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Issue Date: December 31, 2008
Update: Genetically Modified Food
Since ICOF last covered genetically modified food in July 2005, the World Trade Organization rebuked the European Union for restricting imports of such foods, while in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed new rules for governing the use of genetically engineered animals in food products. Click here for the latest developments concerning this controversial issue. * The Development of Agricultural Biotechnology
* The Rapid Expansion of GM Crops
* GM Food Policy in the U.S. and Europe
* GM Food Supporters Embrace New Technology
* Critics Warn of Potential Health Consequences
* Will GM Foods Prove to Be Safe?
* Discussion Questions & Activities
* Additional Sources
* Contact Information
* Key Words and Points
* Genetically Modified Food Update (2008)
The issue: Should genetically modified (GM) crops continue to be produced and sold throughout the U.S.? Or do the potential dangers involved in the new technology pose too great a risk? * Supporters of GM foods say: GM crops are the logical next step in agriculture, and they have never been proven to be harmful to human beings. The next generation of GM crops could produce health benefits--such as vegetables with extra vitamins or fruit containing important vaccines and antibiotics--that would be immensely helpful to developing countries. * Critics of GM foods say: Interfering with the genes of plants could disturb entire ecosystems and result in unintended environmental and health consequences. Also, because the plight of developing nations is the result of far broader issues of social injustice, no amount of GM food could truly fix the problems there. Genetically modified (GM) food has become so common in the U.S. that most people do not even know when they are consuming it. But it is widely estimated that up to 70% of all processed food in U.S. supermarkets contain ingredients that have been altered at the genetic level. GM ingredients can be found in certain brands of peanut butter, potato chips and margarine, among many other types of food. GM foods--also referred to as genetically engineered foods--are created when an organism's deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which is the molecular basis for heredity in most living things, is altered in some way. Agricultural biologists can modify existing genes, transplant genes from one organism's DNA into another's or even synthesize entirely new structures and insert them into a plant's DNA. Although the alteration of genes is a fairly new technology, scientists have already invented a variety of new organisms, such as coffee beans that do not contain caffeine and onions that can be chopped without inducing tears. [See 1999 Genetically Engineered Food] Nearly all GM foods on the market, however, come from just four types of crops: corn, cotton, canola and soybeans. Those plants are altered so that they produce their own insecticide, for example, or become immune to particular brands of pesticides. Since 1996, when the first GM soybean was introduced, the use of GM crops in the U.S. has increased at an incredible rate. But because the technology...