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What are GMOs?

GMO stands for genetically modified organism.

Genetic technology (also known as genetic engineering) was first used in 1970. It is one of the more recent methods through which new properties of microorganisms, plants and animals are being introduced. 

These days genetic technology is used in:

  • biotechnical processes in industry (enzymes in washing powder);
  • the manufacture of drugs and vaccines, diagnostic procedures and genetic therapy;
  • the production of agricultural plants (to improve the value of agricultural plants for production or use, for example: the resistance of plants to specific pests; the tolerance of plants to herbicides; potato with increased content of amylopectin for the production of potato starch); and
  • improvements in food quality (e.g. rice enriched with carotene).

Is this the right answer to the problem of famine in the world?

The most important aspect of the use of GMOs is to eliminate famine in the world. Considering that the number of people on Earth will surge to 10 billion in the next 100 years, agricultural production should double to cater for the nutritional needs of such a large population. This is unachievable given the currently available agricultural areas, even more so because areas of arable land have been decreasing. This is where biotechnology can offer invaluable help because it can enable the breeding of individual plant species on non-cultivated soil and create plant species that are resistant to a specific climate. These plants would yield a substantially bigger crop and thereby largely reduce crop losses caused by insects and parasites. Consequently, livestock would also be healthier, more resistant to infections and parasite diseases and would also grow faster. All of this could stimulate and accelerate development in the poorest countries of the world. But this is only one aspect of GMOs. More research is required before scientists are able to absolutely confirm that eating genetically modified food does not cause any health problems.

GMO food labelling

Since there are different views about the use of genetic engineering and consumers want to know what ends up on their plates, GMO food labelling is prescribed by law.

  • In the EU products containing more than 0.9% of an individual GMO should be labelled, but the percentages are not added up which means that theoretically a food product can have e.g. 2.4% GMO ingredients from three sources of GMO plants and this need not be indicated on the label because each ingredient only contains 0.8% of a GMO.
  • In 2008 Germany, Austria, France, Hungary, Greece and Luxemburg prohibited the breeding of GMO plants and some also allow for the labelling of conventional food produced/bred without GMOs with national regulations, whereas most of them enable such labelling in the framework of voluntary quality schemes.
  • In Slovenia it is possible to produce GM corn and potato Amflora but so far, according to official data, there are no examples of such production.
  • Farmers buy animal feed (e.g. soybeans and corn) from feed mixing plants whose feed contains genetically modified organisms and consumers do not know that the food of animal origin (milk, eggs, meat) was produced from animals eating genetically modified feed. At this point, the traceability is lost. The quality schemes for labelling GMO-free food are based on control which is undertaken throughout the entire process of production or breeding and not only during analyses of end products.
  • Like in the EU, in Slovenia it is compulsory to label only food products of plant origin which contain above 0.9% of genetically modified ingredients.
  • Similarly to some other countries, Slovenia has not nationally prescribed the labelling of food products of animal origin where genetically modified feed has not been used. 

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