Most agree that it is very challenging to quantify the effect releasing a new organism into an environment will be. The ultimate effects of such an introduction are hard to predict, and careful analysis to minimize the risk associated is necessary. The main government organization responsible for determing the safety of the release of a genetically engineered organism into the environment is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA works closely with the The Animal and Plant Health Inspection service (APHIS) to determine if a crop is both safe to grow and eat.
One of the main concerns about genetically engineered crops such as Roundup Ready crops is the development of weeds and other plants that are also resistant to Roundup (glyphosate). An article recently published in Science Daily (link) suggests that farmers are becoming too reliant on Roundup. The use of Roundup Ready crops has become ubiquitous. This has resulted in weeds such as giant ragweed that are resistant to Roundup, when Roundup was the herbicide developed explicitly to combat these weeds. If a farmer were to grow on Roundup Ready crops, they would have to use Roundup to treat their fields, increasing resistance to the herbicide. It is recommended that farmers rotate Roundup Ready crops with other crops and use alternate herbicides to help prevent resistance.
Another concern with genetically engineered crops, and Roundup Ready specifically, is seed contamination. Through a variety of means, Roundup Ready genes have been introduced into the food supply. For example, as stated in a Greenpeace report (link), it has become virtually impossible for farmers to grow non-genetically engineered Canola in Canada. Read more about this case on the players page (link). Concrete evidence of seed contamination has been discussed in the Union of Concerned Scientist's report called Gone to Seed. Read more about Gone to Seed here.
A big concern about genetic engineering in general, and including Roundup Ready crops, is the fact that scientists do not know what the true effect of these organisms is on the environment before releasing them. Other issues stem from the idea that changing one gene does not necessarily change just one function. A variety of changes in the expression of such a gene could occur in the resulting organism.
One of the issues many people have with Roundup Ready crops is the idea that they are only around to benefit big businesses like Monsanto. These crops require farmers to also buy Monsanto's herbicide Roundup to use, resulting in double the profits for the corporation. Monsanto, however, views Roundup Ready crops, and genetically engineered foods in general, to be the answer to world hunger. They feel that they are stepping in and helping the situation, whereas others think they are only in it for the profit.
Roundup Ready seeds have what is known as "terminator technology;" seeds that are grown for a second generation are sterile. Farmers need to purchase seeds from Monsanto each year if they want to continue to use their crops. Many cite the terminator technology as restricting and preventing farmers from reusing their best seed, requiring them to rely on the newest strain of Roundup Ready seed each year. Monsanto, however, argues that the terminator technology is used to help prevent the spread of the glyphosate (Roundup) resistance to other species.
Monsanto claims to be addressing the needs of the world when it comes to the food supply. However, there is little to no evidence that the use of Roundup Ready crops increases the yield or profit of farmers who use their seeds. A press release from the New Soil Association released in April, 2008 shows that genetically modified crops do not result in higher yields than non-genetically modified crops. Realistically, however, most genetically modified crops (including Roundup Ready) are developed to be pesticide and herbicide resistant, rather than directly increase the yield of a given crop. This makes one question whether it is even important to have herbicide resistant plants at all, or if the focus should shift to provide other advantages that do increase yield. Many argue that because Roundup Ready crops do not increase the yield or profits of farmers, they only serve to benefit Monsanto. There is little to no benefit for the consumer, but high reward for the corporation. Farmers must not only purchase new seeds from Monsanto each year, but also Monsanto's own herbicide Roundup.
Concerns about the effects of genetically engineered foods on health have to do with both the crops themselves along with the toxicity of the herbicide Roundup. The EPA currently regulates the allowable concentration of glyphosate in the drinking water, and says that glyphosate is safe for humans in small concentrations. However, with the use of Roundup on the crops, consumers may be ingesting more of the chemical than they realize.
Introducing new DNA into the food supply may involve the introduction of new allergens. The issue is of greatest concern with transgenic organisms, in which genes from one organism to another. Soybeans genetically engineered to contain Brazil-nuts is one such example. These soybeans were shown to cause reactions in individuals allergic to Brazil nuts. If consumers are unaware of the fact that a brazil nut gene is present in the soybeans, they cannot avoid consuming the product. Read more about this on the players page (link).
Most Roundup Ready crops are considered safe for consumption. One Roundup Ready crop, though, alfalfa, has been removed from the market. Read more about this on the players page (link). The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service evaluates the safety of Roundup Ready crops. Specifically, they regulate the introduction of genetically engineered organisms that may be plant pests. One must apply for a biotechnology permit in order to market genetically engineered organisms. If an organism is considered a plant pest, it is given a regulated status, and cannot be sold in the US. Anyone can submit a petition to deregulate a plant pest.