consumers in relation to GMOs and products made from them, as well as food and feed, must be guaranteed so that consumers can make an informed choice of products." [8]

Reasons for the desire for freedom of choice: the responsible consumer
The aspect of freedom of choice has grown significantly in value in recent years. In the present context, it describes the requirement that consumers must be able to decide whether they want to eat GMOs or not. Pounds in the hands of the associations

The role of the "responsible" consumer as a political actor has changed - at least since the sinking of the decommissioned Brent Spar oil storage and loading platform was prevented in 1995 by a Shell petrol station boycott organized by the environmental organization Greenpeace. It is now assumed that consumers know what they want and that this will also be followed by political action. The associations suddenly have a new pound in their hands with which they can proliferate. [9] As support for political demands, surveys are cited in which it is expressed that the consumers approve of certain wishes and / or demands, ergo are also willing, for example, to follow a corresponding call for a boycott. With regard to agro-genetic engineering, it has become clear in recent years that the relevant surveys point more or less in one direction: the majority of those questioned do not want GMOs in their food. The companies "threatened" with a boycott often argue in this context with the rhetorical figure that consumers support everything possible in surveys, but that their actual purchase decisions do not correspond to these statements. So it is not necessary to follow the demands (for example of the environmental organizations).

This is in turn countered with the argument that such an inevitability does not exist. Even if the responsible consumers did not behave according to their statements, their statements should, should or could be interpreted in terms of wishes for a good or a better life. Seen in this way, these statements should be taken seriously, even though the consumer's behavior does not always match his statements. The latter could, for example, also be used by a legislator to force the industry to stricter consumer protection.

Excursus: Limits of labeling and freedom of choice (threshold values, exceptions)

In the labeling regulation of the EU, threshold values ​​are used. The key is the value of 0.9 percent, the products only have to be labeled if the proportion of GMOs exceeds this level. However, it must be proven that the contamination was "accidental or technically unavoidable". The following example of products / foods made from genetically modified tomatoes illustrates the capers that can result from this: If the limit value of 0.9 percent is applied to tomato paste, a corresponding proportion of genetically modified DNA can be detected in every can of tomato paste - a GMO label becomes necessary or omitted. In the case of whole tomatoes, however, it would mean that for every 111 non-genetically modified tomatoes there may be one genetically modified tomato that does not have to be labeled.

Apart from that, the term technicus "accidental or technically unavoidable" is not precisely defined. However, a number of rules are attached to this formulation, which in turn remain fuzzy due to the imprecise description.

Another exception, which has consequences for consumers' freedom of choice, is the use of some enzymes or additives that are produced with the help of genetically modified microorganisms. Under certain circumstances, these can be found in food and feed without their use being traceable by labeling. Risks to health and the environment

Admission process and criticism of it

The EU has an extensive regulatory apparatus for the approval of GMOs. This applies in particular to the food and feed sector, regardless of whether the GMO is imported into the EU, whether it is brought into the fields here or whether it is to be processed further. [10] On the basis of the relevant regulations [11], a number of European or national authorities deal with risk assessment and risk management. These include above all the European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority EFSA and, in Germany, the Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety BVL, the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation BfN, the corresponding authorities in other EU member states and the federal states.

No independent research: One of the criticisms raised against the process is the lack of testing of the GMOs by independent scientists. The process of assessing whether GMOs are safe or not takes place on the basis of so-called "application dossiers". These are put together by the companies that want to bring a product to the European market. The scientific investigations are carried out by the companies themselves or commissioned by them.

No scientific consensus
In science, the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) remains a controversial issue. While on the one hand it is emphasized that a large number of studies have shown the harmlessness of GMOs, others say that - among other things - the results are contradictory and test methods inadequate. According to scientists, denied access to research material also stands in the way of research in the public interest. The companies decide who does research with their GMOs - and who doesn't. [12]

New genetic engineering methods
The debate about the use of genetic engineering in agriculture also revolves around the question of the extent to which certain new genetic engineering processes fall under the current genetic engineering regulation. Some of the techniques have only been known for a few years, others have been used in research for ten or more years. Environmental, organic and consumer associations are calling for strict regulation.

Current research results on the food safety of GMOs

Further criticism is based on the fact that in the past, undesired health and / or ecological (side) effects were found in investigations of GMPs or products made from them. When genetically modified plants were fed to experimental animals, these changes in the blood count or in other organs showed increased mortality or reduced numbers of offspring. There are now a number of publications on this: Italian scientists, for example, recently showed in a specialist article that very young and old mice had shown altered immune reactions to the consumption of genetically modified maize of the MON810 variety than the animals in the control groups.

The frequency of the so-called T and B cells of the immune system was significantly changed. [13] The "case" of genetically modified maize MON863 was already discussed in the EU in 2004: The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote in its online edition of September 12, 2004 [14] about investigations of this genetically modified maize variety: "In the In female rats, the number of red blood cell precursor cells was found to be reduced by up to 52 percent. The blood glucose content of some animals was also 'slightly increased'. (...) [the then chairman of the 'Commission Du Genie Biomoleculaire' (CGB ) of the French Ministry of Agriculture Gerard] Pascal found that the kidneys of the male rodents fed GM maize were on average 7.1 percent lighter than those of the control animals.

The organs also showed an increasing number of abnormal pathological findings, a 'lower mineralization' in the kidney tubules and signs of 'local chronic inflammation'. This particularly worried the reviewer, because for the first time 'several different anomalies appeared in one organ' in rats fed with MON 863. "MON 863 is approved in the EU as feed and food, but not for cultivation. With MON810 it is exactly the opposite .

Opt out
The member states of the EU can ban GMOs in their territory, even if these GMOs are formally authorized for the entire EU. In January 2015 the European Parliament passed the so-called "opt out" regulation. This initiated a central demand of the European movement critical of genetic engineering, according to which it will ultimately be decided in the regions or states - and not in Brussels or Strasbourg - whether the cultivation of GM plants should be permitted.

Due to the fact that a large part of the GM plants grown worldwide are resistant to weed killers based on glyphosate, this poison has come more and more into the focus of studies in recent years. Investigations in South America in particular have shown that the massive use leads to harmful effects on the health of local people and the environment. It became clear that the formulations of the agents that are ultimately used in the fields (for example under the trade name "Roundup") are significantly more toxic than glyphosate alone, which is traditionally referred to as an active ingredient. At the same time, this fact is only insufficiently reflected in the approval process. On the one hand, the fact that the use of glyphosate is compulsory is not consistently taken into account when approving GM plants. On the other hand, too much attention is paid to the so-called "active ingredient" when evaluating the agents.

Glyphosate is being re-evaluated in the EU. Various specialist agencies have made contradicting statements about the risks associated with the use of glyphosate or agents containing glyphosate. While the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC), a facility of the World Health Organization (WHO), has classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic for humans", the German Federal Office for Risk Assessment and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have given the all-clear. [15]


BfN - Federal Agency for Nature Conservation
BVL - Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety
DNA - deoxyribonucleic acid (English; German: deoxyribonucleic acid)
EFSA - European Food Safety Authority
EU - European Union
GM - genetically modified
GMO - genetically modified organisms
GMP - genetically modified plants