Since the introduction of genetically engineered (GE) foods into the
United States market in 1994 their sales have grown immeasurably.
In 1996, GE crops were introduced to farmers, and 4.3 million acres
were planted in six countries.
Between 1997 and 2005, the total surface area of land cultivated
with genetically modified organisms had increased by a factor of 50,
from 4.2 million acres to 222 million acres.
Adoption of GE crops by U.S. farmers has grown steadily because it’s
cost effective, the ease of operation, and time savings. The
problem with this growth is that industrial sized biotech farms are
putting small scale organic family farms out of business.
Currently, labeling of these genetically modified foods in the
public market isn’t mandatory. Recently a position paper from the
United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug
Administration opposed labeling for GM foods. The U.S. claims that
letting consumers know whether or not GM/GE products are contained
in food is “false, misleading, or deceptive.” This poses a major
threat to human health and the environment because of allergencity,
the transfer of antibiotic resistance genes, outcrossing, and the
heavy use of toxic herbicides. The growth of GE crops and foods
will continue, but public acceptance in the marketplace will decline
as people see their effect on health and the economy.
What Are Genetically Modified
Foods And Organisms?
|Although biotechnology and genetic modification commonly are used
interchangeably, genetic modification 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 genes from different organisms is known as
recombinant DNA technology, and the resulting organism is said to be
"genetically modified," "genetically engineered," or "transgenic." Genetically
modified products, current or those in development, include medicines and
vaccines, foods and food ingredients, feeds, and fibers (Phillips 2010).
Figure 4. Genetically Modified Organism's
How Does Genetic Modification Work?
Genetically modified organisms can be produced by gene cloning
methods in which a non-native gene is introduced and expressed in a new
organism. Typically, the new gene has been modified, or engineered, for
proper expression in the new host. Most importantly, the differences between
microorganisms and eukaryotic cells must be overcome, such as introns being
present or absent, occurrence of DNA chemical modification and certain
post-translational modifications to the protein itself for proper transport
within or between cells
(Phillips 2010). Many other technological innovations within the industry
have opened doors to many manipulative techniques for changing the structure of
proteins through genetic alterations.
Genetic modification is being applied to develop many new
benefits, such as enhancing the nutritional values,
shorten growing time, and increase the resistance to pests and diseases.
In working with transgenic plants,
one or more genes are artificially inserted into the DNA of the plant's
chromosomes. The gene can come from the same type of plant, but sometimes it can
come from another type of plant or even another type of organism
(PBS 2001). Before
recombinant DNA technology came about, cross-fertilization and
selective breeding were a few of the first attempts at creating a new altered
A representation of how a originally pest
susceptible plant such as corn, can be genetically modified to carry a bacterial
gene which makes it pest resistant (Figure 5).
Figure 5. Creation of a
genetically modified drought resistant plant
Click Here to genetically modify your own transgenic plant.
What Are The Benefits?
|Many will argue there are no
benefits, but there are some benefits to genetically modified products. The
problem is that the majority of American people aren't concerned with what's in
their food or may not even be educated on biotechnology and the first
thing on their mind is cost. Genetically engineered crops are the
cheapest and have flooded the United States agricultural market because of it.
- Enhanced taste and quality
- Reduced maturation time
- Increased nutrients, yields, and stress tolerance
- Improved resistance to disease, pests, and herbicides
- New products and growing techniques
- Increased resistance, productivity, hardiness, and feed
- Better yields of meat, eggs, and milk
- Improved animal health and diagnostic methods
- "Friendly" bioherbicides and bioinsecticides
- Conservation of soil, water, and energy
- Bioprocessing for forestry products
- Better natural waste management
- More efficient processing
- Increased food security for growing populations
Benefits of genetically modified products in reference to crops, animals,
the environment, and society
What Are the Issues
for Human Health?
Since genetically modified foods
have been introduced into the global food market there have been many concerns
about the risks and dangers that these genetically modified foods might pose.
While theoretical discussions have covered a broad range of aspects, the
three main issues debated are tendencies to provoke allergic reaction, gene
transfer and outcrossing.
Allergic Reaction. People are allergic to
many different things, and when you use genetic modification with crops it might
add certain traits from one organism to another that could cause a allergic
reaction. Some crops that are grown could be crossed with DNA from another
organism that in nature would have never been combined. It's not natural
and the allergic reaction could be fatal
(Dale 2009). One example
that geneticists have created is
a frost resistant tomato plant by adding an antifreeze gene from a cold-water
fish. The antifreeze gene comes from the cold-water flounder, a fish that
can survive in very cold conditions
Gene Transfer. Gene transfer from GM foods to cells of the
body or to bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract would cause concern if the
transferred genetic material adversely affects human health. This would be
particularly relevant if antibiotic resistance genes, used in creating GMOs,
were to be transferred. Although the probability of transfer is low, the use
of technology without antibiotic resistance genes has been encouraged by a
recent World Health Organization expert panel
Outcrossing. The movement of genes from GM plants
into conventional crops or related species in the wild (referred to as outcrossing),
as well as the mixing of crops derived from conventional seeds with those
grown using GM crops, may have an indirect effect on food safety and food
This risk is real, as was shown when traces of a maize type which was only
approved for feed use appeared in maize products for human consumption in
the United States of America.
|The environmental safety of the
genetically modified crops depends heavily on the local conditions. Some of the
concerns include: the capability of the genetically modified organism (GMO) to escape and potentially
introduce the engineered genes into wild populations; the persistence of the
gene after the GMO has been harvested; the susceptibility of non-target
organisms, for an example insects which are not pests, to the gene product; the
stability of the gene; the reduction in the spectrum of other plants including
loss of biodiversity; and increased use of chemicals in agriculture
Growth and Trends
Genetic engineering began in the early 1900's when it was believed that newly
emerging genetic techniques could result in genetically engineered
microorganisms, or "super bugs", for bioremediation, that would withstand
extreme conditions and rapidly break down resistant chemicals that polluted
waste sites and brownfields
(Phillips 2010). Issues began to rise on how the superbugs would be
controlled and how an ecological upset would be prevented and therefore hindered
In 1996, genetically engineered crops were introduced to
farmers, and 4.3 million acres were planted in six countries (Figure 7)
(Global Review 2003).
Genetically engineered crops continued to grow and in 2003, the numbers had
grown to 167.2 million acres in 18 countries on six continents, this shows a 40
fold increase in just eight years.
Increase in global area of biotechnology crops 1996 to 2003
(Global Review 2003)
|In 2004 there were 81 million hectares of
land producing genetically modified crops globally, with the United States
leading the world. Four main crops were grown on almost a 100% of the total area
of the genetically modified crop production (Figure 8)
Figure 8. Global Status of Transgenic Crops
United States Growth Continues
The United States accounts for nearly two-thirds of all biotechnology crops
planted globally. GM food crops grown by United States farmers include corn,
cotton, soybeans, canola, squash, and papaya. Although soybeans and cotton
genetically engineered with herbicide-tolerant traits have been the most widely
and rapidly adopted GE crops in the United States, followed by insect-resistant
cotton and corn (Figure 9)(USDA 2009).
The United States Department of Agriculture Statistics Service
recorded data from 2000 to 2009 showing the growth in acres in genetically
crops by states. Farmers were randomly selected across the United States and
were asked if they planted corn, soybeans, or upland cotton seed that, through
biotechnology, is resistant to herbicides, insects, or both. Conventionally bred
herbicide-tolerant varieties were excluded
(USDA 2009). Stacked gene varieties are those containing GE
traits for both herbicide tolerance (HT) and insect resistance (Bt) (Figure 9).
Figure 9. Rapid growth in adoption of genetically engineered crops continues in
the United States (USDA
In 2001, 68 percent of U.S. soybeans were genetically engineered, covering 50.4
million acres. Biotechnology varieties (which included herbicide and insect
resistant types) accounted for about 26 percent (19.7 million acres) of the corn
and 69 percent (10.9 million acres) of the upland cotton planted in the U.S.
during 2001 (Figure 9)
(Global Review 2003).
In 2002, genetically engineered varieties of soybeans planted in the
U.S. rose to 75 percent of the total soybeans sown – an increase of 3.5
million acres which gave a total of 54 million acres. GM corn plantings
increased 5.6 million acres to a total of 25.3 million acres – which
represented 32 percent of all U.S. corn planted. While GM cotton
increased its share of the total cotton crop planted in the U.S. in 2002
to 71 percent, the total acreage of all cotton as well as that of GM
cotton planted decreased by six percent and five percent respectively in
2002(Figure 9) (USDA
In 2003, U.S. farmers increased GM soy plantings to total 59.7
million acres or 81 percent of all soy planted in the U.S. GM corn
plantings also increased to 40 percent (31.6 million acres) of the U.S.
crop. As was the case in 2002, acres dedicated to cotton farming as a
whole as well as to GM varieties in particular both declined in the U.S.
(13.9 million and 10.2 million acres respectively) (USDA
2009). GM varieties accounted for 73 percent of all cotton grown which is,
despite the decline in actual acreage, an increase in the percentage of
cotton planted with GM varieties from the previous year.
GM crops have continued to grow over the years and the number of
farmers planting GM crops has also increased as you can see in Figure 9
above. Below is another representation of the quick growth of GM crops
and acreage expansion from 2001 to 2004.
Major United States GM Crops
2001 Total Acres
2002 Total Acres
2003 Total Acres
2004 Total Acres
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Applications (ISAAA) Global Review of Transgenic Crops 2003.
President Obama's Policies and Actions
Figure 10. President Obama
(US Defense 2009)
There are no clear
statements or information online which emphasize President Obama's stance on
genetically modified foods. But in a September 2008
Science Debate, a non-partisan political education group, posed science
questions to the presidential candidates. When asked about the concerns of the
effects of genetic modification both in humans and agriculture, Obama´s partial
"Advances in the genetic engineering of plants have provided enormous
benefits to American farmers. I believe that we can continue to modify plants
safely with new genetic methods." Obama´s statements on genetically
engineered food tell us
that he is either uninformed about GE food or is choosing to propagate the
biotech façade due to industry influence.
top scientific advisers during his campaign included Sharon Long, a former board
member of the biotech giant Monsanto Corporation, and Harold Varmus, a Nobel
laureate who co-chaired a key study of genetically engineered crops by the
National Academy of Sciences back in 2000.
Obama may have a sense of how weak the United States genetically modified
organism regulations are, since he indicated that he wants "stringent tests for
environmental and health effects" and "stronger regulatory oversight guided by
the best available scientific advice."
Obama is in the process of formulating policy, assembling his
transition team, and considering nominees for Secretary of
Agriculture, among other important positions. The Secretary of
Agriculture is responsible for directing the United States
Department of Agriculture and its $90 billion annual budget,
including the National Organic Program, food stamp and nutrition
programs, and agriculture subsidies.
Click Here to
View Recent Acts of Congress That Represent Obama's Policy
|The major problem with genetically modified
foods is that it's such a new technology that people are unsure
about its potential effects to their health and the environment.
Some studies, which I have mentioned show its already
detrimental impacts. The United States and world food markets
are continuing to carry genetically modified foods because of
the low cost and industrial farmers benefit. Although
these foods are cheaper, people will begin to see the effects
they have on small scale family farming operations,
environmental, and human health and therefore will not meet the
needs of current market places. As citizens of the
United States and the world, we need to educate ourselves on
these new foods and become aware of what is healthy for our
bodies, mind and soul.
STOP MONSANTO: If you are interested in trying to
influence Monsanto the
world’s largest conventional engineered seed company to stop selling genetically
engineered seeds to large scale farmers, as well as stop the use and sale of
herbicide, click STOP MONSANTO below and send the letter to
the following addresses:
TO CONGRESS: If you oppose putting
small scale family farms out of business and replacing them with genetically
engineered industrial farms then send the letter below to Congress. The letter
current Food Safety Act, which has two bills, H.R. 2749 and H.R. 759 that if
signed will continue to import genetically engineered foods into the marketplace
as well as putting small scale farmers out of business.
Dr. Robert T. Fraley
800 N. Lindbergh Blvd,
St. Louis, MO 63167
United States House of Representatives
111th Congress, 2nd Session
Washington, DC 20515
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Modified Science Stories; Fish Genes in Tomatoes
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Dale, P.J., Clarke, B. Potential
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Modification Advisory Commitee, 2007.
Creation of a
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Green House Healing, 2010. GMO Crops in
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Human Genome Project, 2008. GM Products:
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International Service for the Acquisition of
Agri-biotech Applications, 2003. (ISAAA). Major United States GM Crops
2003. Retrieved on March 30th, 2010 from
PBS: Engineer A Crop, 2001.
Transgenic Manipulation. Retrieved on March 9th, 2010 from
Perry, Amy, 2009. Biting Into GMO's.
Retrieved on February 4th, 2010 from
Phillips, Theresa, 2010. What Are GMOs?.
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Politicol News, 2009. GMO's Are Harmful.
Retrieved on February 9th, 2010 from
Providing the Light. West Midlands Regional
Consortium. Crops. Retrieved on February 4th, 2010 from
Pusztai, Arpad, 2001. GMO's: Are They A
Risk To Human and Animal Health? Retrieved on March 10th, 2010 from
United States Department of Agriculture, 2009.
Genetically Engineered Crops; Data Sets. Retrieved on February 9th from
United States Department of Defense, 2009.
Official Portrait of President Barack Obama. Retrieved on March 10th,