January 6, 2009

Definitions seem unclear

When words like life, natural, transgenic and nano have wobbly definitions, how do standards and regulations navigate through?
When I was reading about bacteriophage yesterday, I came across an antimicrobial called Agriphage, a "natural" proprietary bacteriophage product from biotech company Omnilytics. It has been approved for use by OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute). Listex, another bacteriophage by EPI Food safety has been approved by the Dutch organic certifier SKAL (see previous link). Bacteriophage are nanomaterials being 20- 200 nano in scale. If genome engineering takes place on this nanoscale is it technically/legally called Genetic engineering/ GMO or Nanotechnology? see

Definitions of GMO involve the insertion, addition or change of genetic material with an organism. Viruses are not considered organisms, although there is controversy. "A virus is an infectious acellular entity composed of compatible genomic components derived from a pool of genetic elements". and see Wiki. So what is it - nanomaterial or life? Would an engineered phage meet the FDA's definition of natural as "ingredients extracted directly from plants or animal products as opposed to being produced synthetically." A simple google search of phage engineering will give you an idea of the scope and scale of this manipulation.
Organic Certification is for many, a reliable source of food free of GMO.
Perhaps our safest bet, to avoid modified virus, is to follow the lead of the The Soil Association, who was last year the first Organic Certification Body to prohibit nanotechnolgy in the organic program. See: Organic Pioneer Says No to Nano.


Patrick said...

Keeping organic certification meaningful will always be an ongoing battle that can't be won in the end. The only way is to buy locally produced food from someone you trust. No corporate organic certification will ever be good enough.

By the way, I'm not ignoring your last comment on my blog. The hosting provider that hosts my blog is having technical problems, and this in turn has broken comments for the time being. I'll probably be able to respond tomorrow.

anne said...

Maybe you are right. But having certified organic food verified by a trustworthy body under a good set of standards has a place. I've just learned that the prohibition of Nanotechnology is under discussion now for the Canadian national organic standards. Many rely on organic to stay away form GMOs as there is no labeling requirement. It should be a harbour from nanotech food and additives too.