What is Genetic Modification? To “modify” means to change, so genetic modification is the change of the genetic code (DNA) of an organism. Genetically modified plants are referred to as “GM plants”.
History of GM plants In 1994, the first GM was introduced to the American market without special labels –The product was FlavrSavr, a tomato that was more resistant to rot. This allowed it to ripen on the vine, giving it improved taste. –FlavrSavr was taken off the market in 1997 due to high production costs and low profits. After FlavrSavr, other companies began increasing production of GM crops
How do they do it? Scientists called biotechnologists find a trait in one organism that they would like for a plant to have. They search the DNA of the organism until they find the genes that control the desired trait, then they introduce the genes into the plant’s DNA. This causes the plant to express the traits controlled by the genes it received from the other organism.
How common are GM plants? Many people are surprised to find out that GM plants are very common in the U.S. Main GM crops in the U.S.: –Soybeans: 93% –Cotton: 93% –Corn: 86% The U.S. produces about 68% of the world’s GM crops –Many other countries are more resistant to GM technologies
Why Modify? Genes inserted into plant DNA can make plants resistant to herbicides, pesticides, viruses, and even cold weather. Other types of genes can make plants more nutritious or help them stay ripe longer.
Controversy If GM plants are resistant to pesticides and herbicides, have longer shelf life, and can be more nutritious, why are so many people against them?
Are GM foods bad for your health? GM foods do not require special testing or special labels at this point in time. –Some research shows that GM foods cause damage to the organs of mice and other animals. –Other research shows that GM foods do not cause any damage to animals. –It is tricky to test the effects of GM food on animals, and researchers get different results depending on what methods they use. If we can’t test it properly, then how can we be sure it’s safe?
Effects on the Environment Many plants rely on the wind for pollination, and pollen from a GM crop can be blown onto non-altered crops. –Since you can’t control the wind, it is not yet possible to prevent accidental cross pollination. Organic crops could become accidental GM crops. Some are concerned that the GM plants may even cross with plants in the wild, causing changes in the food chain. –If an animal relies on a certain plant, and then the plant changes, will the animal be able to survive? –Will these altered genes be transferred to animals?
The Farmers Many farms save the seeds from the best plants to start the next year’s crop. The biotech companies require farmers to buy new seed every year so they can continue to make money. –This makes farming more expensive for the farmers who rely on their crops to make a living. –Monsanto, a top GM seed producer, has even taken farmers to court for saving seeds instead of buying new ones. –Terminator Technology causes the seeds produced by some GM plants to be sterile, which insures that farmers cannot save any seed.
Is it okay to tamper with nature? Modification is not a new idea. In nature, new genes are constantly being created and spread through the population. –The main differences between natural selection and genetic modification: Technology is used to pick specific genes instead of new genes spreading by chance We can now insert genes from one organism into a completely different organism
Conflicting Information It is hard to find unbiased information about genetic modification –Biotech companies do not want to release any negative data that would cause their sales to drop –Anti-modification groups are bound and determined to release the most negative data to convince people to be on their side –You have to use good judgment to decide whether modification is “right” or “wrong”