Genetically Modified Organisms

Points of View

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Genetically Modified
Foods

Genetically modified (GM) foods have been on sale in the
world’s supermarkets since 1994. We do not recognize them
because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not
require that GM foods be labeled as such.

As the world’s population rises, so does the need for
food. Genetic engineering provides a way to increase
food production. Biotechnologists can develop desirable
characteristics in an organism by altering its genes or by
inserting new genes into the organism’s cells. For example,
soybeans, corn, and other crop plants have been genetically
modified to make proteins that protect them from the action
of herbicides. Farmers who plant these GM crops can spray
herbicides to control weeds without harming the crop.

GM foods are not limited to plant crops. GM animals have
also been developed, including a strain of salmon that grows
twice as fast as other salmon. The FDA has not yet cleared
any GM animals for human consumption. But it has cleared
many GM plant foods for sale. Not only is labeling of GM foods
not required, it is actually unlawful to label foods that do not
contain GM organisms. In 2011, consumer groups brought legal
action against the U.S. government to force new labeling laws.
Following are two points of view on GM foods.

A scientist examines experimental samples
of genetically modified fruit trees.

This farmer from Oaxaca, Mexico, holds up ears of
traditional corn varieties. Some people fear that genes
from genetically modified varieties could accidentally
be introduced into native varieties.

Although these cans are labeled, genetically modified
foods are not required to be labeled as such in the
United States.

400 Unit 4:    Water, Air, and Land

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What Do You Think?

What Do You Think?
Some people propose that genetically modified 
foods should have labels that identify them as 
such. Could such a measure decrease criticism 
about the safety of genetically modified foods? 
Based on what you have read, decide whether 
you would buy genetically modified foods at 
the grocery store. Explain your reasoning.

The Benefits Outweigh the Risks
People who support development of GM plants and animals
view the process as an extension of previous breeding
techniques. Traditionally, farmers altered the genetic
makeup of a species by crossbreeding different strains to
combine their best traits into one strain. However, the direct
manipulation of genes through genetic engineering makes
it possible to control genetic changes more precisely and
efficiently. It even makes it possible to insert genes from one
species into another.

The potential to increase crop yields is one advantage of
GM food plants. Some GM crops, including corn that contains
Bt genes, produce their own insecticides. These GM crops not
only have the potential for higher yields, but also can reduce
the expense and toxic exposure associated with pesticide and
herbicide use. Crops that have been genetically engineered
to tolerate herbicides can reduce the cost and fuel emissions
associated with using farm machinery to get rid of weeds.

Other beneficial characteristics of GM fruits and vegetables
include development of produce that stays fresh longer or
contains added nutrients. For example, inserting a gene that
increases the amino acids in a plant food could give it more
nutritional value. To combat world hunger, scientists might be
able to develop seeds that grow well in areas with poor soil or
little water.

The Risks Outweigh the Benefits
Critics of GM foods think that these products are significantly
different from foods developed through traditional methods.
Scientists can use genetic engineering to place genes from
any species into another. Opponents are concerned about the
safety of foods that contain these “foreign” genes.

One safety concern is the possibility of allergic reactions.
Some foods, such as peanuts and shellfish, cause allergic
reactions in many people. If genes from these foods are
placed in entirely different products, people who eat these
new products without knowing they contain the foreign genes
may suffer allergic reactions.

Other critics object to GM foods for religious or ethical
reasons. Certain religions prohibit eating pork and other foods.
People may object to the insertion of genes from pigs or
other prohibited foods into foods they normally eat. Similarly,
vegetarians might object to eating foods that contain animal
genes. Such insertions are particularly worrisome when the
sources of modifications are not noted on packaging.

Another major concern is pesticide resistance. Insects can
rapidly develop the ability to survive exposure to pesticides.
When they do, farmers lose the ability to combat infestations
and significant crop losses can result. Farmers who grow
genetically engineered crops that make their own pesticides,
such as Bt corn, must take special precautions against the
development of pesticide resistance.

Some scientists are concerned that genetically engineered
plant and animal species could accidentally be introduced into
the wild. For example, fast-growing GM salmon that escape
from aquaculture enclosures might thrive at the expense of
wild species. Wild species could become extinct, thus reducing
biodiversity and potentially affecting ecosystem stability.

These people in Montreal, Quebec, are protesting the
importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Many countries have not accepted genetically engineered
crops as much as the United States has.

401Chapter 15:    Food and Agriculture 

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