Is the GMO War Over?

The Lempert Report
November 01, 2016

Just when we thought that the GMO war was over, it looks like technology is still on the battleground.

There is little doubt  these days about GMOs. The American consumer has been heard and brands have either decided to eliminate GMO ingredients from their foods or label those foods that contain GMOs.

Just when we thought that the GMO war was over, it looks like technology is still on the battleground. Forget about inserting one gene from one species into another, now there is a new technology that allows scientists to either snip out or add little bits of DNA to a genome more easily than ever. And unlike the scary terminology of genetically modified organism, this one is simply called CRISPR. I guess much like that plastic refrigerator within a refrigerator compartment that we all know and cherish to keep our produce at its peak. 

A Swedish plant biologist Stefan Jansson, is the mastermind behind this technology who has actually, according to a report in The Atlantic, convinced authorities in Sweden that his CRISPR crop, “a strain called Brassica oleracea that looks and tastes similar to broccoli, underwent a snip, the deletion of a single gene to make it grow slower, could be cultivated without requiring any special regulatory authority because it didn’t include any “foreign DNA.” 

Here in the US, the USDA approved CRISPR mushrooms that are engineered to not brown. USDA’s approval included the statement that because the new mushroom “does not contain any introduced genetic material” it isn’t even subject to the agency’s GMO regulations. 

So we have to wonder if these advances, or wordsmithing, make the GMO fight and the over hundred million dollars spent over the past decades to convince consumers and lawmakers which choice to make, seems a bit silly now?  

Well, the fight is not over. 

What CRISPR does is give scientists the power to more easily, and presumably faster and cheaper, alter crops without adding genes from another species. Perhaps a technology that both sides of the GMO battle may come to agreement on. 

An amendment to the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946,  passed by a bipartisan majority in the Senate, and signed into law by President Obama on July 29, 2016,requires that over the next two years the Secretary of Agriculture establish a national disclosure standard for “bioengineered” foods which will be mandatory. The most important aspect of this law is that it has actually defined “bioengineered”:

(A) that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques; and

(B) for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.

The top line is that this law actually expands the definition of what is currently considered GMO. 

For example, under this definition the non-browning CRISPR mushroom would require labeling as the mushrooms are modified in vitro using recombinant DNA techniques. 

Stay tuned, as the term GMO might well disappear from our lexicon and be replaced by CRISPR.