What is 'Genetically Modified Food (GMF)'

Genetically Modified Food (GMF) is produced from organisms that have had their genes engineered to introduce traits that have not been created through natural selection. Genetically modified foods have been commercially available since the 1990s, and is most often associated with fruits and vegetables. Genetically modifying a food involves introducing a gene into a fruit, vegetable, or animal from another organism. Broad scientific consensus suggests that genetically modified foods present no more danger than conventional food.

BREAKING DOWN 'Genetically Modified Food (GMF)'

Proponents of genetically modified foods point to the benefits of introducing desirable genetic traits into food. For example, scientists may engineer fruits and vegetables to have higher yields, to resist certain diseases or pests, or to be able to tolerate pesticides or herbicides. The 20th century Green Revolution owed much of its success to the introduction of plants that could produce higher yields in more adverse conditions, such as in the presence of less water. Norman Borlaug won a Nobel Prize for his work with wheat, and helped drastically improve wheat yields in Mexico, India, and Pakistan since the 1950s.

GMF Controversy and Critics

Critics of genetically modified foods have argued that this type of food should be labeled differently than food produced conventionally. They argue that there is uncertainty as to the longer-term effect of genetically modified organisms on the health of consumers, as well as to the impact of such organisms on the environment. For example, genetically modified organisms may squeeze out conventional fruits and vegetables from the environment, which may impact the animals, insects, and other organisms that have traditionally used those plants to survive. Other theoretical threats are 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. For example, more than half the 28 countries in the European Union, including Germany and France, have decided to ban their farmers from growing genetically modified crops, but importation of GMF for animal feed is still legal. Several regions, including Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have also joined the anti-GMF movement, but the UK itself has no formal GMF ban.

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

Countries in Red have GMF Prohibitions as of 2016

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