Questions and answers about transgenic plants, GMO
What are transgenic plants?
Transgenic plants are plants that contain one or more genes introduced through the genetic transformation technique. By this technique, one or more genes are biochemically isolated and inserted into a cell. This cell then multiplies and originates a new plant, carrying identical copies of the gene. Transgenic plants are also called genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Compare the differences between the processes of obtaining a new plant:
Natural crossing: occurs between two plants, when the air itself or the insects perform the exchange of the pollen contained in the flowers of the plants.
Crossing for genetic improvement: the pollen exchange of flowers is done by the researcher, who crosses two plants to obtain a new one, with characteristics desired by the research (resistance to diseases, productivity, adaptation to a region, etc.)
Genetic transformation: in this technique, there is no crossing between two plants. The cell of a plant receives a gene in the laboratory and multiplies, resulting in a transgenic plant. The gene introduced into the cell is not necessarily from the same plant. It can be from any living organism, with an animal, a different plant, or even bacteria.
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Why is Greenpeace opposed to transgenics?
Greenpeace campaigns against the liberalization of GMOs or GMOs in the environment and opposes their use in food and feed. For the organization, the results of the use of transgenics are unpredictable, uncontrollable and unnecessary.
Loss of Biodiversity
We know that the harmful consequences of new technologies can often only be realized after many years. Among the possible consequences of transgenics, scientists predict the impoverishment of biodiversity, which can negatively interfere with ecological balance and food security.
Increased use of agrochemicals
The use of GMOs with herbicide resistance in agriculture can lead to the appearance of “superpowers” and to the ecological imbalance of the soil, in addition to contamination of the soil and the water sheets, due to the intensified use of pesticides.
Threat to food safety
In the past, thinking about patenting plants, animals or genes could not even be considered. Today, with the patent on life, the producer has to pay royalties for the patented plants and the seeds they produce, for all future generations. This is a threat to food security and biodiversity.
Lack of studies
Worrying consequences for human health would be the emergence (or increase) of allergies caused by genetically modified foods; increased resistance to antibiotics; and the emergence of new viruses by recombining “engineered” viruses with existing ones. Transgenics are being used indiscriminately in food and feed, as insufficient studies have been done to prove their safety.
What we demand is the implementation of the precautionary principle on the issue of transgenics.
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What are the health and environmental damage caused by transgenics?
To date, the extent of the impact these genetic experiments can cause to humans and the environment is unknown. The most serious environmental impacts caused by the cultivation of transgenics are: the reduction of biodiversity; genetic contamination (crossing of GMOs with conventional plants); the emergence of superprays (resistant to herbicides), the disappearance of beneficial species; and increased use of herbicides.
In relation to human health, what is known for now is that transgenics have caused an increase in cases of allergy, especially among children, in addition to increased resistance to antibiotics. Two transgenic plants can cross each other and generate an unexpected or predicted offspring by scientists. In Canada, for example, Roundup Ready transgenic canola crossed with the Liberty Link transgenic canola, which resulted in a super-transgenic canola. In addition, transgenic plants can produce new and unknown substances, toxic to humans.
What is transgenic soy?
Transgenic soy is a generic term used to refer to soybeans containing one or more genes transferred through the genetic transformation process. The characteristics of this soybean vary, according to the gene that was introduced. There is herbicide resistant soybean, resistant to insects, with a high content of oleic acid (good for health), etc.
What are the main differences between conventional and transgenic soybeans?
The transgenic variety only differs from the conventional variety in some feature that almost always can not be detected visually under normal conditions. For example, a transgenic herbicide resistant variety will only show this difference after application of the product.
What does the producer gain from this?
What is expected with the technology of transgenic plants are benefits for the producer as the reduction of cost of production, ease in the handling (control of weeds and insects, etc.) and increase of productivity.
What are the advantages for the consumer?
The first generation of transgenic plants affects the cost of production and, therefore, benefits the producers more. Despite this, consumers can benefit from products produced with less pesticides. The second generation of transgenic plants should bring products with differentiated quality, such as soy with better quality oil, soy with higher sugar content, soy with better composition of proteins, etc.
Is it true that transgenic soybeans will be sterile, that is, the grain will not serve as seed?
No. Transgenic soybeans being grown in Brazil today will produce seeds in the same way as non-GM varieties. There is a technology being developed in the United States and nicknamed “terminator”, through which the seed produced by this transgenic plant does not germinate. This would prevent the farmer from using the grain produced in his crop as seed for the next harvest. However, to date there is no commercial product that uses this technology.
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Transgenic plants are laboratory-created genetic engineering techniques that allow you to “cut and paste” genes from one organism to another, changing the shape of the organism and manipulating its natural structure in order to obtain specific characteristics.
There is no limit to this technique; for example, it is possible to create combinations never imagined as animals with plants and bacteria.
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Do transgenics reduce the need for agrochemicals?
Today there are two different technologies that represent almost the entire area of transgenics planted in the world: transgenics created to produce a toxin that replaces insecticides, called “insecticidal plants”; and transgenics raised to be resistant to herbicides, a type of agrochemical that kills weeds.
Roundup Ready transgenic soya belongs to the class of herbicide resistant plants. Roundup is the trade name of the glyphosate herbicide. Thus, the name of the genetically modified plant means “ready for Roundup.” In 2003, crops with herbicide resistance accounted for 73% of the area planted with transgenic crops worldwide.
The evaluation done during the first nine years of transgenic crops in the USA shows that in the first three years of cultivation of herbicide resistant plants there was a reduction in the amount of pesticides used in agriculture in that country. However, from the sixth year onwards the amount of agrochemicals used in transgenic crops has grown alarmingly. This was mainly due to the emergence of “superpowers”.
This fact can be compared to using an antibiotic to fight a disease. At first, the effect is very good. But over time, the microorganism acquires resistance and it becomes necessary to increase the doses of the antibiotic. Until one day it no longer has effect, and it is necessary to change product.
Some scientists and research bodies say that transgenic has not yet been proven to be harmful to health and the environment. Why discriminate against technology?
Greenpeace advocates that environmental protection mechanisms be put in place to prevent the risks of GMOs. For the organization, every transgenic product must undergo environmental impact studies (EIA / RIMA) before its release. Transgenic soybeans have not yet been subjected to any such study, but are being cultivated indiscriminately in the country.
Measures to ensure the safety of transgenic foods are as weak as those dealing with their environmental risks. However, regulators of this type of product in the US, such as the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, continue to approve the use and distribution of transgenic products. In most cases, the decisions were based on the evidence presented by the companies themselves. In Brazil, CTNBio (the National Technical Commission on Biosafety), a government agency that assesses the safety of genetically modified foods, has adopted the same procedure to give Monsanto‘s positive opinion on soybean varieties in September 1998. In the European Union, there is a more rigorous criterion.
Officially, studies have not yet been presented regarding the environmental safety of soybeans. To date, the application of Roundup (glyphosate herbicide) to the plant has not even been authorized, which is necessary in the case of transgenic soybeans – in conventional soybeans, this herbicide is applied to weeds in the soil, before soybeans sprout The studies presented so far have only been carried out in other countries and by the biotechnology industries themselves.
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How and for what reason was Roundup Ready transgenic soy genetically modified?
Genes from several different species were inserted into Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybean so that the plant gained resistance to glyphosate agrotoxic. This pesticide has the function of eliminating the weeds from the soybean crop. Thus, with the transgenic soybean the farmer can use the pesticide at will, eliminating all the bush without causing damage to the soybean plant. Among the genes inserted in the RR soybeans are those of a virus, that of two bacteria and that of a flower, in addition to three genes inserted accidentally.
Agrobacterium sp. CP4 soil bacteria provided the most important gene for transgenic soybeans, called EPSPSCP4. This gene encodes an enzyme that modifies the biochemical behavior of the plant, allowing the herbicide glyphosate not to kill the plant. With the function of making the inserted gene pack run without interruption, cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV35S), called the promoter gene, was inserted into RR soybean.
From the flower Petunia hybrida, a gene called CTP, which encodes a peptide, has been removed. The bacterium Agrobacterium tumefasciens provided the NOS gene, responsible for functioning as the end of the sequence of exotic genes.
In addition to these genes that are part of the patented package, three fragments of unknown genes present in RR soy were discovered years later. Two of them were discovered in 2000 – one with 72 base pairs (smaller fraction of the genetic code) and one with 250 base pairs were identified as fragments of the broken EPSPSCP4 gene. Another, discovered in 2001 with 534 base pairs, is called “unknown.” In 2002, scientists discovered that one of the fragments and the unknown gene encode RNA (ribonucleic acid), and therefore may be producing unknown proteins.
How is the control of foods and medicines made from soybeans made with regard to the presence of GMOs?
In order for there to be control of medicines made from soybeans, as well as all foods containing soybeans, the origin of the raw material, that is, of the grains purchased from the farmers, must be known. Rapid transgenic grain testing is quick and inexpensive, while testing on industrially processed foods is time consuming and expensive. Sometimes, depending on the type of processing, it is not possible to DNA test the final product. Therefore, transgenic control must be done along the production chain, from field to industry.
When in doubt, the consumer should contact the company responsible for the product in order to question whether it controls to prevent the presence of GMOs in their food or medicines.
Greenpeace maintains the updated Consumer Guide on its website. In the green column are the industries that have taken a strict control of raw material to prevent transgenic contamination.
Why not consume transgenics? What is really harmful or not?
Responsible consumption is a powerful tool for anyone who wants to contribute to nature conservation. The option of consuming or rejecting a product may be an expression of your concern for your health or your intent to protect nature. By avoiding the consumption of transgenics, you will be preventing them from being planted, and thus help protect the Brazilian environment and biodiversity. Our recommendation is: if you have a choice, avoid buying these products.
What is the difference between genetic improvement and genetic modification?
There are two completely different techniques. Transgenics are produced by genetic modification, and never by genetic improvement.
Genetic improvement is a biotechnology technique that has been in use for millennia for many purposes. It is based on the genetic combination of two plants of the same species by means of sexual intercrossing or, in some cases, between plants of different species, but of the same genus, with great similarities between them. The offspring of this cross are selected by selecting only those individuals that have the desired characteristics, such as increased productivity, insect resistance or disease. Genetic breeding works with genetic diversity within a single species.
Genetic modification or transgenic, also known as genetic engineering, is a biotechnology technique that was introduced in 1973. In transgenics, sequences of the genetic code are removed from one or more organisms and inserted into another organism, of a different species. The main implication of the transgenic is the breaking of the sexual barrier between different species, allowing crosses impossible to occur naturally, such as between a plant and an animal, a bacterium and a virus, an animal and an insect. Insertion of exotic genes into a plant, for example, may result in unpredictable effects on its biochemical and metabolic processes.
Are there medicines made with transgenics?
The best known drug produced by transgenics is insulin. Medications, enzymes, reagents and various products are produced by transgenic microorganisms in a confined environment. This means that these microorganisms are trapped within laboratories or factories, and have no contact with the environment or the consumer. This type of transgenic use, the confined use, does not pose a danger to the environment. The consumer receives a purified and analyzed chemical substance and also has no contact with the living transgenic. The safety assessment protocol for these chemicals is much more rigorous and detailed than that used to ensure the safety of transgenic foods.
Very different is the idea of using food plants for outdoor drug manufacturing. Imagine a transgenic corn for the production of contraceptive contaminating the conventional corn by pollination and reaching the plate of thousands of people. This type of plant for the production of medicines is dangerous for the possibility of contaminating the human food chain. Have you ever thought about taking drugs, enzymes and hormones every day, for your food, without knowing it?
Is it true that they are developing modified cigarettes to contain more nicotine?
Yes it’s true. This news was conveyed in the media in 2003, but it appears that it did not fall outside the scope of the search and remains unauthorized commercially.
Are there transgenic bananas?
The World Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has pointed to the fact that small farmers around the world plant a wide variety of bananas, which are not threatened by diseases that attack varieties marketed mainly in Europe and the North America. According to the FAO, “Fortunately, small farmers around the world have secured a wide genetic variety that can be used for the future breeding of this crop. Banana is an essentially clonal crop with many sterile species, which makes progress through and new breeding methods and tools, including biotechnology, will be useful in developing resistant bananas that can be grown. That does not necessarily mean that transgenics should be adopted.
Is there a golden rice?
Yes, but it is not used in commercial plantations. Golden rice is a transgenic crop created with the intention of reducing vitamin A deficiency in populations that traditionally feed on rice. Years of research were spent and the result was a grain of rice with a very low pro-vitamin A content. To ingest the minimum daily amount of vitamin A, an adult man would have to eat 9 pounds of cooked golden rice a day. The solution to vitamin A deficiency is in a diversified eating habit, with the intake of fruits and vegetables. The main cause of vitamin A deficiency in these regions is rice-based nutrition.
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