GM foods or genetically modified food or organisms are genetically modified foods and organisms that have been developed using genetic engineering techniques. In the GMO foods, foreign genes are inserted into the DNA of the plants or organisms used for food. Such altered DNA is taken from different species and is not naturally present in the foods or organisms’ inherent genetic material. GM foods are modified in the laboratory to incorporate desired traits in the new species such as resistance to herbicides, improvement of nutritional content, rapid growth, etc.
There is no human-induced genetic modification in organic foods. According to Non-GMO Project guidelines, foods that are marked organic should not contain GM foods. Consumers should buy food that is 100 percent organic.
Some examples of GM foods are the NewLeaf potato and the Flavr Savr tomato. NewLeaf potatoes were introduced as a genetically modified food in 1996 but discontinued in 2001 due to consumer rejection. Since this genetically modified food was not successful, there is no commercial production of this potato. Introduced in 1994, Flavr Savr tomatoes were the first commercially produced, genetically modified food. The Non-GMO Project Standard has considered the genetically modified tomato among the “low risk.”
What are the Advantages of GM Foods?
Genetically modified food is herbicide tolerant and prevents damage to the environment as lesser amounts of herbicides are used. Drought-tolerant genetically modified food can withstand longer periods of drought. Genetically modified food is pest-resistant and reduces the use of pesticides. Disease-resistant and cold-tolerant genetically modified food can be produced.
Health Issues and Labeling of GM Foods
There have been strong controversies about the health risks of GM foods. It is still a debate whether consumption of genetically modified food has health issues. There has been reported health-related risks on consumption of GM foods. Serious health issues like life-threatening allergies have been developed with the intake of peanuts and related foods. Due to these health concerns, testing and labeling of GMO foods appeared. Because of likely health risks, labeling of genetically modified food has been made mandatory in Europe. Labeling remains under question of whether it should be made mandatory.
While agribusiness industries favor that labeling not be made mandatory, consumer interest groups demand mandatory labeling. Educating the people about health risks and labeling of GMOs is a challenge. Taking into account the health concerns, an international trade agreement was established on labeling genetically modified food. This labeling agreement was signed by more than 130 countries. According to this labeling policy, exporters use labeling for GM foods while importers are free to judge the health risks and reject these foods. The labeling of GMOs is mandatory in Europe but not in the U.S. and Canada.
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