No sign of health or nutrition problems from GMO livestock feed, study finds

Sep 29, 2014

Credit: © oticki / Fotolia

By Science Daily

A new scientific review from the University of California, Davis, reports that the performance and health of food-producing animals consuming genetically engineered feed, first introduced 18 years ago, has been comparable to that of animals consuming non-GE feed.

The review study also found that scientific studies have detected no differences in the nutritional makeup of the meat, milk or other food products derived from animals that ate genetically engineered feed.

The review, led by UC Davis animal scientist Alison Van Eenennaam, examined nearly 30 years of livestock-feeding studies that represent more than 100 billion animals.

Titled “Prevalence and Impacts of Genetically Engineered Feedstuffs on Livestock Populations,” the review article is now available online in open-access form through the American Society of Animal Science.


 

Read the full article by clicking the name of the source located below.

26 comments on “No sign of health or nutrition problems from GMO livestock feed, study finds

  • The license to sell genetically modified food should contain a charge to pay for seedbanks and preservation of our broad genetic heritage and its “republishing” as needed.

    The main risk of GMOs is monocultures and the loss of those local and particular solutions cleverly wrought by local users. The main problem with lab based solutions is a poor understanding of complex and variegated situations in the myriad different locales, soils, bugs weather and rotations. Support for local problem solving is essential and should be funded out of this hugely profitable situation, by supporting all threatened strains and maintaining access to them.

    Further I would like to see something akin to early release to “generic” off patent production for poorer countries as exists for certain important drugs now.



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  • “To avoid international trade disruptions, it is critical that the regulatory approval process for genetically engineered products be established in countries importing these feeds at the same time that regulatory approvals are passed in the countries that are major exporters of animal feed,” Van Eenennaam said.

    But Van Eenennaam is an “animal scientist” (I thought that was called a zoologist, but Greek might be falling out of fashion). Is it really her job to comment about international commercial regulations ? I understand why an economist or a businessman could use, rightfully, Eenennaam’s results to negotiate an international treaty, but doesn’t the fact that the biologist presents this political statement as the conclusion of her biological analysis cast a shadow of suspicion over a potential ideological bias. I mean, there is already a lot of suspicion, maybe mostly in European popular opinion, that geneticists are sold to food multinationals, without clearly attacking European commercial regulations in a biology publication, that should somehow stay politically neutral.



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  • @OP link – Now that a second generation of genetically engineered crops that have been optimized for livestock feed is on the horizon, there is a pressing need to internationally harmonize the regulatory framework for these products, she said.

    The problem with this article is that while there is indeed useful potential in genetically engineered livestock feed, the important environmental and efficiency issues of meat eating, are missing from it.

    “Studies have continually shown that the milk, meat and eggs derived from animals that have consumed GE feed are indistinguishable from the products derived from animals fed a non-GE diet,” Van Eenennaam said. “Therefore, proposed labeling of animal products from livestock and poultry that have eaten GE feed would require supply-chain segregation and traceability, as the products themselves would not differ in any way that could be detected.”

    I realise that the reducing potential for profiting from fraud, and the inability to cover up of any health issues because of supply-chain traceability, may be upsetting for by the company lobbyists involved, – but in the computer age, traceability is standard procedure for quality control and honest financial accounting. (As the horse-meat scandal demonstrated).

    Collaborating on the study was co-author Amy E. Young in the UC Davis Department of Animal Science.

    No ecologists??

    @OP link”To avoid international trade disruptions, it is critical that the regulatory approval process for genetically engineered products be established in countries importing these feeds at the same time that regulatory approvals are passed in the countries that are major exporters of animal feed,” Van Eenennaam said.

    On the surface this looks fine, until you see the call for harmonization is coming from the industry in the USA whose lax regulations are way behind those of Europe.

    The review study was supported by funds from the W.K. Kellogg endowment and the California Agricultural Experiment Station of UC Davis.

    While I would have no objection to the USA raising its regulatory standards, I suspect that is not what the authors have in mind.

    Perhaps that is a reflection of the comparative position of the the USA on addressing global environmental issues being discussed over here.
    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/09/8-surprising-depressing-and-hopeful-findings-from-global-survey-of-environmental-attitudes/



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  • I’m sorry, I guess here comes an “unreasonable” response. Your suggestion implies monocultures of GMO plants are somehow worse than monocultures of non-GMO plants. Let’s agree that all monocultures are bad, not just GMO monocultures. Furthermore, I find it hard to believe local farmers would use GMO seeds if they were somehow less suited to particular environments or situations. In any event, those farmers can continue to use the non-GMO seeds that have traditionally done well in an area. I agree saving seeds in seedbanks is a good idea, but on its own merits and that is in fact already being done at the seed depository in Spitzbergen, Norway (funded by among others the Bill Gates Foundation and Monsanto, if I’m not mistaken). What I object to is this urge to “punish” the producers of GMO plants when study after study, like this one mentioned here, shows again and again that there is nothing wrong with GMO plants.



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  • I don’t think your response unreasonable but-

    I’m hoping GMOs will be wildly successful. This is neither a punishment, some spurious tax or spite, but just the equivalent of putting in ahead of time some anti-monopoly type mechanisms. I’m not expecting the requirements to be in any way particularly onerous, but drawing some income from the commercial revenue enabled by the monopoly license (the patent) could help minimise the damage to marginal users and help pay for the environmental loss of diversity. Why now and not for other new breeds of crop derived conventionally? Simply this is a mechanism of hugely greater power and diversity of application and can dramatically change the genetic profile of our planet. I would apply some similar requirements on any fully documented novel-gened species, however derived. Wish it had been done earlier

    If Monsanto are contributing now, great, but they are not obliged to and I want to make it an obligation for them and others. Putting in good mechanisms for documentation and withdrawal processes from seed banks is always something that could use more resources. One of the main beneficiaries of say a seedbank pro-active collection program would be Monsanto themselves.



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  • Why now and not for other new breeds of crop derived conventionally?
    Simply this is a mechanism of hugely greater power and diversity of
    application and can dramatically change the genetic profile of our
    planet

    I disagree. With GM, you can quickly and cheaply introduce single genes to a number of existing varieties. With conventional breeding, linkage drag means that introducing anything new will rapidly wipe out genetic variation around the locus in question. This is one of the major reasons why genetic variation is so low in elite crops.



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  • Some of us have been watching the reckless regulators of US meat and feed industry, demonstrate for the last 50 years, that they ignore independent scientist’s warnings, and do not have a clue about medical safety issues. If they cannot even address long established problems like these, their assurances are worthless!
    (After much deliberation about the serious nature of the problem, the USA now has a VOLUNTARY CODE!)

    http://www.nrdc.org/food/saving-antibiotics.asp

    Did you know that 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are for use on livestock and poultry, not humans? The majority aren’t even given to animals that are sick. Instead, it’s normal practice in the meat industry to mix these drugs with livestock food and water day after day as a substitute for healthier living conditions and to make chickens, pigs, and cows grow faster.

    The problem with feeding antibiotics to animals that are not sick is that it kills off weak bacteria and creates the perfect environment for antibiotic-resistant bacteria to multiply and thrive. When the meat industry routinely misuses and overuses antibiotics in this way, it threatens public health when essential drugs no longer work to treat infections. This makes us all less safe.

    The pharmaceutical companies have also exported their short-termist malpractices around the world, while campaigning against traceability and regulation.



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  • I think I understand your technical point. Conventional breeding, creates more robust/stable high performance crops. Or have I got this wrong?

    What specifically are you disagreeing with?



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  • My point was that from a genetic diversity perspective, GM is potentially superior to conventional in that a large number of diverse varieties can be transformed using the same construct. To achieve the same end (even with marker assisted backcrossing) using a conventional approach would be prohibitively expensive. And, even more importantly, linkage drag will result in fixation at far more loci than just the gene you are interested in. This is not a problem for transgenic or cisgenic approaches.

    In the cereal crops that I work with, you see this all the time. If the gene that you are interested in lies close to another agronomically important locus that has been under strong selection, then you can pretty much guarantee that you will find no useful genetic variation in collections of elite cultivars.

    I think that you are absolutely correct to be concerned with the loss of genetic diversity, but it is something that is taken very seriously within the industry.



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  • @HDV

    OK. This makes much more sense. I got it wrong. And thanks for the more detailed explanation.

    I think that you are absolutely correct to be concerned with the loss of genetic diversity, but it is something that is taken very seriously within the industry.

    How does that manifest itself within the industry? Whats steps if any do they feel obliged to take? Would a small charge (based on volume of sales/useage) as proposed be acceptable do you think?



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  • Good question. I work in a research institute, and we run quite a few collaborative projects with breeding companies. In my experience, breeders are very receptive to projects that use crop diversity collections. It is an opportunity for them to introduce new genetic variation into their breeding material in a way that may not be justifiable under their normal commercial work.

    There is also an existing statutory contribution through their payments to the levy boards (who also fund basic research). Perhaps not the direct funding you had in mind, but I think that their is enough appreciation of the importance of genetic diversity for that to be unnecessary.

    The really big question is how we translate diversity collections into diversity of cultivated crops, whilst recognising that farming is a business and farmers will always want to grow whatever variety gives highest yield. That is going to be much more complicated…



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  • ” putting in ahead of time some anti-monopoly type mechanisms. ”

    This is what I thought reasonable. Benefiting from GMO’s does not necessarily mean Monsanto has to benefit to the point of monopoly.

    Two separate issues, Monsanto and GMO’s, but money always seems to conflate such issues.



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  • Neodarwinian Sep 30, 2014 at 10:00 am

    Two separate issues, Monsanto and GMO’s, but money always seems to conflate such issues.

    Very much so!
    The involvement of pharmaceutical and pesticide /herbicide companies, with their propagandist anti-regulation and reckless false-assurance, track record, does nothing to help responsible development of GM plant breeding.



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  • Your suggestion implies monocultures of GMO plants are somehow worse than monocultures of non-GMO plants.

    They are.

    Why?

    Because gmo plants are patented. And this is like having patents for wheels, screws, oars, etc. Meaning your life becomes much more dependent of a few have-it-all people and companies. Particularly if you are a peasant, farmer, rancher, etc.

    Second point, gmo plants are going to be produced according to the needs of big capital, not of people. For instance, instead of breeding new lineages that are resistant to diseases or parasites, companies have been investing in lineages that are more resistant to pesticides. Which means bigger amounts of poison being poured over our food. And over the land, the water, etc.

    I have no problem with gmo by themselves. I would like to discuss what modifications are being done, and to be able to impact in the decisions more directly than by merely boycotting eventual disasterous products.



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  • The problem with monocultures is not an economic one it’s an ecological one. Your comment about patented crop monocultures being worse than conventional monocultures doesn’t make much sense.

    “Second point, gmo plants are going to be produced according to the needs of big capital, not of people. For >instance, instead of breeding new lineages that are resistant to diseases or parasites, companies have been >investing in lineages that are more resistant to pesticides. Which means bigger amounts of poison being poured >over our food. And over the land, the water, etc.”

    This is not correct. Companies initially invested in lineages to make them more resistant to herbicides, not pesticides. Ideally herbicide resistance actually allows use of less herbicide, not more, plus it leads to larger yields because of a lack of competition for resources with weeds. Though it must be said that roundup resistant cotton plants did actually lead to a proliferation of roundup use among cotton farmers, which, coupled with not rotating fields, led to resistant weed populations that are very problematic.

    Companies have in the last ten or twenty years or so also heavily invested and released modifications to make them more resistant to nitrogen stress, and to contain a toxin that has no effect on vertebrates but is toxic to insect parasites. They’ve also developed and been testing drought tolerant crops. In other words, they’re doing precisely what you claim they should be doing.



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  • Hi guys I have question about this study,

    Before I comment I’ll nail my cautious flag to the wall. I provisionally support GMO that is, thoroughly tested GMOs and I believe that conservatism should be employed at every step. I see great potential for adding vitamins, having a more targeted version of artificial selection. I am frustrated by some of the Anti-GMO arguements I hear. I am however, horrified by Monsanto’s legal tactics and the use of GMO to increase use of pesticides like round up ready crops. The patenting of genes when discovered is frankly ridiculous and should be stopped. However, I find myself questioning much of what my side of the debate claims is irrefutable evidence. This seems a case in point. Many pro-GMO advocates have looked at this and declared loudly that see this proves GMO is not harmful! I take the view that scientific discovery is provisionally true and as such we should in cases like this where this is clearly strong evidence for the safety of GMO’s. However this study raises for me a couple of questions that I have not heard raised.

    Does the fact that we are likely to slaughter animals young in say the beef industry have any bearing on the usefulness of this study? For example Beef is raised and slaughtered while still very young, if kept as a pet cattle can live about 20 years typically they will be slaughtered before they are 5 years old. If you were to test for long term health effects in humans you may not see something like cancer or adult onset diabetes until long after that. So yes they have not found anything at this age but how much does this really prove? Not too many 13 year old teenagers have adult onset diabetes, but I can tell you as a teacher picking up their litter in the playground that their diets are going to make a tremendous amount of them head in that direction in a couple of decades. Using similar logic to this study I could claim that chips, chocolate, energy drinks have no negative impacts on health. So what they have established is that GMO’s definitely have no dedcernable effects on the health of animals studied at the time of slaughter. This is clearly good news but far from the whole picture. Now if their claims are true they should be able to show these animals living as long or longer with GMO diet when given a full lifespan. And relative frequencies of diseases that kill them should be tracked, then we will have the whole picture.



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  • I am however, horrified by Monsanto’s legal tactics….. The patenting of genes when discovered is frankly ridiculous

    I wouldn’t believe everything you read about litigation by the big biotech companies. There have been a few high profile cases where they have sued farmers, but these have been cases where there was a clear and deliberate breach of patent. Such cases have been very heavily spun by a number of environmental groups, but an examination of the facts (by anyone familiar with the industry) just doesn’t support the idea that these were innocent mistakes or accidental contamination.

    In any case, other big biotech companies (aka conventional breeders) also use litigation in cases where plant breeders rights have been infringed. Seed companies enforcing IP certainly didn’t start with GMOs.

    I think that you are quite right to raise the issue of patenting; it is ludicrous that gene sequences can be considered an invention rather than a discovery. However, it also seems clear to me that companies producing GMOs have done real intellectual work, which deserves protection. The great thing about plant breeders rights is that they protect breeders’ new varieties, but still allow the genetic variation that they have discovered to be exploited by their competitors. Patenting does the first, but explicitly prevents the second. It would be great if we had a similar system to PBRs that would work with GM varieties. That said (and I have thought about this a lot), I can’t even begin to imagine what such a system might look like.



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  • I am however, horrified by Monsanto’s legal tactics and the use of GMO to increase use of pesticides like round up ready crops. The patenting of genes when discovered is frankly ridiculous and should be stopped.

    Round up ready crops relate to herbicides, not pesticides. Ideally they allow for decreased use of roundup (though as I mentioned in a response above, the reality on farms in the past has not borne this out, particularly on southern cotton crops).

    Introduction of the BT toxin gene into plants (BT toxin is a pesticide) decreases overall use of pesticides because the fields no longer need to be dusted. Additionally, it could be argued, it might be more ecologically sound because the only insect populations they affect are the ones that directly eat the plants, leaving the rest of the fauna intact. As opposed to other methods which lay waste to all insect populations in the field.

    Strictly speaking the patenting of genes has been stopped (at least naturally occurring genes). What the seed companies are actually patenting is the offspring plants into which they’ve inserted the genes. They’ve also patented the concept of using a particular gene to elicit a particular phenotype in a particular plant. In some cases, where a gene itself is altered for use in creating a transgenic plant, the engineered gene (which is no longer in its natural form but has been altered in a laboratory process, usually to add regulatory elements and tags) is patented. Simply discovering a gene is no longer grounds for patent in the US.



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  • 20
    Kimberly says:

    I found the article about GMO livestock feed informative ( although I would not have expected a difference in the health of livestock that are bred to be killed quickly). I am also enjoying the ensuing debate in the comments, but I do wonder how this article realises Richard’s vision to remove the influence of religion in science education and public policy, and eliminate the stigma that surrounds atheism and non-belief.



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  • No, there is nothing at all wrong with GMO plants.

    There is everything in the world wrong with companies like Monsanto holding the rights to ever larger quantities of the crops sown and the food we eat.

    I honestly don’t know why GMO features on the Dawkins site as it has nothing to do with religion, or pseudoscience, it is down to politics and commerce.

    Is fracking a huge subject here?



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  • James Oct 1, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    No, there is nothing at all wrong with GMO plants.

    Apart from ecological impacts, loss of genetic diversity, and the potential to leak genes into the environment creating invasive super-weeds.

    I honestly don’t know why GMO features on the Dawkins site as it has nothing to do with religion, or pseudoscience,

    This site promotes scientific debate and education, not just discussions of religions.

    Is fracking a huge subject here?

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/05/survey-suggests-support-for-fracking-in-uk-falls-below-50/

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/04/ohio-geologists-link-small-quakes-to-fracking/



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  • This website also discusses science in general and also warns about pseudoscience. In addition to interesting articles about cutting edge scientific topics, there are also many about bad science like homeopathy and other quackery. The GMO controversy is interesting from two points of view: making GMO plants is on the cutting edge of scientific knowledge and the controversy about them is often fueled by pseudo- or non-scientific arguments.



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  • prietenul Oct 1, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    The GMO controversy is interesting from two points of view: making GMO plants is on the cutting edge of scientific knowledge and the controversy about them is often fueled by pseudo- or non-scientific arguments.

    There are certainly “hippy” non-scientist objectors, but it muddies the debate, when commercial propagandist promoters, try to pretend that scientific critics of their testing of half tested/untested prototypes systems on the human population at large, and the world’s ecosystems, are just uninformed bigots.

    GMO plants is on the cutting edge of scientific knowledge

    On other threads, people will see me advocating the development of innovative cutting edge space technologies and rocket engines, – but I don’t advocate flying prototypes in populated areas!



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  • Here‘s an argument by the statistician author of “The Black Swan”, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, about how to rationally deal with risk when working with with GMOs. It makes a case for applying the precautioniary principle (whilst pointing out several straw-man versions of the argument).



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