Genetically Modified Food (GMF): Overview, Controversy

Genetically Modified Foods (GMF) are produced from organisms that have had their genes altered to introduce traits not created through natural selection. Genetically modified foods (mostly fruits and vegetables) have been commercially available since the 1994. Modifying the genetic code of a fruit, vegetable or animal involves introducing a gene from another organism.

In the United States, the U.S Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture regulate genetically modified foods to ensure they are safe for human consumption.

Breaking Down Genetically Modified Food (GMF)

Proponents of genetically modified fruits and vegetables point to the benefits such as higher crop yields. Scientists genetically engineer fruits and vegetables to introduce resistance to diseases or pests. Other changes allow fruits and vegetables to withstand pesticides or herbicides.

The "green revolution" of the 20th century owed much of its success to the introduction of plants that could produce higher yields in adverse conditions, such as climates that receive less rainfall. Norman Borlaug won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work in developing a robust strain of wheat that drastically improved wheat yields in Mexico, India and Pakistan in the 1950s and 1960s.

GMF Controversy and Critics

Critics argue that genetically modified foods should be labeled differently from conventionally produced food. They argue there is uncertainty regarding the long-term health impacts on consumers, as well as the impact on the environment. For example, genetically modified organisms may squeeze out conventional fruits and vegetables from the environment. This in turn could impact animals, insects and other organisms that depend on those plants to survive. Critics also worry that genes from genetically modified organisms may move to conventional crops (cross-fertilization), or may be transferred from food to the consumer.

Several countries have passed or proposed legislation regulating the development and use of genetically modified organisms in the food supply. Others have taken steps to ban them outright. More than half the 28 countries in the European Unionincluding Germany and Francehave banned farmers from growing genetically modified crops, though imports of GMF animal feed is still allowed. Several regions such as Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have also joined the anti-GMF movement, but the United Kingdom itself has no formal GMF ban.

Only one GM crop has been approved and grown in Europe: a type of maize that is resistant to a weevil called the European corn borer. The only farmers to grow the maize are primarily in Spain where weevils are a problem. The map below shows which countries around the world have full, partial or no restrictions on GMF.

Countries with GMO Prohibitions
Countries in Red have GMO Prohibitions as of 2016.  Genetic Literacy Project
Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Science and History of GMOs and Other Food Modification Processes." Accessed Nov. 12, 2020.

  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "How GMOs Are Regulated for Food and Plant Safety in the United States." Accessed Nov. 12, 2020.

  3. Nobel Media. "Norman Borlaug." Accessed Nov. 12, 2020.

  4. Genetic Literacy Project. "Where are GMO crops and animals approved and banned?" Accessed Nov. 12, 2020.

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