All genetically engineered crops undergo intensive pre-market safety assessment performed by the food regulatory authorities. This process is performed to ensure that all potential risks are identified. And in case a health risk is identified, then the release of a genetically modified food is halted to prevent the possibility of causing health risks on humans that are going to consume them.
There are several processes in the investigation process of GM plants to determine their potential risks:
- Toxicity and its direct health impact on consumers
- Possible allergic reactions
- Presence of toxic properties on components believed to be nutritional components
- Instability of the gene introduced to the plant
- Genetic modification and its impact on the nutritional value of the plant
- Possibility of suffering from unintended effects on plants and humans resulting from introduction of a new gene
Given the above risks that could result from the widespread of GE crops, a proper risk assessment is vital in monitoring the safety of these food products. Aside from human health risk assessment, there is also risk assessment done on the environment. It will attempt to evaluate the GMO food product itself that includes 1) evaluation of characteristics for the GM foods, 2) stability in the receiving environment, and the 3) ecological characteristics of the environment where the crops are grown.
Are GM Plants An Issue of Concern for the Environment?
Next to the impact on human health, this is the next most common question asked about genetically engineered crops. There is the possibility that GMO could escape to the nearby environment and introduce the gene to wild populations, thus losing control over its impact and also affecting non-target organisms. Since this technology is still in its infancy stage, it can be quite a challenge keeping the effects in place and ensuring that there is no contamination to the environment.
Environmental activists strongly oppose the spread of GE crops as it could also lead to loss of biodiversity. Indeed, the concerns on environment spread across wildlife, plant biodiversity, induction of resistant insects, development of new plant pathogens, and crop rotation. There are investigations that are currently ongoing to assess the issues on the environment when growing GM plants and this is important to ensure that more produce is enjoyed in the future.
The United States GMO Policy
The GMO policy in the US is dealt with by three government agencies:
The EPA is focused on regulating genetically engineered crops and its potential risks on the environment. Meanwhile, the USDA is responsible for assessing whether a particular plant is safe to grow in a particular type of environment or local area.
And finally, the FDA is indirectly concerned with GMO food because it does not cover regulation of whole foods. The current policy employed by the FDA was published in 1992, which indicates that an FDA consultation is only performed when a biotech company requests for it. On the other hand, an FDA approval is still required before it is released into the market.