Good Food Blog
Good crop, bad crop?Posted at 11:02AM, 23 June 2008 by Carol Wilson - Food writer
GM (genetically-modified) foods have made a big splash in the news recently, with vociferous arguments both for and against their use. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion, but what exactly are GM foods and what's all the fuss about?
'Genetically-modified' usually refers to crop plants created for human or animal consumption, which are genetically altered in a laboratory by the addition of foreign genes (including genes between non-related species) to give a chosen characteristic, e.g. better yield, resistance to pests or diseases or improved nutritional content.
Farmers and growers have always bred crops and animals selectively to improve yield, flavour and texture, but this can take years and is not always accurate. Genetic Engineering can create plants with the selected attributes rapidly and precisely.
The Food Standards Agency stated in June 2000 that it was satisfied that approved GM foods were as safe as their non-GM counterparts and posed no additional risk to the consumer. Nevertheless, the major supermarkets have refused to sell GM foods, due to widespread concern from consumers.
Ensuring adequate food supplies for a steadily increasing world population is a major challenge and GM foods could meet this need and reduce world hunger...
Critics say that multinationals - notably Monsanto - have been too quick to state the advantages of GM foods and have aired their unease about environmental hazards, e.g. crop plants with pesticide resistant genes may crossbreed with weeds and the transfer of genes will result in 'superweeds'; introducing a gene into a plant may create a new allergen or cause an allergic reaction in people with life-threatening food allergies. There are also the unknown effects of introducing genes into food plants, which may have an unforeseen and damaging impact on human health.
Conversely, supporters of GM foods, such as CropGen maintain that they are among the most studied foods in the world and insist they could be of great benefit, stating GM crops have better pest resistance and improved tolerance to withstand cold or drought. Ensuring adequate food supplies for a steadily increasing world population is a major challenge and GM foods could meet this need and reduce world hunger; malnutrition, common in third world countries where people rely on a staple crop such as rice, could be alleviated if the crop could be genetically engineered to contain additional vitamins and minerals. Future possibilities could also include removing the allergens from peanuts and other foods and modifying the gluten protein in wheat for coeliacs.
Are GM foods the way forward? What do you think?