The Debate on GMO – Many of the first use oil feedstocks used for Biodiesel production in the United States are genetically modified. Before we can address the debate on the use of GMO feedstocks in U.S. Biodiesel it is important to understand what GMO means.

What is GMO? – A GMO is any living organism – plant or animal – that has genetically altered genes, resulting from the combination of DNA molecules from more than one species. This process is called genetic engineering, and is an example of biotechnology. While this may sound like the plot of a science fiction film, this technology is commonly used in agriculture for food, feed and fuel in this country. Despite strong opposition from organizations world wide, many food crops have already been genetically modified. Currently, the majority of genetically modified food crops are grown in the United States (it is important to realize that many European countries refuse to import GMOs as they feel their safety has not been fully verified).

What are the claims? – Many scientists and advocacy groups believe interfering with Nature, can lead to dangerous side effects. Some are concerned that moving genes from one species to another will lead to the transfer of allergens. For example individuals who have a dangerous allergy to peanuts may have adverse reaction to a GMO that has ‘borrowed’ DNA from a peanut. Also, because of the infancy of the technology there is no research on the long-term effects of GMO on human beings and the environment.

Many experts also fear that putting insect and herbicide resistant genes in crops will cause some plants to be unaffected by the chemicals, leading to the formation of “superbugs” and “superweeds” that can no longer be effectively controlled by pesticides. This resistance to chemicals combined with the wide-spread use of a single strain of crop could have a devastating impact on biodiversity across the country.

Probably the most controversial aspect of the GMO argument is the labeling or, lack of proper labeling. Since processed foods and beverages are laden with high fructose corn syrup, soy byproducts and cottonseed oil (the majority of which may contain genetically altered crops), most American consumers consume GMOs without knowingit; currently, labeling of GMOs in the U.S. is completely voluntary, and is not regulated in any form. Many people believe consumers have a right to know what is in their food and have lobbied for mandatory labeling. Other experts and advocacy groups are calling for a halt in the use of GMOs in the food supply altogether until increased testing is done to ensure the safety of communities and the environments.

Where does the SBA stand? – The Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance believes the use of GMO feedstocks should be avoided and if Genetically Modified Organisms are used as feedstock the product must be labeled as such to provide complete transparency to the consumer.

Environmental and Safety Resources

A ‘Modified’ debate over GMOs – Julie Thayer – TUFTS University

GMO-Safety – European Ministry of Education and Research

GMO Crops – A growing concern – Business Week

Spilling the Beans on GMO – Organic Consumers

In addition to environmental and safety issues, the use of GMO has severe social implications and it is argued that GMO technology has aided in the corporate centralization of a large portion of agriculture on this country, and the bankruptcy of small scale family farms nation-wide. Below are resources related to the social and political relevance of GMO use.

“Millions against Monsanto” –Organic Consumers

“The Basics of GMO” – Grow GMO Free