Debate continues over genetically modified foods, with proponents claiming that crops derived from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, offer benefits to farmers and consumers alike, while consumer watchdogs express safety concerns. Genetic modification gives foods qualities that help increase yield. The current most common GM crops primarily benefit farmers and agricultural companies, not the consumer. However, GM foods are coming through the pipeline that are geared toward consumer benefits.
What They Are
As the name suggests, GM foods are genetically modified, which means the DNA structure has been altered in some way. Biotechnology accomplishes this by removing genetic material from one organism and transferring it to the genome of another. It can be done in both plants and animals and enables biotech companies to patent the resultant food. The top three genetically modified crops in the United States are corn, soy and cotton, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Most GM foods are modified to benefit production such as increasing resistance to herbicides and pests. However, forthcoming GM foods are being tested to offer benefits to the consumer, such as enhanced product quality. For example, biotech companies have received approval to test GM fruits and vegetables that have improved flavor and texture, as well as delayed ripening. This means produce will stay fresh for longer periods of time.
GM foods are being developed to have enhanced nutritional content to benefit your health. In development are foods that have genes modified to produce a higher protein content. Other development focuses on enhancing the fatty acid profile so that crops produce higher levels of polyunsaturated fats, which play a role in protecting against heart disease. Biotech companies are also developing crops that have higher vitamins and minerals, as well as enhanced antioxidant content, which may help prevent chronic diseases.
Another area of benefit biotech companies are working on is decreasing potentially harmful chemicals and addressing allergens. For example, biotech companies have received approval to develop gluten-free wheat. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley that some people are unable to eat due to an autoimmune reaction. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug administration cleared the way for GM potatoes to hit the market that have been modified to produce lower levels of a cancer-causing chemical called acrylamide.