The Stigma Surrounding Genetically Modified Foods Biology Essay

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Genetically modified foods have come to your local supermarket. Critics of biotechnology raise the question: is genetically modified food safe? Many American believe they're dangerous. A CBS poll found that 53 percent of Americans wouldn't buy food they knew had been genetically modified. In fact, there is no scientific evidence proving that it may be harmful. On the contrary, by increasing yields and reducing the use of pesticides and herbicides GM food benefits farmers and the environment. The most important benefit of GM foods is the increased food security for growing populations around the world.

Opponents of genetically altered food raise the argument that changing plants DNA may lead to developing new proteins, not occurring in nature, which could be toxic for people. When you think about it, we've been modifying food genes for a hundred years since Mendel discovered genes in peas. Gardeners and farmers have crossbred plants to produce a prettier flower or hardier corn plants. The only difference is the tools we use now. Instead of slapping together all the genes of two plants and hoping for the best, we pick the exact gene we want: to give us a desired effect, such as, resistance to poisons spread on weeds. We insert that specific gene into the target plant's DNA. The gene then does what all genes do: make a protein. The new proteins result in a new plant, one, for example, more resistant to herbicides.

Commissioner FDA, Jane E. Henney, asked if the new genes, or the proteins they make, have any effect on people eating them said: "No, it doesn't appear so, "The proteins of GM food are "non-toxic, rapidly digestible, and do not have the characteristics of proteins known to cause allergies." In fact, genetically modified (GM) crops are considered to be among the most studied and reviewed foods in the world. The genetically engineered foods that are currently on the market are safe. Using well established, internationally accepted standards of risk assessment, regulatory authorities worldwide have reviewed all genetically modified crops now on the market and determined that they pose no more risk than crops produced through traditional breeding methods. Food and feed products containing ingredients derived from genetically modified crops have a solid 12-year history of safe use with no reliable documentation of any food safety issues.  

Twenty-five Nobel Prize winners and 3,400 prominent scientists have expressed their support for genetically modified crops as a "powerful and safe" way to improve agriculture and the environment.

On the long run, production of genetically modified crops is less expensive than traditional grow. Farmers Crop losses from insect pests can be staggering, resulting in devastating financial loss for farmers. With GM crops, farmers no longer have to spray plants with pesticides because the plants themselves have built-in protection. They can produce greater amounts of crops with less seed, cutting back costs immensely. Pesticides, weed-killers (herbicides), and fertilizer cost farmers staggering amounts of money every year. GM foods can eliminate much of this cost. Growing pest resistance crop, such as B.t corn can help eliminate the application of chemical pesticides and reduce the cost of bringing a crop to market.

Destroying weeds is an expensive and time consuming process. Farmers often have to spray large amounts of different herbicides. Plants genetically altered reduce quantity of herbicides needed. For instance a genetically modified strain of soybeans created by Monstanto requires only one application of weed killer instead of multiple applications, reducing production costs.

Genetically altered foods can also be manipulated to carry vitamins, minerals, and proteins that they otherwise would not have, increasing their healthiness. For example, many plants can be altered so that they have fewer calories and more fiber or starch. Many also have lower levels of pesticides, herbicides, and toxins than traditional plants because farmers don't need to spray them with chemicals and insects aren't able to release toxin into them. GM crops can help people in third-world countries by increasing nutritional value. "Golden rice" is one of the best examples of this. This GM rice stimulates the body to make Vitamin A and its goal is to prevent 2 million children from dying and another 500,000 from going blind because of lack of vitamin.

The world population has topped 6 billion people and is predicted to double in the next 50 years. Each year, global population grows by more than 70 million, and agriculture is required to produce more food with limited land and water resources. Scientists believe biotechnology holds great potential to help farmers produce more food - and healthier food - with fewer resources.

Over the next decade, biotechnology promises to deliver products that address land and resource limitations, such as improved drought tolerance, saline tolerance and increased yields.

GM foods promise to meets

"It's reduced the use of pesticides. It produces greater productivity. And, if it reduces the amount of farmland you have to use, it can actually be very beneficial to biodiversity ... very beneficial to the environment," says Taverne, a former member of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace (http://www.monsanto.com/biotech-gmo/asp/experts.asp?id=LordTaverne ) By introducing methods to increase crop productivity for farmers-improving resistance to disease, pests, and herbicides, as well as increasing nutrients, yield, and stress tolerance of crops-the most important benefit of GM foods is the increased food security for growing populations around the world

In fact, genetically modified (GM) crops are considered to be among the most studied and reviewed foods in the world.

The genetically engineered foods that are currently on the market are safe

Using well established, internationally accepted standards of risk assessment, regulatory authorities worldwide have reviewed all genetically modified crops now on the market and determined that they pose no more risk than crops produced through traditional breeding methods.( http://www.monsanto.com/biotech-gmo/asp/experts.asp?id=LordTaverne )

Food and feed products containing ingredients derived from genetically modified crops have a solid 12-year history of safe use with no reliable documentation of any food safety issues.  Twenty-five Nobel Prize winners and 3,400 prominent scientists have expressed their support for genetically modified crops as a "powerful and safe" way to improve agriculture and the environment.

"It's reduced the use of pesticides. It produces greater productivity. And, if it reduces the amount of farmland you have to use, it can actually be very beneficial to biodiversity ... very beneficial to the environment," says Taverne, a former member of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace (http://www.monsanto.com/biotech-gmo/asp/experts.asp?id=LordTaverne )

Genetically modified food is good food, We digest genes we eat, The longest-lived insect reigns (http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/fdbioeng.html)

On my table everyday, there are genetically modified rice, vegetables, and so on. Who knows if it is good or not for us? -- King, Dong Guan, China

Thinning rice seedlings in Cambodia. Photo courtesy of Oliver Spalt and Wikipedia.Thinning rice seedlings in Cambodia. Photo courtesy of Oliver Spalt and Wikipedia.

"Scientists have found no evidence that GM [genetically modified] food affects human health," says the BBC on Sep. 17, 2002.

The FDA reports: it's OK. As OK as eating the same food that hasn't been genetically modified.

When you think about it, we've been modifying food genes for a hundred years since Mendel discovered genes in peas. Gardeners and farmers have crossbred plants to produce a prettier flower or hardier corn plants. The only difference is the tools we use now. Instead of slapping together all the genes of two plants and hoping for the best, we pick the exact gene we want: to give us a desired effect, such as, resistance to poisons spread on weeds. We insert that specific gene into the target plant's DNA. The gene then does what all genes do: make a protein. The new protein results in a new plant, one, for example, more resistant to herbicides. Last year, half of the soybeans that US farmers planted carried this gene.

Back to the question: Do the new genes, or the proteins they make, have any effect on people eating them? "No, it doesn't appear so," said FDA Commissioner Jane E. Henney. The proteins of GM food are "non-toxic, rapidly digestible, and do not have the characteristics of proteins known to cause allergies."

Rice, vegetables, and such food --GM or non-GM--are good for you.

Further Surfing:

US Food and Drug Administration: Are bioengineered foods safe?

What happens to genes we eat?  Franklin N., Huntsville, TX [US Department of Energy] A gene is a segment of DNA

We fear what we don't know.

Consider what we do know:

A gene is a particular segment of the DNA molecular chain. It contains the code that tells other parts of the cell what proteins to assemble.

There is only one genetic code (except for one minor variation) and all cells in all living things know it.

Genes do not care what cells they inhabit; cells do not care what genes they contain. All genes in all cells work exactly the same.

Could, then, a gene I digest end up changing my genes?

Nope, says Mike Cherry of Stanford Genome. You can eat any DNA you want and you will absorb into the bloodstream only digested matter: sugar, phosphates, and combinations of sugar and phosphates (nucleotides), says Cherry. No genes.

What insect has the longest life span?

The wooly bear caterpillar. Photo courtesy of IronChris and Wikipedia.The wooly bear caterpillar. Photo courtesy of IronChris and Wikipedia.

The rust-colored wooly bear caterpillar of Ellesmere Island (almost on the North Pole) lives for 14 years. A clear winner? She freezes solid the 11 winter months of the year, thaws to eat for a month, and survives cold down to -95° F (-71° C). Impressive, certainly, but not the winner.

Queen ants live the longest, up to 28 years in captivity. They live as long as their colonies do.

Further Surfing:

Carleton University: Natural freezing survival in animals

University of Florida: Book of insect records, chapter 34

(Answered Oct. 18, 2002; updated Nov. 20, 2007)

Genetically modified foods have come to your local supermarket. Many American believe they're dangerous. A CBS poll found that 53 percent of Americans wouldn't buy food they knew had been genetically modified. In fact there is not there is no scientific evidence proving that it may be harmful. Genetically engineered foods appear to be healthy and safe, and they are regulated closely. The genetically engineered foods that are currently on the market are safe. By increasing yields and reducing the use of pesticides, they benefit farmers and the environment.

Humans have been doing this to their foods naturally for many years. The old-fashioned way to genetically modify food crops is to cross-breed plants that show the characteristics the farmer wants to improve. Over several seasons, the preferred traits will become more evident. Unfortunately, this type of modification is a slow and somewhat limited process.

Genetically engineering food crops goes a few steps beyond the old-fashioned process of cross-breeding. Plants can be genetically modified so that they are more resistant to pests or altered in such a way that the crop plants are resistant to weed-killers. This allows stronger weed-killers to be applied to the fields to maintain the land without killing the crops.

Genetically engineering plants isn't limited to making them easier to grow. Plants could be modified to improve their nutrition content or improve their safety.

For example, some plants that normally contain large amounts of calcium could be genetically modified to reduce the amount of oxalates they also produce. Oxalates normally bind some of the calcium and make it unavailable for absorption in the body. This modification to reduce the oxalate would allow more calcium to be absorbed.

Another possibility is to genetically modify peanuts so that their proteins are less allergenic; this change could potentially save lives of the people who suffer from this dangerous allergy.

The idea of genetically engineered foods makes some people nervous. A quick search on the Internet will bring sites from various groups who are concerned about the safety of growing and eating genetically modified foods.

Some areas of concern are:

The potential for unknowingly creating allergens.

Possibly spreading pesticide-resistance to wild plants.

Possible toxicity to animals.

The idea that these foods are un-natural.

Should genetically engineered foods be labeled?

government require companies to test genetically engineered foods for new allergens.

Should we be nervous about eating food that contains genes from another organism?

GJ: No. In most cases, we aren't eating those genes. For instance, by the time a genetically engineered corn plant has been processed into corn oil or high fructose corn syrup, virtually none of the genes-or the proteins they produce-are left in the food.

    But even if a food-like the cornmeal used to make many cereals-does contain new genes or proteins, that's not necessarily a problem. We eat foods with new genes and proteins all the time. The tomatoes, potatoes, and wheat we buy in the supermarket have been genetically altered by breeding them with wild relatives.

    That kind of traditional cross-breeding, which we've been doing for decades, often produces foods that contain genes and proteins that people have never been exposed to before. And, like it or not, we're constantly eating the genes and proteins of harmless bacteria that inadvertently end up on our food.

But a gene from an animal would never end up in a corn plant naturally, because the two organisms are too different to breed.

GJ: That's why we need to make sure that genetically engineered foods are safe before they reach the market. It's not inherently risky to mix genes from different organisms, but to play it safe, we should carefully test genetically engineered foods to ensure that they are safe.

Could genetically engineered foods be toxic?

DGS: Some could. When a gene is transferred from one organism to another, there's no way to know which chromosome the gene will end up on, where it will settle on that chromosome, or how it might alter-or be altered by-the genes around it. We need to guard against unexpected toxins in genetically engineered plants because we know it's happened with traditionally bred plants. Again, that's why these crops should be tested before we eat them.

Q: What does it mean to "genetically engineer" something?

DGS: It means to remove genes from one organism-a plant, animal, or microbe-and transfer them to another. Most genes are simply codes, or blueprints, that tell a cell to make a protein.

    So far, most genetically engineered food ingredients are made from plants. They're found in products like corn flakes made using genetically engineered corn, or salad dressing made with oil from genetically engineered soybeans. Gene-altered fish are in the works, while meat and poultry are years off.

Q: Why transfer genes from one plant or animal to another?

DGS: To give it some desirable trait. For example, a gene from a bacterium can enable corn and cotton plants to produce their own pesticide, one that's harmless to humans and to most insects that don't damage the crop. That allows farmers to use less-or less harmful-pesticides to get greater yields.

Q: How widespread are genetically engineered crops in the U.S.?

GJ: In 2001, over half of the cotton and soybean crops were genetically engineered. So was a quarter of our corn. Most of our corn and soybean crops are fed to animals, so the meat and poultry we eat is likely to come from animals raised on genetically engineered feed.

Q: Should we be nervous about eating food that contains genes from another organism?

GJ: No. In most cases, we aren't eating those genes. For instance, by the time a genetically engineered corn plant has been processed into corn oil or high fructose corn syrup, virtually none of the genes-or the proteins they produce-are left in the food.

    But even if a food-like the cornmeal used to make many cereals-does contain new genes or proteins, that's not necessarily a problem. We eat foods with new genes and proteins all the time. The tomatoes, potatoes, and wheat we buy in the supermarket have been genetically altered by breeding them with wild relatives.

    That kind of traditional cross-breeding, which we've been doing for decades, often produces foods that contain genes and proteins that people have never been exposed to before. And, like it or not, we're constantly eating the genes and proteins of harmless bacteria that inadvertently end up on our food.

Q: But a gene from an animal would never end up in a corn plant naturally, because the two organisms are too different to breed.

GJ: That's why we need to make sure that genetically engineered foods are safe before they reach the market. It's not inherently risky to mix genes from different organisms, but to play it safe, we should carefully test genetically engineered foods to ensure that they are safe.

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Q: What should genetically engineered foods be tested for?

DGS: Whenever you put a new gene into a food, either through traditional breeding or genetic engineering, there are at least two major concerns. One is whether the new genes or proteins might produce toxins-that is, anything that can cause harm in the short or long term. The other concern is whether the new gene might produce a protein that triggers an allergic reaction in a person who eats the food.

Q: Have new allergens ended up in a genetically engineered crop?

GJ: Yes. It happened when scientists unwittingly transferred an allergen from brazil nuts to soybean plants. But a routine test detected the allergen, and the soy was never marketed. That just underscores why it's so important that the government require companies to test genetically engineered foods for new allergens.

Q: How good is that testing?

DGS: It could be better. Unless we're dealing with known allergens, like the one in the brazil nut, there's no way to be absolutely sure if a protein will or won't trigger an allergic reaction until a lot of people eat it. What the Food and Drug Administration or Environmental Protection Agency should do is require companies to test every newly introduced protein to see if it resembles known food allergens.

    That's what happened with the infamous StarLink corn, which contains a gene taken from a bacterium. The gene produces a protein called Cry9C, which kills a major pest called the corn borer. So it looked promising to farmers. But because Cry9C passes through the digestive tract intact, it also looked like a potential allergen to the EPA, which approved its use only in animal feed. StarLink corn was never meant to be eaten by humans.

Q: So how did it get into taco shells and other foods?

GJ: Aventis, the company that created StarLink corn, didn't make sure that farmers and grain processors abided by government rules to keep StarLink separate from other strains of corn. As a result, tiny amounts of StarLink ended up in dozens of foods, and at least 44 people reported suffering possible allergic reactions after eating them.

Q: So a genetically engineered food has given us a new allergen?

DGS: We're not sure. When government scientists tested the blood of some of the people who reported allergic reactions, they couldn't detect any trace of a reaction to Cry9C. But those tests aren't 100 percent reliable, so we don't know if the people reacted to Cry9C or not. In any case, the EPA has since decided that from now on it will only approve genetically engineered crops for animals that are also safe for people to eat. As for StarLink, it's no longer being grown, so it's rapidly disappearing from the food supply.

Q: Could genetically engineered foods be toxic?

DGS: Some could. When a gene is transferred from one organism to another, there's no way to know which chromosome the gene will end up on, where it will settle on that chromosome, or how it might alter-or be altered by-the genes around it. We need to guard against unexpected toxins in genetically engineered plants because we know it's happened with traditionally bred plants. Again, that's why these crops should be tested before we eat them.

Q: Are genetically engineered foods less nutritious than conventional foods?

DGS: No. They typically have the same amounts of vitamins, minerals, protein, and other major nutrients as conventional foods. Companies don't usually test for phytochemicals like lutein or lycopene because they're not yet considered nutrients. But the FDA should consider changes in key phytochemicals when it decides whether to approve new foods.

Q: If a corn plant were engineered with a gene from a cow, could a vegetarian eat it in good conscience? Or could a steak from a cow that was given a gene from a pig be eaten by an observant Jew or Muslim?

GJ: Any genetic scientist would tell you that a corn plant with a gene from a cow hasn't been tainted by meat, and a cow with a gene from a pig hasn't been tainted by the pig. But when you're talking about religious or ethical beliefs, the science doesn't always rule. So I'd say that those are decisions that every person has to make for him or herself.

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Q: Will U.S. consumers ever benefit directly from genetically engineered foods?

DGS: They're already benefitting, at least indirectly, from the reduced use of pesticides. And as the techniques become more sophisticated, scientists may be able to introduce more complex changes that benefit consumers more directly.

    For instance, companies are working on developing fruit that can be picked ripe without becoming mushy, coffee that's naturally caffeine-free, and soybeans that don't trigger allergic reactions and that contain more healthful omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

    Foods like those won't show up in stores for many years. On the other hand, scientists may be close to creating genetically engineered foods that could make a difference in the lives of people in developing countries.

Q: Foods like golden rice?

GJ: Yes. An estimated half-million children in the world go blind every year because their diets don't contain enough vitamin A. Millions more die from infectious diseases that their immune systems might have been able to fight off with enough vitamin A. By inserting two genes from a daffodil and one from a bacterium into rice plants, scientists have created a rice with beta-carotene, which the body turns into vitamin A.

    Golden rice isn't a miracle food. It still needs to be grown and tested, which could take years, and people used to white rice might not accept its yellow color. And certainly, one food can't repair the damage caused by malnutrition and poverty. But it could be part of the solution.

Q: Are any genetically engineered crops close to helping developing countries?

DGS: Yes. Trials are under way in Kenya for virus-resistant sweet potatoes that may greatly increase yields. Sweet potatoes are a staple of the Kenyan diet.

    In China, more than a million acres are planted in insect-resistant cotton. And scientists are testing insect-resistant potatoes in Egypt. The potatoes may require less chemical pesticides in the field and in storage. That's critical in countries that can't afford pesticides or the equipment to protect field workers from pesticides.

Q: What about other types of genetically engineered crops?

DGS: Scientists are working on crops that resist droughts and that can grow in salty, marginal soil. The result could be higher yields, greater productivity, and less destruction of virgin forest.

    Eventually, we may even see fruits and vegetables that contain more nutrients or possibly even vaccines. The potential is enormous, but we'll never realize it unless we make sure that farmers in developing countries have access to cheap-or free-genetically engineered seeds, that the crops don't harm the local environment, and that the foods are safe.

Are genetically engineered crops good or bad for the environment?

GJ: So far, they're a plus. Last year, for example, thanks to genetically engineered cotton that produces its own insecticide, farmers reduced their use of highly toxic insecticides by several million pounds. That's impressive, because the cotton crop has accounted for four out of every ten pounds of insecticides used in the U.S. each year.

    And farmers who grow the most popular genetically engineered food crop, Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans, spray their crops less often. So even if that doesn't reduce the amount of pesticides they apply, as some biotech critics have noted, they're using a safer one. Roundup is much less toxic than many other herbicides. Farmers can also till the soil less often, which means less water pollution and soil erosion.

What other genes are being genetically engineered into crops?

GJ: One of the most popular is Bt, which is extracted from a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis. Organic farmers have been spraying Bt bacteria on their crops for years, because it produces a protein that poisons certain insect pests but is harmless to animals, people, and most other insects.

    Scientists have transferred the gene that makes the insect-killing protein from Bt bacteria to corn, cotton, and potatoes. So those engineered plants can make their own environment-friendly pesticide, and farmers don't need to use as much chemical pesticides, which are far more indiscriminate killers.

In Florida, where much of the country's sweet corn is grown, the crop is often sprayed with insecticides 10 or 12 times every season. Why? Because farmers know that shoppers won't buy corn on the cob if it's been chewed by insects. They could probably cut their spraying down to twice a season if they planted Bt corn. That's one of the lost benefits of biotechnology.

    In addition, genetically engineered crops-like potatoes and sugar beets-could be grown with far less pesticides, soil erosion, and loss of innocent wildlife. But they're not.( http://www.cspinet.org/nah/11_01/ Genetically engineered food Nutrition Action

Could genetically engineered crops harm the environment?

DGS: Yes. That's why the Environmental Protection Agency has to develop tests to ensure that they are safe. For example, in theory, the new genes in biotech crops could spread to other plants and create "superweeds."

    Here's the scenario. If pollen from an herbicide-resistant plant gets carried by the wind, it could pollinate a weed that's a relative of the plant. That could make the offspring weeds resistant to the herbicide. Or genes that make a plant resistant to insects or viruses could cross-breed into the wild relative, increasing its ability to survive.

Q: So we end up with more aggressive weeds?

DGS: Yes, though so far that's only a risk for squash and possibly canola, which are the only genetically engineered crops with wild relatives in the U.S. It could be a bigger problem if farmers started planting genetically engineered wheat, sunflower, sorghum, or other crops that have wild relatives. But scientists don't yet know whether those plants would become more aggressive weeds. To find out, we need more and better research.

Q: Can genetically engineered crops also become weeds?

GJ: Yes. Let's say some seeds from an herbicide-resistant crop remain in the soil after the harvest. If a farmer rotates crops, those seeds could grow into plants that are immune to the herbicides that the farmer uses on the new crop.

    That seems to be happening with some genetically engineered herbicide-resistant canola plants in Canada, although it isn't clear if it's a serious problem.

Q: Do genetically engineered plants kill Monarch butterflies?

DGS: Probably not. In 1999, a laboratory experiment showed that a heavy dose of pollen from Bt corn could kill caterpillars that develop into Monarch butterflies.

    Since then, however, studies in fields in Iowa, Nebraska, Maryland, and Ontario have found that the plants don't produce pollen that's toxic enough to kill the caterpillars. And don't forget: conventional insecticides kill all kinds of insects, not just Monarchs.

Q: Can Bt or similar crops harm other good insects?

DGS: In theory, yes. Insects like ladybugs, which help protect crops by eating insect pests, could be harmed by eating genetically engineered plants or pollen or by eating insects that have fed on genetically engineered crops. In the laboratory, scientists have managed to harm a few beneficial insects-but not birds or other animals-by feeding them high doses of Bt or insect pests that had eaten Bt.

    But we won't know if it's a problem in the real world until the EPA requires companies to conduct more field tests. Only then can we be confident that the crops are safe.

Q: Could insects become resistant to the Bt pesticide that's made by genetically engineered corn and other crops?

GJ: Eventually, insects can become resistant to almost any pesticide, genetically engineered or not. In the Philippines, for example, the Diamond- back moth became resistant to Bt due to conventional spraying, not to genetically engineered plants.

    To prevent insects from becoming resistant, the EPA requires that farmers who grow genetically engineered Bt crops also plant conventional crops nearby as "refuges" where insects aren't exposed to Bt. In theory, that should allow non-resistant insects to flourish, though no one knows how long the refuge strategy will work.

Q: So if we're not careful, the use of Bt to replace more-toxic pesticides will be lost?

GJ: That's right. Bt illustrates that the way we use biotechnology will determine how helpful it will ultimately be. Seed companies and many farmers want smaller refuges, because that means more genetically engineered seed sold and more crops grown. That may be good for profits in the short term. But if it meant that a relatively benign pesticide like Bt became worthless and farmers had to resort to far more damaging chemical pesticides, it could be disastrous in the long term.

Q: Does the same balancing act apply to other genetically engineered crops?

DGS: Yes. For example, aluminum-tolerant crops could allow farmers in developing nations to plant on marginal lands. But if farmers plant those crops in the aluminum-rich soil of tropical forests, we'll lose rain forest. And salt-tolerant tomatoes or a drought-tolerant crop could save precious water, but if they're grown in semi-arid land that is currently not farmed, it could lead to further loss of natural habitats.

Organic is often best, and the government needs to help farmers move from conventional agriculture to organic. But that's no reason to reject biotechnology, which can also protect the environment. Organic and biotech are improvements over conventional agriculture. We need research and support for both.

FDA Consumer: Do the new genes, or the proteins they make, have any effect on the people eating them?

Dr. Henney: No, it doesn't appear so. All of the proteins that have been placed into foods through the tools of biotechnology that are on the market are nontoxic, rapidly digestible, and do not have the characteristics of proteins known to cause allergies.

As for the genes, the chemical that encodes genetic information is called DNA. DNA is present in all foods and its ingestion is not associated with human illness. Some have noted that sticking a new piece of DNA into the plant's chromosome can disrupt the function of other genes, crippling the plant's growth or altering the level of nutrients or toxins. These kinds of effects can happen with any type of plant breeding--traditional or biotech. That's why breeders do extensive field-testing. If the plant looks normal and grows normally, if the food tastes right and has the expected levels of nutrients and toxins, and if the new protein put into food has been shown to be safe, then there are no safety issues. ( http://www.enotalone.com/article/8669.html )

Dr. Henney: Antibiotic resistance is a serious public health issue, but that problem is currently and primarily caused by the overuse or misuse of antibiotics. We have carefully considered whether the use of antibiotic resistance marker genes in crops could pose a public health concern and have found no evidence that it does.

I'm confident of this for several reasons. First, there is little if any transfer of genes from plants to bacteria. Bacteria pick up resistance genes from other bacteria, and they do it easily and often. The potential risk of transfer from plants to bacteria is substantially less than the risk of normal transfer between bacteria. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, FDA has advised food developers to avoid using marker genes that encode resistance to clinically important antibiotics.

Dr. Henney: Bioengineered foods actually are regulated by three federal agencies: FDA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

We are not aware of any information that foods developed through genetic engineering differ as a class in quality, safety, or any other attribute from foods developed through conventional means.

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