Genetically Modified Crops
Genetically modified food and agricultural biotechnology have generated a lot of interest and controversy in the United States worldwide. Some like the technology's benefits while others raise questions about environmental and food safety issues. Crop varieties developed by genetic engineering were first introduced for commercial production in 1996. Today, these crops are planted on more than 167 million acres worldwide. U.S. farmers are by far the largest producers of genetically modified (GM) crops (6)(8).
Genetically Modified Crops are foods that have had a gene extracted from a living thing, which has been placed into a different food by a scientist. This technology can be used to produce new varieties of plants or animals more quickly than conventional breeding methods. Also to introduce traits not possible through traditional techniques. There are two main types of GM crops that are in commercial use around the world. These are either crops that have been developed to be resistant to certain crop pests, or crops that have been developed to be resistant to a particular herbicide (weed killer)(5).
Genetically Modified Crops are made for many different purposes, the main purpose being to create a food able to survive being sprayed with harmful chemicals like pesticides and herbicides. Other purposes are to make food stay fresher for longer, to kill pests, to produce more of the crop and to experiment with taste and quality. The most common foods are maize, cotton, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, canola, soybean and sugar beet(6).
Gene Technology is one of the types of modern Biotechnology. It is the use of living things to make or change products, such as the foods we eat (Melcer2). The first genetically modified crops to be sold in the USA were tomatoes, which were modified so they wouldn't go soft so quickly, then soy beans and oilseed rape, which gives margarine and oils. They were modified to survive certain herbicides and weed-killers, then maize and cotton were modified to carry a poison that kills pests and protects crops against damage. Potatoes were also some of the earliest vegetables to be modified (7).
Genetic modification is an issue which arises every day, although people are not always aware of it. At the moment there is a lot of debate whether GM foods are good or bad. GM Crops are affecting society in many of the foods that we buy (5).
Some of the disadvantages of Genetic modification are that most food manufacturers are unable or unwilling to provide information on whether or not their products contain GM ingredients. GM crops can contaminate other crops simply by pollen being blown by wind from one field to another. Sometimes GM crops have allergenic effects and a loss of nutritional value. Also new viruses could evolve from the mass production of GM crops (6).
The United States accounts for nearly two-thirds of all biotechnology crops planted globally. GM food crops grown by U.S. farmers include corn, cotton, soybeans, canola, squash, and papaya. Other major producers of GM crops are Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, and South Africa. Soybeans, canola, soybeans, and cotton are the primary crops being modified in these countries (7).
Worldwide, about 672 million acres of land are under cultivation, of which 25 percent or 167.2 million acres consisted of GM crops in 2003. Since 1996, the United States has consistently planted more GM crops than any other country, with 105.7 million acres supporting GM crops in 2003. Argentina is the next largest producer, with 34.4 million acres, followed by Canada with 10.9 million acres, Brazil with 8.4 million acres, China with 6.9 million acres, and South Africa with 1.0 million acres in 2003. Together, these six countries grew 99 percent of the global GM crop area last year. Australia, Mexico, Romania, Bulgaria, Spain, Germany, Uruguay, Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Columbia,