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What is GM food?

Find out how genetically modified food is made, and why some people are worried about it getting onto your plate.

Genetically modified (GM) foods refer to plants whose genes have been altered by scientists, and which are intended for human consumption. The idea of GM organisms began in 1946, when scientists discovered how to manipulate DNA. In 1983 the first GM food was place on the market in the United States.

GM plants were created to have traits that would benefit both the producer and the consumer. These include increased resistance to pests and disease, increased tolerance to herbicides, increased nutritional value and resistance to extreme weather. One example of GM food is the ‘Flavr Savr’ tomato, the very first GM product on the market. This genetically engineered tomato had a delayed ripening time, which allowed farmers more time to pick the tomatoes before they reached the grocery stores. Another popular example of GM food is Golden Rice. This rice, which has a distinct golden colour, was altered to have higher levels of Vitamin A, and was designed  to combat Vitamin A deficiency in poor countries around the world. Many believe the introduction of GM foods is the first step toward solving world hunger, a clear issue in modern society.

But there is also growing opposition to GM food for economic, health and environmental reasons. GM food can be very costly to produce and distribute, and needs to be regulated by the government, which means more money being spent. Those who oppose GM foods also believe there could be potential health risks as a result of consuming GM crops. Lastly, there are concerns regarding the environment. For example, pollen created from some GM plants could be toxic to some animals and insects.

There are both clear benefits and drawbacks to the production and consumption of GM foods, and it is a debate that will not be over soon, particularly as scientists are also working on genetically modifying animals, which could soon be sold for human consumption.    

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