Regulating GMOs: GMOs Part II

Healthy Corn Plants (USDA)

Regulating GMOs:  GMOs Part II

The following excerpt is from the Penn State Ag Science Magazine Spring/Summer 2015 Edition.

Since the introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops in 1996, farmers have adopted the technologies widely. In 2014, around the globe, nearly 500 million acres of biotech crops were grown in 28 countries (1). That’s at least 15-million acres more than were grown in 2013.

“The adoption trajectory of these technologies has been unprecedented,” said David Mortensen, professor of weed and applied plant ecology. “The very first of the herbicide-resistant GMOs [soybeans] became available in 1996, and by 2006 or so we were upwards of 90-percent adoption in the United States. It is phenomenal for anything to be adopted at that rate and that completely.”

Most of the harvest from these crops are fed not to humans as one might expect, but to livestock. In the United States, more than nine-billion food-producing animals are raised each year annually, and more than 95-percent of these animals have been consuming feed containing GM ingredients for almost 20-years (2).

With such a rapid adoption rate, and with so much of the food going to animals instead of humans, how are GMOs regulated?

According to the Library of Congress, GMOs are regulated under the same U.S. laws that govern the health, safety, and environmental impacts of conventional foods (3); there are no special regulations that govern GMOs.

However, the government has taken the position that it will evaluate the risks and benefits of each new GMO individually through conventional processes. Regulatory agencies employ a concept known as “substantial equivalence,” which the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines as “the concept that if a new food or food component is found to be substantially equivalent to an existing food or food component, it can be treated in the same manner with respect to safety (3).”

Depending on the type of GM food, evaluation may fall under regulatory oversight of the FDA, USDA, EPA, or all three. “This is a science-based approach,” said Ott. “It’s the safest way to do it.”


  1. James, C. 2014. Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2014. ISAAA Brief No. 49. ISAAA: Ithaca, NY.
  2. Van Eenennaam, A.L., and A. E. Young. 2014. Prevalence and impacts of genetically engineered feedstuffs on livestock populations. Journal of Animal Science 92(10): 4255–4278.
  3. Restrictions on Genetically Modified Organisms: United States. Library of Congress.
  4. View complete article here: