French Court Scrambles the Debate Over What Is “GMO” in Foods

 

GMO plant in a laboratory. Photo credit: shutterstock.com

Science has long been embroiled in food safety and labeling debates. Most recently, you’ve probably read or heard about the decades-long debate on whether to mandate labeling or disclosure that “genetically modified organisms” (GMOs) were used to grow or process certain food products.

Think of the “Arctic Apple” (which doesn’t brown when cut, thanks to a little genetic modification, or the “AquAdvantage Salmon,” which merges genes from two separate salmon varieties (Chinook & Atlantic) for a fish that grows faster and bigger (and they’re all female, supposedly). Neither of these products, despite being in development for the better part of two decades is just now, slowly, making their way into retail markets (but not Whole Foods, I assure you).

But I often found it weird that while there’s a cottage industry of activist groups who’ve lobbied for years against GMO food products – among the safest, most tested and environmental friendly ever grown – they’ve been silent about an old technology that was used to create all kinds of varieties a few decades ago, called “mutagenesis.” This technology uses gamma rays or chemicals to scramble the DNA in crops to create new varieties. Think of Ruby Red grapefruit, which was created this way.

Now, a French court has finally spoken up and is seeking labeling or bans of a wide variety of commonly used foods – some even labeled “organic” – because they were developed through mutagenesis.

Have you been eating foods derived from mutagenesis? You betcha. Even you beer drinkers. Watch this space.

Common foods created using mutagenesis are rice, peas, peanuts, grapefruit, bananas, cassava and sorghum. Mutagenesis wheat is used for bread and pasta and mutated barley is in beer and whiskey. That means no more “bio” beer, bread, or pasta.”

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Let the French have all the regulations they can print on red tape.

    • #1
  2. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    I don’t understand how the alteration of food-crop genes by selective breeding is acceptable but not alteration by other means. If genetic manipulation had any effect whatsoever on the consumer, then only the genetic result and not how the genes were manipulated would be the relevant point. 

    Humans can safely digest some plants and not others. It makes some sense that an easily digestible plant could be altered in ways that prove harder on human bodies, in pursuit of goals like harder stalks or better insect resistance. If we can make plants better, then surely we can make them worse (by accident). But that’s reason for testing of consumption before mass distribution, not for indiscriminate rejection of genetic change.

    • #2
  3. Al French Moderator
    Al French
    @AlFrench

    Although I acknowledge that there is widespread acceptance of crazy food ideas in Europe, I suspect that some of the French motivation comes from the fact that these GMOs are American products.

    • #3
  4. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    Hmm. So what about mutations that occur in nature, caused by exactly the same kinds of mechanisms? I guess natural radiation is OK?

    • #4
  5. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member
    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler
    @Muleskinner

    Al French (View Comment):

    Although I acknowledge that there is widespread acceptance of crazy food ideas in Europe, I suspect that some of the French motivation comes from the fact that these GMOs are American products.

    That mostly because it prevents French (and other EU) farmers from having to compete with non-EU farmers.

    • #5
  6. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    It is hard to simultaneously gin up a pretense to keep American produce out of French markets while simultaneously pretending to be enlightened and pro-science.

    • #6
  7. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo…
    @GumbyMark

    Here is a usable link to the article mentioned in the OP.

     

    • #7
  8. Al French Moderator
    Al French
    @AlFrench

    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler (View Comment):

    Al French (View Comment):

    Although I acknowledge that there is widespread acceptance of crazy food ideas in Europe, I suspect that some of the French motivation comes from the fact that these GMOs are American products.

    That mostly because it prevents French (and other EU) farmers from having to compete with non-EU farmers.

    That, and anti-American pique.

    • #8
  9. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    It is hard to simultaneously gin up a pretense to keep American produce out of French markets while simultaneously pretending to be enlightened and pro-science.

    We have more science than they do so they turn to protectionism. 

    That being said, I do want to do more research into nutrition and really focus on how food quality affects people. The worries about GMOs are clearly ginned up but I don’t think we know enough about nutrition. There are always unintended consequences to even great and wonderful advances and maybe some genetic modifications do affect how some vitamins are absorbed in ways we don’t understand yet. Or it might be completely fine.

    Michelle Houellebecq has written in his new novel about French agribusiness, 

    To tell the truth, I felt myself more and more ill at ease in my job. Nothing had established the dangerousness of organically-modified crops, and the radical ecologists were for the most part ignorant imbeciles, but nothing had established their safety either, and my superiors in the company [for which he worked] were quite simply pathological liars.

    In conclusion, science is super complicated and we should keep an open mind about all the stuff we don’t know. 

    • #9
  10. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):

    Hmm. So what about mutations that occur in nature, caused by exactly the same kinds of mechanisms? I guess natural radiation is OK?

    We’re talking about the French.  I’m sure all farmers in granite-dominated regions will be blacklisted.  Radon, ya’ know.

    • #10
  11. dnewlander Coolidge
    dnewlander
    @dnewlander

    Al French (View Comment):

    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler (View Comment):

    Al French (View Comment):

    Although I acknowledge that there is widespread acceptance of crazy food ideas in Europe, I suspect that some of the French motivation comes from the fact that these GMOs are American products.

    That mostly because it prevents French (and other EU) farmers from having to compete with non-EU farmers.

    That, and anti-American pique.

    I talked to a Kiwi about his dislike of Monsanto’s GMO seeds almost twenty years ago, and he brought up a good point, which was that a lot of Monsanto’s GMO seeds have been not only patented, but also modified to not produce seeds, requiring farmers to buy new seeds every year. So his concerns weren’t the normal “health” ones, but anti-competitive practices.

    But in general, I agree with everyone here. Here’s how corn has been changed over centuries by “genetic modification”:

    And here’s potatoes, which used to be the size of cherries:

    • #11
  12. Russ Schnitzer Member
    Russ Schnitzer
    @RussSchnitzer

    What’s a downside of genetically modified fruits and Veggies?  Let me give you an example: STRAWBERRIES.

    Strawberries have been modifed to have longer life after picking, larger size, less bruising during shipping, more resistance to insects.  And probably much more that I don’t know about.  

    Trust me, they don’t taste like strawberries of old.  They taste like cr*p.  

     

    • #12
  13. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Russ Schnitzer (View Comment):

    Strawberries have been modifed to have longer life after picking, larger size, less bruising during shipping, more resistance to insects. And probably much more that I don’t know about.

    Trust me, they don’t taste like strawberries of old. They taste like cr*p.

    I’ve heard the same about bananas. Tropical storms ruined many banana harvests. Growers bred them to have stronger stalks, so not to be blown onto the ground and wasted. Supposedly, the tougher bananas today are less appetizing. 

    That jives with my experience of growing okra. When stalks get old and large, they get tougher and lose some taste. But note that this occurs even without genetic manipulation. 

    • #13
  14. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz
    @drlorentz

    Bucknelldad: Now, a French court has finally spoken up and is seeking labeling or bans of a wide variety of commonly used foods – some even labeled “organic” – because they were developed through mutagenesis.

    With the exception of water and salt, all the substances I eat are organic. The Frogs need to learn what that word means.

    • #14
  15. TeamAmerica Member
    TeamAmerica
    @TeamAmerica

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    It is hard to simultaneously gin up a pretense to keep American produce out of French markets while simultaneously pretending to be enlightened and pro-science.

    Eh, the Postmodern anti-science left does this all the time regarding gender.

    • #15
  16. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    TeamAmerica (View Comment):
    Eh, the Postmodern anti-science left does this all the time regarding gender just about everything.

    FTFY.

    • #16
  17. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    “Organic” is another way of saying “has more bugs in it.”

    • #17
  18. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Skyler (View Comment):

    “Organic” is another way of saying “has more bugs in it.”

    When Dr. Lorentz is saying it above, he means carbon-based, as in organic chemistry.

    • #18
  19. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    “Organic” is another way of saying “has more bugs in it.”

    When Dr. Lorentz is saying it above, he means carbon-based, as in organic chemistry.

    That would imply that I read what Dr. Lorentz has written.  I was just pointing out that a preference for  “organic” is just as silly as a preference for non-GMO.

    I will now go back and read the comments so I make no further faux pas.

    • #19
  20. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    Russ Schnitzer (View Comment):

    Strawberries have been modifed to have longer life after picking, larger size, less bruising during shipping, more resistance to insects. And probably much more that I don’t know about.

    Trust me, they don’t taste like strawberries of old. They taste like cr*p.

    I’ve heard the same about bananas. Tropical storms ruined many banana harvests. Growers bred them to have stronger stalks, so not to be blown onto the ground and wasted. Supposedly, the tougher bananas today are less appetizing.

    That jives with my experience of growing okra. When stalks get old and large, they get tougher and lose some taste. But note that this occurs even without genetic manipulation.

    Perhaps you’re thinking of how the originally popular bananas were all wiped out by a blight about 70 years ago and the variety we eat today are reportedly nowhere near as sweet and tasty.  I love bananas, so the idea that older bananas were better is intriguing.

     

    No one should be eating okra.  Ever.

    • #20
  21. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    More on the Panama disease which is now threatening the current cultivar of bananas which we enjoy today.

    “Scientists are trying to modify the banana plant to make it resist Panama disease and many other serious banana afflictions ranging from fungal, bacterial, and viral infections to nematodes and beetles. Researchers are combing remote jungles searching for new wild bananas. Hybrid bananas are being created in the hope of generating a new variety with strong resistance to diseases. Some believe the best hope for a more resilient banana is through genetic engineering, however, the resulting fruit also needs to taste good, ripen in a predictable amount of time, travel long distances undamaged, and be easy to grow in great quantities. Currently, no cultivar or hybrid meets all of these criteria.”

    Enjoy them while you can.  Let’s hope GMO can fix the problem, and then get on to fixing Dutch Elm disease.

    • #21
  22. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Skyler (View Comment):
    Perhaps you’re thinking of how the originally popular bananas were all wiped out by a blight about 70 years ago and the variety we eat today are reportedly nowhere near as sweet and tasty.

    Gros Michel vs. Cavendish cultivars.

    • #22
  23. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    There still are Gros Michel bananas, but they are grown under very carefully controlled conditions and not in very high quantities.

    • #23
  24. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Arahant (View Comment):

    There still are Gros Michel bananas, but they are grown under very carefully controlled conditions and not in very high quantities.

    Fascinating.  I’d like to try one someday.

    • #24
  25. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    There still are Gros Michel bananas, but they are grown under very carefully controlled conditions and not in very high quantities.

    Fascinating. I’d like to try one someday.

    So would I.

    • #25
  26. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Looks like we can order bulbs to grow them on Amazon.

    • #26
  27. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Let the French have all the regulations they can print on red tape.

    The French are lucky they don’t more pressing issues to deal with like Islamic terrorists running around killing people . . .

    • #27
  28. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    Stad (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Let the French have all the regulations they can print on red tape.

    The French are lucky they don’t more pressing issues to deal with like Islamic terrorists running around killing people . . .

    There’s less of that since 2017.

    • #28
  29. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    I don’t understand how the alteration of food-crop genes by selective breeding is acceptable but not alteration by other means. If genetic manipulation had any effect whatsoever on the consumer, then only the genetic result and not how the genes were manipulated would be the relevant point.

    Humans can safely digest some plants and not others. It makes some sense that an easily digestible plant could be altered in ways that prove harder on human bodies, in pursuit of goals like harder stalks or better insect resistance. If we can make plants better, then surely we can make them worse (by accident). But that’s reason for testing of consumption before mass distribution, not for indiscriminate rejection of genetic change.

    Progressives don’t actually like progress. 

    • #29
  30. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Russ Schnitzer (View Comment):

    What’s a downside of genetically modified fruits and Veggies? Let me give you an example: STRAWBERRIES.

    Strawberries have been modifed to have longer life after picking, larger size, less bruising during shipping, more resistance to insects. And probably much more that I don’t know about.

    Trust me, they don’t taste like strawberries of old. They taste like cr*p.

     

    I’m sure you can still get seeds for the strawberries you like.  People also complain about store-bought tomatoes.  You can grow whatever kind of tomatoes you want in your own garden.  But the most flavorful varieties just don’t hold up to being trucked 2000 miles so that people can eat tomatoes in Winnipeg in the winter.  Perhaps there are places where you can get excellent tomatoes even in winter, but maybe they’re grown in a hothouse and are much more expensive than the everyday supermarket tomatoes. 

    • #30
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