Error

Close

search
OPN Connect Newsletter 208 · March 11, 2021

GMOs and New Gene-Editing Techniques: Will They Impact Organic Farming?


By Melody Meyer

The first generation of GMOs in agriculture was engineered to express Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) insecticide in all cells of the plant in order to make them resistant to herbicides like glyphosate. Known as “transgenics,” these crops have been inserted with a gene from another organism.

GMOs are strictly prohibited in organic production and can contaminate organic seeds and crops through drift, producing a huge liability for organic farmers.

Stemilt October 2021

Today, agrochemical companies are changing the agricultural ecosystem with the ability to manipulate the genetic codes of not just plants but animals, insects, algae, soil microbes, and even humans. There is little to no government oversight on GMOs, and they are difficult to detect and could potentially alter genetics on a worldwide scale.

GMOs are strictly prohibited in organic production and can contaminate organic seeds and crops through drift, producing a huge liability for organic farmers.

“Organic is a history of collaborative resilience, especially from incursions by excluded-method contamination. From my perspective, the real opportunity going forward will be to create regulatory partnerships that will support the consensus we have reached as a community,” says National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) member Mindee Jeffery. “Organic needs the tools of transparency and regulatory consideration to deal with the sprawl of biotechnology across the food system. If we are to co-exist positively in a democracy, organic has certainly earned its place at the table.”

Wish Farms October 2021

Mindee Jeffery, NOSB member

“Organic is a history of collaborative resilience, especially from incursions by excluded-method contamination. From my perspective, the real opportunity going forward will be to create regulatory partnerships that will support the consensus we have reached as a community." -Mindee Jeffery

What are the next generation of GMOs?

  • Biosynthesized Ingredients or “Synthetic Biology” modify algae, yeast, or bacteria to produce high-value products such as flavors, fragrances, and dietary supplements.
  • CRISPR Technology involves changing the genetic sequence of an organism’s DNA to produce the desired trait. It's viewed as a more precise and faster way to change an organism’s genes.
  • Gene Drives are a controversial technology that changes an organism so that it will ALWAYS pass on its genetically engineered traits to future generations. Future generations, in turn, will pass those traits on until the entire population is changed forever. Applications are under way to utilize gene drives in food and agriculture by eradicating insects and weed species.
  • RNA Interference (RNAi)—DNA and RNA are the main molecules that carry genetic information. Companies are developing sprays of synthetic RNA to use in fields so that when the sprays are taken up by an insect, they change its genetics.
  • Genetically Engineered Insects—The EPA recently approved the release of more than 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes into the Florida Keys. These "suicide mosquitoes" are genetically altered with the intention to produce offspring that die before emerging into adults and therefore cannot bite humans and spread disease.
Starr October 2021

There are currently several fresh produce crops already on the market that utilize some of the next wave of GMOs.

The Arctic® Apple is engineered to suppress the production of an enzyme that causes browning when sliced or bruised. These non-browning apples are on the market now, making them more attractive to sell sliced than other apples.

Simplot’s Innate brand potato is engineered using gene silencing called RNA interference (RNAi). This potato hides the symptoms of blackspot bruising rather than preventing it. It is currently being marketed under the trademark White Russet.

Chelan October 2021

"We need to decide whether to prioritize organic agriculture now and into the future or to irreversibly contaminate our agricultural system with new genetic engineering applications and the agrichemicals they depend on." -Dana Perls

Additional gene-edited produce crops in the works include:

  • Cabbage with improved growing patterns
  • Oranges and other citrus with resistance to citrus greening disease
  • White button mushrooms that prevent browning

How could these technologies affect organic farmers and the genetic ecosystem of the planet?

  • Organic growers and the US Apple Association have expressed concerns that the introduction of the CRISPR apple will force them to implement costly measures to protect against cross contamination. And it could potentially cause valuable export markets to reject US apples.
  • Caius Rommens, the engineer of Simplot’s potato, wrote a book called Pandora’s Potatoes that illustrates the many hidden issues of gene-edited potatoes. For example, he writes, “Given the nature of the potato industry, the most common potato varieties, such as Russet Burbank and Ranger Russet, will soon be contaminated with GMO stock.”
  • Wiping out future generations of insects and weeds may cause environmental complications, potentially disrupting food chains and other beneficial organisms.
  • RNAi sprays and the insects they infect could cross over into organic fields and crops.
  • Once genetically engineered insects are released into the world, there is no calling them back into the lab. They aren’t being regulated, and there is no way to know the long-term impacts of these new genetically altered organisms.
NatureSafe October 2021

Dana Perls, Food and Agriculture Program Manager, Friends of the Earth

“We are at a crossroads in our food system. We need to decide whether to prioritize organic agriculture now and into the future or to irreversibly contaminate our agricultural system with new genetic engineering applications and the agrichemicals they depend on,” says Dana Perls, food and agriculture program manager for Friends of the Earth.

Learn more at https://foe.org/projects/genetic-engineering

Growers Ice Co October 2021

Want Fresh News Delivered Regularly?

Sign up for OPN Connect 

Stay current on all the most important news
and features with our weekly newsletter.

Sign Up Todaykeyboard_arrow_right