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Genetically Modified Foods FAQ

written by: ScientificAge•edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 4/17/2011

GM Foods are controversial. Depending on your view point they can increase crop yield and help to solve world hunger or they are purely designed to boost the profits of big corporations. What do you think? Find out more in our genetically modified foods FAQ.

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    What Are Genetically Modified Foods?

    Genetically modified foods refer to crops and plants that have been transformed by molecular biology methods. Changes are made in these plants in the laboratory to develop selected characteristics such as augmented resistance to herbicides or enhanced nutritional value. Genetic engineering can produce plants with the precise preferred attribute very rapidly, and with immense accuracy. Plant geneticists can separate a gene accountable for drought tolerance, and install that gene into another plant, so that it will have increased tolerance to drought conditions. Genes can not only be transferred from one plant to another, but genes from non-plant organisms also can be used. The best known example of this is the use of B.t. genes in corn and other crops.

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    Question-1: What are advantages of genetically modified foods?

    Answer: The population of the world has increased to six billion, and is envisaged to double in the next 50 years. It will be a major challenge, in the years to come, to ensure an adequate food supply for this ever increasing population. Proponents believe that GM foods will be able to produce an abundant supply of crops even in harsh environments.

    2: How can genetically modified foods assist in elimination of the application of chemical pesticides and reduce the cost of crops?

    Crop losses due to insects can result in dreadful financial loss to farmers and famine in developing countries, hence the use of pesticides. But many people do not want to eat food that has been infected with pesticides because of potential health dangers. Agricultural waste containing pesticides and fertilizers can poison the water and damage the environment. Farmers also spray herbicides to destroy weeds, since it is not cost-effective to remove weeds by physical means such as tilling. GM crops can eliminate the need for pesticides and herbicides by creating plants that can withstand weed and pathogen attacks.

    3: How can genetically modified foods avoid viruses?

    There are many germs, fungi and microorganisms that trigger plant diseases. Plant biologists are trying to create plants with genetically-engineered resistance to these viruses.

    4: How can genetically modified foods bear cold temperatures?

    Unforeseen frost can damage sensitive saplings. Genes have been introduced into plants such as potato and tobacco that enables them to withstand cold temperatures.

    5: Can genetically modified crops grow on harsh landscapes?

    Yes. With the increase in population, additional land is being developed for accommodation instead of agriculture. It will be essential for farmers to cultivate crops in places formerly unsuitable for agriculture. Developing plants that can endure long phases of drought or excessive saline substances in soil and groundwater will assist people to grow crops where previously the plants would have perished.

    6: Can genetically modified foods reduce nutritional insufficiency?

    Undernourishment is widespread in the developing world where poor people are dependent on a single main crop, such as rice, for their diet. However, rice does not include sufficient quantity of all the essential nutrients that an individual needs. Research has concluded that rice and other crops could be genetically altered to contain extra vitamins and minerals, thus reducing nutrient insufficiency.

    7: Can genetically modified foods be used to contain vaccines?

    Medicines and vaccines are expensive, and occasionally need specialist storage space, which is not easily available in the developing world. Edible vaccines are being developed in tomatoes and potatoes, which should be cheaper to produce and widely available.

    8: What are some of the disadvantages of GM foods?

    At the present moment in time it is impossible to know what, if any, are the potential long term effects and risks to human health and the environment. There are also concerns that consuming plants that have been modified with an antibiotic resistance gene may make individuals more resistant to some antibiotics. Another potential disadvantage is that herbicide resistant plants may pollinate with weeds to create superweeds that would require ever more powerful herbicide sprays to kill them. This could increase contamination of groundwater.

    For more on this topic read about the pros and cons of GM Foods.