Genetic Modification (GM)

GM, or genetically modified food, involves altering a plant, animal or micro-organism's genes or inserting one from another organism - that is, a living thing. Genes carry the instructions for all the characteristics that an organism inherits. Sometimes the term 'biotechnology' is used to describe genetic modification. Genetically modified food has been hailed as the solution to world famine but is a controversial issue. There is a huge amount of information about this issue, but we have summarised some of the key issues below:

GM spaghetti letters

A key problem is that genetic engineering is imprecise and unpredictable; however, most testing is carried out by the very biotech companies that have the most to gain from results that say GM food is safe.

It is argued that the problem with GM is that crops are not designed to improve people's access to affordable food, but to ensure that the world's agriculture can be controlled by just a few high-tech companies. Colin Tudge, (visiting Research Fellow at the London School of Economics and three-times Glaxo/ABSW Science Writer of the Year) reports that today's GM crops and those in the pipeline are not intended primarily to raise total output or quality, but to make it easier to mass-produce crops with minimum labour.

Growing GM crops also threatens wildlife and the production of GM free foods. Some GM crops can even allow more pesticides to be used. Most fruit and vegetables for sale in our shops and supermarkets are grown using pesticides - chemicals that kill pests like insects and weeds. Some pesticides may be used just to make sure our fruit and vegetables look cosmetically perfect on supermarket shelves. But their widespread usage is causing health problems.

    Problems Caused By GM Foods

  1. Pesticide residues in food: Some of these can bio-accumulate in our bodies or harm our hormone systems.
  2. Pollution of drinking water: Removing pesticides costs us £120m a year.

The irony is that we don't need GM food. The biotech industry says it will feed the world's poor - but leading third world charities like Christian Aid dismiss their claims. It is possible to introduce flood and drought resistant genes through conventional breeding. GM maize is now commonplace, but is designed mainly to reduce the cost of labour. GM crops are being sold to Africa as a life-saver - but the westernisation of Third World farming that is current strategy would put billions, literally, out of work.

GM could provide real solutions, but until the motivations behind it are much less about profit and much more about providing the resolutions it claims it is designed for.

How do I know if GM is in my food?

In the EU, if a food contains or consists of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or contains ingredients produced from GMOs, this must be indicated on the label. For GM products sold 'loose', information must be displayed immediately next to the food to indicate that it is Genetically Modified.

However, products produced with GM technology (cheese produced with GM enzymes, for example) do not have to be labelled. Products such as meat, milk and eggs from animals fed on GM animal feed also do not need to be labelled. Information on GM labelling

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