GM Foods: The Islamic Perspective

The Islamic perspective on genetically modified foods, much like that of other religions, is complex and goes deeper than simply a determination of whether a certain food is halal or not (although that is certainly part of it).

Whether Islam approves or disapproves of genetically modified foods does not have a straightforward answer and many theologians and scholars continue debating this issue. For example, it appears that the Quran provides that any attempts to modify living things would be a sin. However, if the purpose behind the modification is essential or done to prevent harm and promote the welfare of all, then such a modification is permissible. As such, if one were to take the position that genetic modification is conducted to reduce reliance on pesticides and herbicides, which pollute the environment, or feed the hungry, which is a an action benefiting the welfare of the public, then genetic modification is arguably justifiable under Islamic law.

Some Muslim theologians and scholars, however, debate whether genetically modified foods are in fact benefiting the public. For example, GM seeds are engineered to contain certain traits (e.g., to withstand certain weather and soil conditions). In order to compete and survive farmers would have to buy the GM seeds from GM companies rather than depend on the more traditional farming methods. In this way, farmers would become dependent on GM companies for their seeds. This is especially detrimental to farmers in the developing nations as they would be at the mercy of GM companies and the prices they charge for the GM seeds.

According to some Muslim scholars such conduct would violate certain Islamic principles that people should help the needy and the hungry without being motivated by profit. Furthermore, while biotechnology may be permissible under Islamic law when it is used for the benefit of the public, it is questionable whether such use will be sanctioned if the biotechnology is for the benefit of a certain group of people. In this case, that certain group would be the GM companies because not only will they stand to profit handsomely but they would also control and dictate, in large measure, food production and development here and abroad.

Also, it is still questionable whether GMOs do in fact prevent harm. For example, we do not know the full extent of the ramifications of genetically engineered plants that are herbicide and pesticide resistant. While such plants may reduce our dependence on herbicides and pesticides in the immediate future, we do not know the effect of such plants on animals and humans as no long term studies have been conducted. Many questions remain unanswered. We do not know whether or not native plants that have been pollinated by GMOs will express the genetically modified genes and in what form that expression will take. Additionally, there has been some concern as to whether insects feeding on GMOs would be adversely affected. For example, researchers have discovered that that the death rate of lacewing insects and bees has dramatically increased when they were fed genetically modified foods. While others rush to contradict these findings, the detractors do not offer iron-clad evidence either. At best, all anyone can say is that the evidence is inconclusive and needs additional studying. For Islamic scholars debating the issue a decision has to be made whether the current available information regarding the safety of GMOs is sufficient to make a determination on whether the use of such crops is consistent with the Islamic teachings.

But returning to the question of whether GMOs are halal, that question too is not free from controversy. While the Islamic Jurisprudence Council and Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America take the position that foods derived from GMO’s are halal many followers of Islam have doubts and concerns, and, at a minimum, would prefer their food labeled. (See this article which discusses the passage of the Biosafety Act in Malaysia that now makes labeling of genetically modified food, feed and pharmaceuticals mandatory because the Malaysian population, consisting largely of Muslims, wants to make informed decisions concerning their food choices).

Source of information concerning Islamic law: http://www.metanexus.net/conference2005/pdf/mohd_safian.pdf

UPDATE: A new collection of essays gathered in Acceptable Genes: Religious Traditions and Genetically Modified Foods, Edited by Conrad G. Brunk and Harold Coward (SUNY Press, 2009), further explores different religious perspectives on GMOs.  See Brittany Shoot’s discussion of the essay collection.

  • http://teeniac.info teinby

    thank you! I really liked this post!

  • Abdurrahman

    Assalamu alikkum,

    This is Abdur rahman from Chennai. Could you please tell me something about the GMO. Is GMO halal? please clarify my doubts. It will be very useful for me.

    Regards,
    Abdur rahman

  • http://www.gmo-journal.com Deniza Gertsberg

    Greetings Abdur Rahman!

    Thank you for your interest. As I am not a religious expert, I cannot opine on whether GMOs are halal. I can, however, tell you what GMOs are (see in-depth discussions here: http://gmo-journal.com/index.php/2009/07/20/genetic-modification-101/) and I can also say that many people from diverse religious backgrounds and beliefs have moral and ethical concerns about GMOs, in part because the donor organism could be a bacteria, fungus, or another animal. Take Bt corn, for example, a corn that is genetically altered to be resistant to pests (European Corn Borer), its donor organism is a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis. In other words, the corn contains a gene from the soil bacterium and as such, the plant is genetically altered to produce the pesticide in all of its cells.

    Ultimately, the decision is up to you and what you feel is right. In the United States, consumers generally do not have the option to decide whether they want to consume GMOs because currently there are no mandated labeling requirements. And while certain products/companies are participating in the Non-GMO Project’s Labeling Verification Program (http://gmo-journal.com/index.php/2009/08/28/whole-foods-partners-with-non-gmo-project-to-label-non-gm-foods/ ), this is not the same as having mandated labeling requirements.

    Regards,
    Deniza G

  • http://twitter.com/qutequte qutequte

    Halal and non-halal foods are actually all linked. Pig genes are transferred back and forth pigs and plants, back to some other animal like salmons, and then back again to a vegetable. They do not tell you when your heart valves or organs comes from a pig, why should they start telling you they implanted pig genes in vegetables? HALAL CERTIFIED label? Don’t count on it, until the International Muslim Council show some accountability.

    THE PROOF

    “According to the Islamic Jurisprudence Council (IJC), foods derived from biotechnology-improved (GMO) crops are halal – fit for consumption by Muslims. ” That’s your genetically engineered (GMO) crops. Genes played around with by scientists. http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/religion/halal.html

    It’s been discussed by Muslim scholars and not a secret although Muslim majority is taken by surprise. Malaysian Muslim scholars brought this up but Int’l Muslim Council did not reply.

    “The Islamic perspective on genetically modified foods, much like … scholars, however, debate whether genetically modified foods are in fact benefiting the public. … But returning to the question of whether GMOs are halal….”
    http://gmo-journal.com/index.php/2009/07/28/gm-foods-the-islamic-perspective/

    The simple question is, “Are crops with animal genes or pig genes halal?”

    Do a google for xenografts for heart valves or grafts, see what animal is being used.

  • mo

    it appears that the Quran provides that any attempts to modify living things would be a sin. However, if the purpose behind the modification is essential or done to prevent harm and promote the welfare of all, then such a modification is permissible. As such, if one were to take the position that genetic modification is conducted to reduce reliance on pesticides and herbicides, which pollute the environment, or feed the hungry, which is a an action benefiting the welfare of the public, then genetic modification is arguably justifiable under Islamic law.

    i quote this paragraph from above which clearly justified that GMO are not halal. they do not provide any benefits other than not having to kill animals. GMO’s cause cancer and a lot of other diseases. they do not provide any benefits.

  • Saeed Zafar

    Salam MO,
    I want to clear you with one thing that GM is still better than pesticides. GM is so specific that it only kills the pest harming the crop and biosafety tests are done in order that GM is safe for humans, as well as other benefecial organisms. but pesticides harm humans, bees, mammals and other organisms, so GM keeps you away from chemicals, so till we find an un arguable substitute GM is better than pesticide. Go totally anti-pesticide as GM still provides this profit.

  • Saeed Zafar

    Kelly,
    No genes from pigs or any other animals yet have been transfered, only Bacteria is used by now.
    Rest Allah knows best what is stored in future, but by now no haram genes are used.

  • http://www.myqute.com/blog kelly

    Saeed, are you sure? Pig tissues are being used in heart valves, and transplanted in heart patients in my country here, Singapore.

    “No genes from pigs and animals transferred.”
    May I know where did you get your information from? GMO organisms are not labelled in foods, so how do you know for certain your foods do not contain GMOs?

    Do you eat rice?
    Pig Genes Introduced into Rice Plant – http://www.agnet.org/library/rh/2002009b/

    19 of 64 (slideshow) by Universiti Putra Malaysia in 2006: Test including samples with halal label revealed that chicken were adulterated with pig deribvatives. http://www.slideshare.net/Islamiculture/recent-development-in-halal-food-analysis

    GMO pig or dog organisms in cosmetics and creams are considered “halal”: http://ift.confex.com/ift/2005/techprogram/paper_27853.htm

    http://books.google.com.sg/books?id=4QHE-qKU-ugC&printsec=frontcover

    Have you read “The impact of genetic modification of human foods in the 21st century” by Stella G. UzogaraL? –> http://cib.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/estudos_alimentares06.pdf

    Muslims should insist that GMO foods are not halal http://vannfreeman.com/gmo-news/opinion-foods-with-gmos-are-not-halal-imam-salim-chishti/

    Additional when geese or swans are in pain because of being force-fed till their livers are swollen, how is foie gras HALAL? http://www.sahlinternational.com/class-aptent-taciti-sociosqu-ad-litora/2009/08/24/

  • http://www.myqute.com/blog kelly

    I agree with you. The true meaning of “HALAL” is: no harm to animals, man and environment, before and during slaughter of meat and slaughtered according to the Quran.

    So if GMO foods are harmful, what makes it halal?

  • http://www.myqute.com/blog kelly

    OMG, Saeed, are you sure? How do you explain why ROUNDUP pesticides were causing so much harm. So, you are all about profits? Sure, make all the money you want without care to whether it harms people.

    GMO is not harmful is a joke! And you are part of that joke, as you have shown!