In 1991, the company DNA Plant Technologies genetically engineered a tomato containing a gene from a fish, the arctic flounder. The goal was to create a tomato more resistant to frost and cold storage. Experiments revealed the new gene did not help the tomato, and it never made it to supermarkets. Although it was a failure, these "Tomato Fish" or "Fish Tomatoes" created something of a scare among activists and the public. How can a fish and a tomato be combined, and how can that be healthy/safe? Some consumers may have had an image like this in their brains:
Fish tomatoes never happened, but many foods in the United States today are genetically modified (GM). Bt corn, for example, is a large GM crop in the U.S. A gene from a bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis, was inserted in the laboratory 14 years ago to combat a corn eating worm. The corn became very popular and now makes up approximately 63% of the U.S. corn crop produced. All this from a NPR report. Soybeans, alfalfa, and cotton are also large GM crops in the United States.
So, considering corn and soy are key ingredients in corn syrup and vegetable oil, you probably ingested some GM foods today! These foods have been deemed safe to human health as well as the environment by the USDA. In fact, just yesterday the USDA lifted all restrictions on the growing of a specific GM alfalfa plant, and more decisions will soon come down for sugar beets and corn.
Now, what is important to understand is this: Not all GM crops are created equal. Different genetic modifications will yield different results when combining different species' genes, and public concerned is certainly warranted. Just because these specific alfalfa and corn strains have been deemed safe, it does not mean that crossing a tomato and fish gene, for example, will be safe. Each new breed of GM crop needs to be tested to the fullest extent. This does not only include concern for human health, but also the health of any organisms that will naturally be in contact with the crop in the wild.
My next post will be on the advantages and disadvantages of GM crops!