I keep dreaming of a certification body that has stringent and ever-evolving standards for a sustainable agriculture that looks after the environment and humans, with a rigorous but open mind when it comes to technologies that could help us get to a more sustainable and ethical food production system.

In my opinion, GMOs are unjustifiably seen as an entirely evil thing by a big chunk of the population. I acknowledge the fact that some are associated with the use of potentially dangerous pesticides, and the fact that some companies that commercialise them demonstrate unethical practices. However, I understand that genetic engineering has the potential of helping humanity solve issues related to food security and the impact of agriculture on the environment by developing varieties that are more nutritious, grow more efficiently, require less resources, are drought resistant and defend themselves against pests.

Is there a label (i.e. a certification body) that integrates soundly developed and tested GMOs as a part of the solution?

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    The question (and first answer) demonstrate an implicit bias. "Potentially beneficial"? If look for such a certifying body, you may find one (though I suspect that right now the first answer is correct and none such exists yet). But do you want to be told GMOs are beneficial or do you want to be told the truth about GMOs? I would think the latter (at least, I find an accurate model of reality inherently desirable). So what you really want to do is find a body doing science on the effects of GMOs. And for the health effects of eating them, you're probably out of luck right now. Nov 22, 2017 at 16:37
  • I am looking for a certification that would look at commercialised GMOs and consider the research associated to such variety (i.e. if there is any proof of negative environmental/health impact so far) as well as assess its potential to make agriculture more sustainable. As far as I know, you have to prove that something is dangerous, not the other way around.
    – stragu
    Nov 24, 2017 at 4:16
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    I'm not sure what you're saying when you say "you have to prove that something is dangerous". Who is "you"? Why does that person "have" to do anything? Nov 26, 2017 at 0:24
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    Sorry if I wasn't clear. What I meant is that I want the certification body to look at the current evidence: evidence that GMOs can help make agriculture more sustainable, and evidence that GMOs harm or are likely to harm humans. Research has the potential to prove that something is harmful; it can't prove that something can do no harm
    – stragu
    Nov 26, 2017 at 23:44
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    There's an old but interesting look at GMOs from Slate. The author argues that the anti-GMO movement ignores some of the biggest problems with GMOs by focusing on human health.
    – LShaver
    Nov 1, 2018 at 14:51

3 Answers 3


In the United States, food products labeled as “organic” are generally believed to be in compliance with the standards of the National Organic Program (NOP), a program of the USDA, which strictly prohibits the use of GMO's under that certification, but even in countries that require GMO labeling, the standard legal threshold of 0.9% is the potential percentage of GMO content that could be present. For this reason, the FDA discourages the use of the term “GMO Free” since all food items may contain trace amounts of GMO's. Farms and processors with $5,000 or less in gross income from organic sales are exempt and may label products as organic without any certification, even if they contain GMO's. Some producers will even bust up their operation into smaller outfits to slip through this loophole, but more often they will simply violate the restrictions undetected. I only mentioned the above to illustrate some of the problems with certification.

It's important to note that USDA organic rules do not say a single word about sustainability, which remains a loosely defined term in most contexts these days. Sustainable, in the context of the growers I work with, means that the nutrients removed from the soil by growing plants are replenished without any artificial inputs. Even natural inputs must be sourced locally to adhere to this standard. We haven't discussed GMO crops, and I think it's because we never considered planting them.

In light of all this, many local groups opt to form their own consortium to develop standards that are important to them, such as agricultural sustainability as reflected in your question. Some of them do permit GMO's, but they show a strong preference for locally adapted heirloom varieties which outperform modified plants designed for mega-agriculture. Even if they could be proven perfectly safe for human consumption, I think the customers and the growers would still avoid them for other important and legitimate reasons.

Nothing stops you from growing GMO's sustainably using otherwise organic methods. You could form your own certification and certify others accordingly, but the main reason that this is not normally done is that the USDA certified "organic" standards are usually used as a baseline for other types of certification, which precludes the use of GMO's across the board.

If you had a class A setup with impressive sustainabile practices developing rich organic soil using no pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or chemical fetilizers, something that I would certify as being "better than USDA organic," then I don't think you would even want to grow GMO crops. GMO crops seem to be a way to avoid addressing the more serious problems with agriculture.

On a larger scale, there are organizations such as The Green Business Bureau. With their certification process you receive points for each activity you complete. They help identify the sustainability efforts a business performs, while helping to outline future efforts. They are different from many other organizations because they make it easier for small businesses to develop and define their own sustainability practices.

For B-Corp certification, you get evaluated on how your company treats workers, customers, community, and environment. Sustainability is a major focus here. You have to get 80 points and maintain that level, but I don't think that freedom from GMO's is absolutely required before you get certified.

In addition, there are many awards available within specific growing regions that have identified concise goals required in order to be considered. With the award you get the right to display it. They are often much more careful about verifying adherence to organic practices and sustainability standards. Others seem to have no concern whatsoever about sustainability, or GMO's, or impact to the planet, and just award you for promoting the industry or growing the biggest pumpkin, but in some areas a certified safe GMO, if there were such a thing, would be banned anyway. In California, the counties of Marin and Mendocino have enacted ordinances forbidding the cultivation of GMOs, and in Hawaii's Kauai County and Hawaii County the cultivation of most GMO crops is banned.

In the end, a certification for GMO's would not make much sense because anyone who sees a "safe GMO" label is going to avoid it like the plague. How many producers are going to want to certify that their product actually contains GMO's when current US law allows them to hide it from the consumer? As is stands, you can brag about your sustainability on the label and include a note on how sustainable your GMO's are, but I imagine you would be shooting yourself in the foot there. Perhaps a certifying body would be formed if GMO labels were required either in the states or federally. Only then would producers want to certify their GMOs as safe and be willing to pay for that certification.

  • I guess we could summarize your post with "No, there isn't such a certification because GMOs have a bad reputation"?
    – THelper
    Nov 14, 2019 at 8:36
  • @THelper Right, but not so much because of their reputation. It's because they have been swallowed up by the law. "Organic" food certification is, by clear legal definition, mutually incompatible with GMOs, simply making the term "organic GMO" an oxymoron. When I was a wee lad, organic meant any substance that is living or once was alive. Now it's a legal term that excludes GMOs. Despite the bad reputation, I believe a certifying body would be formed if GMO labels were required either in the states or federally. Only then would a producer want to have one and be willing to pay for it. Nov 14, 2019 at 12:38
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    I took this statement as the tl;dr: "Keep in mind that good sustainability usually involves very local small scale agriculture, and most GMO's are not designed for tiny geographical areas."
    – LShaver
    Nov 14, 2019 at 17:19
  • @LShaver Thanks. I cut a lot that I wasn't too happy about. I think it's better now. Nov 14, 2019 at 18:25
  • Hmm I think you lost the plot. What I gathered originally was that GMOs, as a strategy intended for broad application and distribution without regard for local conditions, work against sustainable farming practices, which by necessity are rooted in an understanding of local climate, ecosystem, and practices.
    – LShaver
    Nov 14, 2019 at 20:06

Given that you can't "soundly test" the long-term effects of GMOs on humans without first exposing humans to GMOs for a long time (decades, even generations) I don't see how such a label would be of any use whatsoever to inform the purchasing decisions of the first few million/billion willing volunteers unwitting victims guinea pigs.

Given that a few million/billion people might be seriously ill or dead by the time the "sound testing" for a particular GMO was completed, and the liability bill could financially ruin any corporation, I don't see why anyone would run the risk of creating or backing such a label.

Even if such "sound testing" did occur, do you seriously believe that negative results would be made public? I don't. I'd expect the shredders to be running hot whenever testing data made its way back to head office.

"Grass-fed Beef" has been around for thousands of years, and has an established track-record of safety. Monsanto's "Moo-231987422/A" has been around for a few months, and is made by perhaps the most evil company in the world — with a track record of making nasty things that do bad stuff to animals, plants, and humans. Most rational people — interested in self-preservation — will opt for Grass-fed Beef on their plate.

Profit-driven corporations are immoral or, at the very least, amoral. Time and time again they have shown this to be true. The public don't trust them because they have a track record of deception, lies, and generally not caring about their customers. If the public can't trust the companies, they can't trust the products they make, either. The 99% of corporations that are untrustworthy have ruined it for the 1% of corporations that are actually trying to do the right thing. It's not the consumer's fault — it's corporate culture driven by greed that's at fault; it's capitalism.

If any certification body ever comes into existence to perform the function you desire then I think you'll find it is funded by the very corporations that would profit from its labelling. A mere puppet that can falsely promote customer confidence and be quickly liquidated when the class action lawsuits come rolling in.

At the very heart of the problem, though, is the fact that you can't label a GMO as 'safe' without exposing people (and their unborn children) to unknown levels of harm first. It's a Catch-22. You need willing tests subjects to verify that something is safe, but those test subjects want to know that it is safe before they're willing to eat it.

I don't know if it's even possible to solve that problem.

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    @Jean-PaulCalderone I don't see consumers as being particularly willing to buy GMOs. I them as being manipulated into doing so by misinformation and lax labelling laws. Nov 22, 2017 at 18:16
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    Sorry, down-voting as bitter screed. There's some truth and insight here that's obscured by the tone, and as such doesn't really address the question.
    – LShaver
    Nov 22, 2017 at 20:38
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    Wasn't it the US federal government that enacted a law (a couple of years ago) which prevented states from requiring GMOs to be labelled as such? Thus making it impossible for citizens to make informed choices about what they were eating and turning the entire population of the whole country into unwilling GMO test subjects?
    – Tim
    Nov 23, 2017 at 10:20
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    The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 (H.R. 1599) passed the House of Representatives on July 23, 2015.[1] The Act is called by some GMO labeling advocates "The DARK Act" for "Denying Americans the Right to Know"Wikipedia. As is a feature of a lot of US legislation, the name given to acts is completely opposite to the intent and effect of those acts.
    – Tim
    Nov 23, 2017 at 10:26
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    @Tim, you say that such a certification can't exist based on your belief that there will never be a way to achieve an acceptable level of confidence in a GMO's innocuity. Your answer contains no reference whatsoever; you make sweeping statements about millions dying, the public not trusting corporations at all, 99% of corporations being untrustworthy; and you make a GMO name up to illustrate your point. Are you also against most pharmaceutics and technologies because of the same belief that something needs to be tested over several generations to be deemed safe enough to be used by humans?
    – stragu
    Nov 24, 2017 at 11:01

I don't think there is. Most organic labels even prohibit the use of GMO's.

(Are there "sustainable" labels, that do not require the "organic" part?)

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