Risks, Implications, and the Current Situation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

Risks, Implications, and the Current Situation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

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Despite the fact that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are consumed daily in different countries, few studies have been dedicated to studying the effects of the consumption of GMOs on human health. In such a way that there is a need to regulate and be able to label food products that contain GMOs or that are integrally GMOs by their nature.

Despite the fact that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are consumed daily in different countries, few studies have been dedicated to studying the effects of the consumption of GMOs on human health [1]. In such a way that there is a need to regulate and be able to label food products that contain GMOs or that are integrally GMOs by their nature. This publication summarizes the effects observed on human health, the effect on the environment, the current labeling situation worldwide, and the need for adequate regulation in Peru.

Human Health Risks

There have been no human clinical studies looking at the safety and / or toxicity of GMOs. Furthermore, few studies have been done in animals and many of these studies show conflicting results. Even more surprising is the fact that the articles published on GMOs acknowledge the great lack of information on the safety and / or toxicity of many products that different biotechnology companies place on the market [1]. The different scientific reports available only give a slight indication of the adverse effects that GMOs may or may not possess. However, the main concerns include the development of allergies, development of antibiotic resistance, and toxicity.

1. Allergies:

Allergies and hypersensitivity to GMOs is an important issue when analyzing the safety of GMOs. Normally, the dietary proteins that are consumed in a meal are digested and broken down to small peptides that do not induce an immune response [2]. However, in certain people with hypersensitivity, some of these small peptides can react as antigens, causing an allergenic immune response [2]. Food allergies are presumed to affect less than 2% of the adult population, the most common being allergies to fish, nuts, soy, eggs, shellfish, and wheat [3]. Sensitive individuals will have a response within a few hours after consuming the food even in small amounts [3]. These individuals must take extra precautions to avoid developing an allergy, one of the alternatives being that they carefully read the labels of the different products they consume.

GMOs contain various proteins and therefore small peptides that have the potential to cause an immune reaction once consumed [4]. Therefore, GMOs can cause allergic problems in two ways: they can contain a known allergen or they can contain proteins with unknown allergenic potential that can cause the development of an allergy in a population [4]. Different studies have shown that allergens transferred from other organisms to GMOs can cause an allergic reaction in people with food allergies. For example, transgenic soy that contained an inserted gene from a Brazilian nut was shown to cause allergic reactions in people allergic to this Brazilian nut but who had no history of being allergic to traditional soy [5]. Fortunately, this transgenic soybean is not commercially available [5]. However, there are other GMOs that are commercially available that can cause severe allergic reactions in people, making proper labeling indicating the presence of GMOs in food extremely important.

Measures to prevent the allergenicity of GMOs have been implemented. A joint group of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) has published different criteria and guidelines to be taken to predict the allergenicity of GMOs following a risk assessment . In this evaluation, the source of the gene, the comparison of amino acid sequences with known allergens, complete immunological analyzes, and the physicochemical properties of the gene product are considered [4]. This publication emphasized the absence of a universal diagnostic test that can determine the allergenicity of GMOs, and indicates that various tests have to be done together. However, different research groups are developing and applying different in vitro tests and in vivo animal models using rodents, pigs, and dogs to evaluate the allergenicity of GMOs in a more effective and complete way [2].

2. Development of resistance to antibiotics

When designing a GMO, marker genes are usually inserted in conjunction with the gene of interest, which facilitates the identification of a successful genetic modification [3]. Various genetic markers are usually used including herbicide resistant genes and antibiotic resistant genes. Antibiotic resistant genes have been used in the development of most GMOs as they provide easy identification of organisms with successful gene transfer [3]. Thus, many GMOs contain genes resistant to antibiotics. This leads to the possibility of genetic transfer of this gene from GMO to the usual bacterial flora of our gastrointestinal tract [3]. If this happens, the efficacy of antibiotics in our body would be severely affected [3]. However, there are no published reports that have definitively demonstrated that an antibiotic resistant gene has been transferred to the bacterial flora, but the debate remains open [3].

3. Toxicity

GMOs require modifications in the DNA of the recipient organism through the use of recombinant DNA (rDNA). This process creates modifications that would not typically occur in nature when transferring a certain gene from one species to a completely different species [6, 10, 13, 15]. This transfer of a particular gene is usually done using a vehicle, the most common being bacterial or viral vectors. Despite the fact that this type of biotechnology is commonly used, adequate security measures need to be followed [13, 17]. Due to these modifications introduced in these organisms, it is evident that there is a potential risk to health associated with the consumption of GMOs, some of these effects are discussed here.

The modifications that occur in these organisms are often unpredictable due to the biological and evolutionary principle that the organisms present [17]. First, these unnatural modifications alter the normal expression of genes of the recipient organism by changing its physiology, phenotype and genotype [10, 12]. Second, these unnatural modifications can activate the production of toxins and / or genes that can be permanently turned on or off. This is a serious problem when genes that promote cancer, allergies, and / or other genetically inactive diseases are activated in a person [9, 12, 13, 15]. Third, these same modifications can cause different effects in different cells depending on how the genetic material is distributed in the human body [18]. The consequences of these modifications in the receptor may be related to the production of toxins. For example, this has been observed in humans after exposure to modified tobacco plants, modified yeasts, recombinant bovine growth hormone, and modified soybeans.

In the case of modified tobacco plants, these were designed to produce gamma-linolenic acid (GLA); however, octadecatetraenoic acid (OTA) was also produced. GLA is typically found in vegetable oils and has been used in the treatment of patients with inflammation, auto-immune diseases, and arthritis. However, the effects of OTA are not known and there is a need for scientific studies on the positive and / or negative effects of this substance. A similar situation has been observed in the case of yeasts modified to increase glycolytic activity which is essential for energy production. It was observed that these modified yeasts not only present an increase in glycolytic activity but also produced methylglyoxal (MG), which is another substance whose possible effects are not known. What is known about these two substances (OTA and MG) is that they are irritating to the respiratory tract when inhaled and can cause severe damage in humans who are exposed to these substances [10].

Furthermore, there is great concern about the consumption of milk produced by cows that have been treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). rBGH increases milk production; however, cows suffer from a greater number of diseases and medical conditions compared to cows that do not receive rBGH. Interestingly, it was also observed that due to the genetic similarities between cattle and humans, insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1) increases in both species. IGF-1 is a growth factor for insulin and similar substances that play an important role in development during childhood and in the incidence of cancer. IGF-1 in normal amounts promotes normal development during childhood and regulates different vital functions in people of all ages. However, in high amounts it has been associated with a higher incidence of different types of cancer including breast, colon, and prostate cancer [10, 11].

A British human study found that modified soybean genetic material could resist intestinal metabolism and that genetic material could be found intact in fecal samples. The study design involved healthy subjects and subjects who had their colon surgically removed and required the use of colostomy bags. These individuals received foods made from modified soybeans, and fecal samples were taken and analyzed. In individuals without a colon, high levels of genetic material were found. Typically it is assumed that any ingested food is digested, denatured, and decomposed to its basic components due to acidic conditions and the mechanical machinery that we have in our digestive tract; however, this study proves otherwise. In healthy individuals it was observed that the genetic material was completely degraded by the colon. This study shows that the lower part of our gastrointestinal tract (colon) plays an important role in the degradation of this genetic material, but it also demonstrates that the upper regions of the gastrointestinal tract are exposed to this genetically modified material. This is worrying since our gastrointestinal tract is rich in bacteria that have the ability to insert genetic material within their own DNA, in such a way that they can be modified in a way that cannot be predicted. This could have implications in the overproduction of toxins, allergens, activation of genes that code for various diseases, genetic modifications, as well as the development of resistance to antibiotics [6, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 20].

Another example includes pesticides derived from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which are used as pest control. A study was conducted in workers with different degrees of exposure (low, medium, and high) to Bt-derived pesticides before and after a 4-month exposure period. Although Bt is a bacterium that is usually found in the environment and that apparently poses no risks to humans, this study found that workers with low and medium exposure exhibited a significant increase in specific antibodies IgG and IgE. While the workers with the highest exposure exhibited a significantly higher response to these two antibodies that have been linked to increased sensitivity to various allergies. Furthermore, a bacterium very similar to Bt is the well-known Bacillius anthracis, which is the agent that causes anthrax and which can also produce spores that, once inhaled, can affect the respiratory system [7, 10, 16, 19].

Effect on Environment

Different advantages that GMOs provide for the environment have been mentioned, such as the reduction in the use of chemical products, as in the case of Bt corn, where pest control no longer requires the use of chemical insecticides with a higher spectrum and less biodegradability. . It has also been mentioned that GMOs provide different advantages for people who are interested in greater food production, the possibility of incorporating nutritional characteristics in food, and the possibility of having food with edible vaccines such as tomatoes with the vaccine to Hepatitis B. However, these potential benefits come at a cost and those are the effects on human health that were mentioned in the previous section, but the environment is no stranger to these effects. These are some of the effects that GMOs have on the environment:

1. Contamination of traditional varieties:

Pollen from transgenic species can fertilize conventional crops, obtaining hybrids. This phenomenon already occurs with non-transgenic varieties today. Furthermore, horizontal transfer to rhizosphere bacteria is possible.

2. Death of other insects or pollinators:

Although the use of recombinants for Bacillus thuringiensis toxins is, by definition, a specific method, unlike conventional pesticides, there is a commercial demand for the development of strains that act against Lepidoptera, Coleoptera and Diptera together. It could be that this fact affected the accessory fauna of the crop, insects that feed on these plants and other pollinating agents.

Labeling of foods that contain GMOs

The labeling obligation is inserted within the principles of the consumer's “right to know” and this regulates the labeling of foods that have used genetically modified ingredients or additives.

If we adhere to our regulations and application of law, we will have that in Peru, like the European Community and Latin American countries, we have as a basis two fundamental principles: preserve the right to consumer information and be a precautionary measure, which establishes taking preventive measures against the introduction of GMOs and derive actions that protect the public health of the consumer and the environment.

The Peruvian consumer does not need to be a scientist and have high research technology to access their right to information, but the information must be consigned clearly, especially when it comes to elements that have been highly questioned in the world. Article No. 65 of the Political Constitution states that "The State defends the interest of consumers and users." For this purpose, it guarantees the right to information about the goods and services that are available to you in the market. It also ensures, in particular, the health and safety of the population.

However, some food or seed products that have been imported come from genetically modified organisms found in the national market especially in soy and corn-based products without informing consumers of such relevant characteristic to make a properly informed decision. Mandatory labeling is the best solution to ensure that consumers are informed and can choose the foods they want. But when there is no mandatory labeling for GM foods, negative labeling offers consumers a limited choice.

In the report of Genetically Engineered Crops and Foods: Worldwide Regulation and Prohibition we observe that in different countries the labeling of food is mandatory, for example in Australia only the labeling of foods with detectable levels of transgenic proteins is required.

This exempts foods that contain products from animals raised with GMOs (eg, meat, milk, eggs, and honey). It also exempts foods that contain highly refined GMO ingredients, such as oils, sugars, and starches. Most processed foods fall into this category. Other countries that have introduced mandatory GM food labeling systems include Croatia, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, and New Zealand. On the other hand, countries like the United States, Canada, and Argentina do not require GMO labeling, these being the three main producers of genetically modified crops. Consumers in these countries cannot exercise their right to know which foods contain transgenic ingredients. In fact, consumers are often unaware that they are ingesting GMOs.

Table 1. Requirement for Labeling of Foods containing GMOs according to Continent and Country.

CountriesLabeling requirement
Africa (Mauricio)March 2004: Law requiring the labeling of GMOs
South AfricaJanuary 2004: Law on Food, Cosmetics, and Disinfectants.
Asia (China)January 2002: Decree of Law No. 10 of the Ministry of Agriculture. (in Chinese)
Indonesia1996: Law on foods that must contain labeling.
JapanMarch 2003: Japan Food Sanitary Law and Agricultural Standards (Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods) eng_yuki_top.htm (Japan Agricultural Standards website) Sanitary Law)
South KoreaMarch 2002: Regulation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and the Korean Food and Drug Administration.
PhilippinesAugust 2001: State Law 1647
Saudi ArabiaDecember 2001: Law Decree of the Ministry of Saudi Arabia No. 1666. (Ministry of Commerce) (Summary of USDA Decree, GAIN Report # SA3015)
TaiwanFebruary 2001: Department of Health No. 0900011746
Thailand2002: Announcement from the Ministry of Public Health (Website of the Ministry of Public Health)
European Union (EU)April 2004: The EU demands that all foods and ingredients produced with GMOs in amounts greater than 0.9% be labeled. Regulation No. 1830/2003
http: //
Regulation No. 1829/2003
http: //
NorwayOctober 1997: Products containing GMO material in amounts greater than 2% must be labeled.
USDA GAIN Report # NO4004
SwitzerlandMarch 2005: The new limit for labeling is food or ingredients produced with GMOs in amounts greater than 0.9% (EU Standard).



Standard 1.5.2 of the Code of Food Standards indicates that foods with more than 1% of GMO ingredient must be labeled.
New ZealandStandard 1.5.2 of the Code of Food Standards indicates that foods with more than 1% GMO ingredient must be labeled.

South America


March 2004: Foods with more than 1% of GMO material, with the exception of soy, must be labeled. It is not clear if the law applies to imported products.
Executive Order 4,680, April 24, 2003; Public Consultation Number 1 (Brazilian Government Website, in Spanish)
Chile"Law to label transgenic foods" approved by the Chilean Health Commission.

Source: Genetically Engineered Crops and Foods: Worldwide regulation and prohibition. The center for food safety, February 2005

Example of a European Community label:

In products such as “Breakfast cereals”, one of whose ingredients is genetically modified corn, the indication in the list of ingredients should be the following: “… corn flour (produced from genetically modified corn)” or, “corn flour corn." If this second option is chosen, at the bottom of the list of ingredients, it should be indicated: “produced from genetically modified corn”.

In a “Chocolate Cookie”, when the chocolate contains soy lecithin, in the list of ingredients the mention of chocolate must be accompanied by: “… Chocolate (contains lecithin produced from genetically modified soy)” (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Example of the European Labeling of a cookie with transgenic ingredients and inputs.


The need for adequate regulation

Three of the fundamental consumer rights universally recognized are the Right to Information, the Right to Health and Safety, and the Right to the Protection of a Healthy Environment. The first means that consumers must be provided with all the relevant information about the product or service that allows us to make a conscious purchase or consumption decision, the second means that no product or service can be made available to consumers. on the market if its normal or foreseeable use or consumption may imply an unjustified or inadvertent risk to your health or safety. The third means that policies must be adopted that assure consumers an environment that provides an adequate quality of life.

Genetically Modified or transgenic Organisms have altered nature, altered life, challenged it and have obtained varieties that nature itself could not produce in a normal cycle. Consumers fear that, they fear the eventual implications, mutations, degenerations, allergies, damage to the ecosystem, etc. Obviously the producers of these organisms assure that they are innocuous, although they know that this cannot be known with truth if it is not after 30 or 40 years, but by then they will have done a great business.

The right to health and safety applies in this case as follows. Anyone who intends to introduce a new product to the market, especially if its nature has altered, should be subjected to a deep analysis, with very detailed studies, not only at the scientific level of the proposal, but also with studies of its long-term effects. It must be clear that a Genetically Modified Organism is not a natural product, therefore it cannot be accepted as such. The authorities should be much more rigorous in their acceptance. What happens is that there are great pressures and those who are interested in their introduction have all the resources to carry out research at the request of the client and with always favorable results for them, while governments do not have the same resources and universities do not they are financed for it. So the relationship of forces and interests is very unequal.

If we attend to the Right to Health and Safety, no Genetically Modified Organism should be introduced to the market without the necessary impartial investigations and long-term studies, which ensure that they will not generate any harm to the health and safety of consumers. or affectation of nature. Obviously, developing countries do not have sufficient capacity to carry out these studies, which is why they limit themselves to receiving reports prepared by the interested companies themselves. Due to these pressures and millionaire interests, many GM foods have been released on the market, such as corn and soybeans, and in fact it is likely that consumers are feeding on them without knowing it. That is an attack on the Right to Information, since the nature of the product, its origin and composition are being hidden from us. That should not be allowed. Our legislation establishes the obligation of a labeling for food, where all its components or ingredients, modes of use, warnings, etc. are consigned. Here consumers are being deprived of relevant information, their nature having been artificially altered. This is more important than the content of colorant or additives that the product may have. However, no product in our country reports the presence of Genetically Modified Organisms in the food sold to consumers.

The Right to Information allows consumers to make our own decisions based on their own reasoning, convictions or interests. Only consumers can make these decisions, the producer cannot replace him, nor can the State. If consumers, after being informed about the transgenic nature of food, decide to buy it, either because it is cheaper, richer, better presented, etc., that is their right, but we also respect the decision of those who fear that by eating transgenics their health and that of others could be at risk and that is why they are rejected.

Finally, the Right to the Protection of a Healthy Environment can be affected when GMO seeds are released in territories such as Peru, which is a megadiverse country, and the risks that this would have for a series of species of which we are the center of origin. , as is the potato for example. Monocultures, that is, large areas, sometimes thousands of hectares, dedicated to a single industrial crop of a certain species, such as soybeans, canola, etc., according to experts, is not the best agricultural system for nature and the environment ambient. On the contrary, the ancestral tradition of diversifying crops in a territory has a series of benefits, both for nature and for man. Of course, for large industry, industrial monoculture is more profitable, but they are not interested in the long term, nor the impacts that this may generate, they are interested in making money today.


Despite the fact that the different studies mentioned in this article cover only some effects on human health, a greater number of comprehensive studies are needed to determine the capacity and intensity of gene transfer to humans [13]. Furthermore, a greater number of long-term studies are needed to be able to identify the long-term effects of the production and consumption of GMOs, as well as the different implications that the consumption of GMOs has on human health. Until there are an adequate number of studies that verify these effects, definitive conclusions about the risk that GMOs have on human health cannot be made [9, 17]. There is a need for Peru to analyze the possibility of regulating and labeling imported products that contain transgenic ingredients or inputs. As a consumer it is your responsibility to always keep in mind what you are eating, since you remember that you are what you eat.


Lydia M. Manrique Valdivia. Professional Biotechnology Engineering Program, Universidad Católica de Santa María, Arequipa, Peru.

Jaime Delgado Zegarra. Edit Vilcapoma Vilcapoma. Peruvian Association of Consumers and Users (ASPEC), Lima, Peru

Jody K. Takemoto.

Connie M. Remsberg.

Jaime A. Yáñez. Corresponding author. Pharmaceutical Sciences Professional Program, School of Pharmacy, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-6534, USA.

Management Tools: ISO 22000: 2005 Standard

Food reaches consumers through a supply chain which can link different types of organizations, a weakness in said supply chain can result in unsafe and dangerous food for the health of consumers and resulting in high costs for organizations involved in the food supply chain. Therefore, adequate control through this chain is essential.

The ISO 22000 standard "Food Safety Management Systems - Requirements for any organization in the food chain", published in September 2005, is a new international standard generated by ISO to secure the food supply chain worldwide.

The ISO 22000: 2005 Standard provides an international framework of harmonized requirements, necessary to give it a global approach. This standard has been developed by experts in the food industry, together with representatives of international organizations specialized in the subject and in close cooperation with the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a body established jointly by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) and by the WHO (World Health Organization) to develop standards for food.

The ISO 22000 standard can be applied to all types of organizations regardless of their size, which are involved in any stage of the food chain and wish to implement systems that consistently provide safe products, such as: feed and forage manufacturers, from primary producers to minoristas, establecimientos de comidas, fabricantes de productos alimenticios, transportistas, almaceneros y subcontratistas, suministros: fabricantes de equipos, embalajes, productos de limpieza, aditivos e ingredientes. Los proveedores de servicios también se incluyen en esta cadena.

Otro beneficio de la norma es que hará mas fácil la implementación del Sistema HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) en organizaciones a nivel mundial en una forma armonizada, además mantiene el enfoque del sistema de gestión de calidad ISO 9001:2000, facilitando así su integración y certificación en aquellas organizaciones ya certificadas con ISO 9001:2000.

Teniendo como referencia a las normas ISO 9001 y 14001, Qualitas del Perú, viene desarrollando lineamientos y metodologías para implementar la norma a aquellas organizaciones que lo requieren.

Qualitas del Perú

Publicado en la revista TAU ALIMENTARIO y enviado por la Red de Acción en Agricultura Alternativa – RAA


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