The United States leads other countries in growing genetically modified foods. In 2006, 53 percent of the crops grown in the United States were genetically modified, according to the Human Genome Project. Soybeans, corn and canola are the most common genetically modified crops. With 93 percent of soybeans and 70 percent of corn grown in the United States genetically modified, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture, you're probably eating genetically modified foods regularly.
What is Genetically Modified Foods?
Genetically modified foods receive foreign genes from either a plant or an animal. These genes are introduced to confer insect and herbicide resistance, increase nutritional values, alter taste and texture, improve yields and stress tolerance, reduce maturation time and increase shelf life. Most genetically modified foods in the United States contain genes that increase resistance to herbicides, insects or both, according to the USDA.
Some genetically modified foods are designed to improve nutrition, quality and taste. For example, potatoes are modified to even out distribution of starches, enhance texture and reduce fat absorption. Genetically modified golden rice has more beta-carotene and iron that consumers in malnourished populations need. Still another type of genetically modified rice has less glutelin, a protein that compromises sake brewing.
Nutrition and Safety Concerns
Despite added nutrition values, there are concerns about genetically modified foods. The alteration of certain nutrients can lead to unexpected changes in a food's other nutrients, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. For example, the golden rice with more beta-carotene has too much of a pigment called xanthophylls, and the rice with less glutelin has more of the protein prolamin, which can be an allergen.
Some farmers have expressed concerns about the crossover of genetically modified plants to their crops. The winds can blow pollen from genetically modified plants into organic crops, compromising their status as unmodified.
Don't Want Genetically Modified Foods?
Although survey results show that most Americans favor the labeling of genetically modified foods, these foods are not currently labeled. If you are concerned with the safety and environmental effects of genetically modified foods, try to buy foods that are 100 percent organic. Despite some farmers' worries about crossover pollination, chances are good that you will be eating unmodified vegetables.
- The National Geographic Magazine; Food: How Altered?; May 2002
- Human Genome Project Information; Genetically Modified Foods and Organisms; November 2008
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; Nutrition-Related Issues
- World Health Organization; 20 Questions on Genetically Modified Foods
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and World Health Organization; Safety aspects of genetically modified foods of plant origin; June 2000
- United States Department of Agriculture; Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S.