Genetically Modified Organisms
Although biotechnology and genetic modification commonly are used interchangeably, GM is a special set of technologies that alter the genetic makeup of organisms such as animals, plants, or bacteria. Biotechnology, a more general term, refers to using organisms or their components, such as enzymes, to make products that include wine, cheese, beer, and yogurt. Combining gene from different organisms is known as recombinant DNA technology, and the resulting organisms is said to be ‘genetically modified.’ GM products- current or those in development- include medicines and vaccines, foods and food ingredients, feeds, and fibers.
In 2006, 252 million acres of transgenic crops were planted in 22 countries by 10.3 million farmers. The majority of these crops were herbicide- and insect-resistant soybeans, corn, cotton, canola, and alfalfa. Other crops grown commercially or field-tested are a sweet potato resistant to a virus that could decimate most of the African harvest, rice with increased iron and vitamins that may alleviate chronic malnutrition in Asian countries, and a variety of plants able to survive weather extremes. On the horizon are bananas that produce human vaccines against infectious diseases such as hepatitis B; fish that mature more quickly; cows that are resistant to mad cow disease; fruit and nut trees that yield years earlier, and plants that produce new plastics with unique properties.
In 2006, countries that grew 97% of the global transgenic crops were the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India, China, Paraguay, and South Africa. Like all new technologies, genetically modifying foods pose some risks, both known and unknown. Controversies surrounding GM foods and crops commonly focus on human and environmental safety, labeling and consumer choice, intellectual, ethics, food security, poverty reduction, and environmental conservation.
Despite claims that GMOs would...