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Genetically Modified Foods: Substantial Equivalence Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 17th, 2021


Genetically modified foods are a main concern these days as varieties of foods now produced are genetically modified. An important example in this case is soybean, which is only available in its genetically modified form. Thereby it is important to realize if these genetically modified foods are substantially equivalent to natural and conventional foods. This paper will highlight two aspects in relation to substantial equivalence of GM foods and natural conventional foods. One lobby has proved that GM foods are safe while other lobby argued with evidence that GM foods are unsafe and are not substantially equivalent.

Substantial Equivalence


Concept of substantial equivalence was developed by OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) in 1991. Main principle of this concept is that genetically modified foods should be considered safe and reliable as conventional foods if the nutritional quality and compositions of GM foods are same as conventional foods. The idea of substantial equivalence is crucial if regulatory perspective is taken into consideration. It has been argued that if novel foods have same nutritional quality as conventional foods than GM foods can be regulated in the same way as conventional foods (Flachowsky, and Aulrich 2).

Issues in GM Foods Approval

There has been a debate on genetically modified foods being equivalent to conventional foods. Thereby Food And Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) in 1990s, in order to speed up the approval of genetically modified foods, approved the concept of substantial equivalence. It has been realized that lots of stringent testing is involved in GM foods testing thereby GMO companies have avoid carrying out these tests since many years in order to avoid the debate on substantial equivalence (Goldstein and Goldstein 67). Moreover, genetic profiling of genetically modified foods is important in order to assure any absence of newly introduced food allergens or toxins. Latest concept added asserts that substantial equivalence is a part of safety assessment and safety evaluation of foods as genetically modified foods can be compared with conventional foods for any differences in nutritional quality and characteristics. Thereby these comparisons are important is highlighting any differences between genetically modified foods and conventional foods. Thus here it can be added that substantial equivalence is the starting point of further toxicological investigations on genetically modified foods (Aumaitre 108).

Criticism on concept of Substantial Equivalence of GM foods

Recently it has been observed that genetically modified food varieties, as soybean and corn are different from their natural and conventional counterparts. As a result of which, this concept has been criticized. A group of researchers including Erik Millstone from University of Sussex, Eric Brunner from university college London and Sue Mayer from Gene Watch, Britain; have argued that the concept of substantial equivalence is not scientific. Moreover, companies producing genetically modified products have pursued the concept of substantial equivalence, as they wanted to persuade their target customers that genetically modified products are safer and more nutritious as compared to natural counterparts. In addition, these biotechnology companies also wanted less hurdles in case of regulations on GMO products (Edelbach, and Winston 34). It has been added by these researchers that these biotechnological companies have used help from government agencies in order to persuade their customers thus minimizing any risks of regulations regarding GM foods. Thereby governments have started looking for regulations that allow local biotechnology companies to flourish with GMO products development. Thereby, question remains if GMO foods are nutritionally same as conventional counterparts. As compared to conventional counterparts, there are changes in metabolic profiling in GMO foods as there are variations in levels of anti-nutrients in both GM foods and natural counterparts. One of such recent examples in this case is a new variety of soybean, known as Round Ready Soybeans. It has been known that around 95% of soybean globally is GM thereby the presence of an enzyme 5-enolpyruvyl shikimate-3-phosphate synthetase has been controversial. When investigated from the manufacturer, the reply mentioned that its presence is irrelevant as cooking destroys this enzyme. Moreover FDA approved this GM product without any further testing (Kok, and Kuiper 430).

Increasing Trend towards GM Foods

Important information is highlighted by Dr. Fedoroff who is currently a member of National Academy of Sciences. She has argued that deeper the knowledge about genes, more genetically modified products are created that are now replacing natural counterparts. Concept of mutations has increased the trend towards producing important plant strains that are improved in yield and quality. This has increased a trend towards producing genetically modified foods that causing an increase in debate about relative advantages and disadvantages of GMO foods (Dreifus 2008).

In case of GM foods, some of the main issues that need to be highlighted include adverse health effects that can include allergic reactions. There are many perspectives on this. In one case, Pro GMO groups in US argue that no adverse effects on health have been seen as a result of using GM foods. On the other hand, contrary arguments have been given by pressure groups and consumer rights groups, such as the Organic Consumers Association, and Greenpeace that have argued about certain side effects associated with GM foods along with environmental hazards. Based on these allegations, which have not been yet scientifically proven, GM foods have been completely banned in Japan.

Arguments supporting Substantial Equivalence of GM foods

A review was published by Royal Society of Medicine in 2008 and it has argued that since the last 15years, GM foods have been used by millions of users and no complaints have been received so far. Similarly, a report was published in 2004 by US National Academies of Sciences stating that no adverse health effects have been reported in human population by the use of GM. Additionally a report and a review has been published in 2004 in Italian Journal of Animal Science arguing that no health effects were recorded in animals by consuming genetically modified plants. Thereby many studies have shown that no side effects have been seen in human population and in animals after consuming GM foods (Kuiper, Kleter, Noteborn, and Kok 428).

Arguments against Substantial Equivalence of GM foods

Apart from these, additional data is available that highlights some controversies on adverse health effects related with consumption of GM foods. Media had reported potatoes that were genetically modified to contain lectins observed to stunt growth in lab rats as reported by lectin specialist Árpád Pusztai. In 2005, another controversy arose in case of a corn variety produced by Monsanto, MON863 strain of GM corn, and it was proven in a 90-Day Rat Feeding Study that lab rats had decreased kidney size, with changes in blood composition and immunity.

Thereby numerous reports have been published that highlight absence of any adverse side effects on human and animal health by consuming GM food but equally, reports have highlighted some GM products proven to be hazardous in lab animals. Thereby it can be argued that there is still a need of more safety analyses on these products that help conclude banning of GM products in countries and food shelves.


Thousands of acres of fields have been taken over by GM crops in many countries. There is an intense arguments these days if GM foods are safe for consumption or not. Along with scientific evidence, it has been proven that GM foods are safer for consumption by human and animals, both. On the other hand, many countries including Japan that has banned all GM foods, argue that there are evidences of GM foods not being substantially equivalent to natural conventional foods and are thus unsafe for consumption.

Works Cited

Aumaitre, Aimé. “Safety assessment and feeding value for pigs, poultry and ruminant animals of pest protected (Bt) plants and herbicide tolerant (glyphosate, glufosinate) plants: interpretation of experimental results observed worldwide on GM plants”. Italian Journal of Animal Science 3 (2004): 107–121.

Dreifus, Claudia. August 18, 2008. “A Conversation With Nina V. Fedoroff: An Advocate for Science Diplomacy”. The New York Times.Web.

Edelbach, Ralph., and Winston, Emanuel, Morton. Society, ethics, and technology. Edition 3. Thomson/Wadsworth, 2006.

Flachowsky, Gerhard., Chesson, Andrew., and Aulrich, Karen. “Animal nutrition with feeds from genetically modified plants”. Archives of Animal Nutrition 59 (2005): 1–40.

Goldstein, Chandler, Myrna., and Goldstein, Allan, Mark. Controversies in food and nutrition; Contemporary controversies. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002.

Koka, J. Esther., and Kuiper, A. Harry. “Comparative safety assessment for biotech crops”. Trends Biotechnol. 21 (2003): 439–44.

Kuiper, A. Harry., Kletera, A. Gijs., Noteborna, P.J.M. Hub., and Koka, J. Esther. “Substantial equivalence–an appropriate paradigm for the safety assessment of genetically modified foods?”. Toxicology 181-182 (2002): 427–31.

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