The science of genetically modifying food first came about in the 1980s. Since then, the process of taking a common crop and changing its DNA to better suit the needs of its producers or those who process it has exploded. Almost any product you see in the supermarket contains some ingredient that is genetically modified (GM). The utility of the technology is vast,
but there are those who caution against such swift replacement of natural foods for GM ones. Their possible detriments to the human condition are, for the most part, untested (at least long term) and thus many people do not feel comfortable eating them. The debate has raged for years, but only recently has it begun to receive much attention from consumers and food manufacturers alike. Now more than ever people are asking themselves, “should we be developing the technology for GM foods?” I hope to shed some light on this multifaceted and increasingly contested topic.
Ever since mankind first began domesticating crops we have been looking for ways to make the process better. Farmers learned quickly that crossbreeding plants with desirable traits usually led to offspring with those traits, a science now known as heredity. It wasn't just limited to plants of course, the practice of breeding animals for desired traits is perhaps better known, but the fundamentals are the same. They also share similar drawbacks. The process can take several generations and the results are never certain, but for most of human history this was the only method of improving crops. However, with the discovery of genes in the early 1900s, a new possibility emerged, though not until the latter half of the century. According to a report published by the Science Subcommittee on Basic Research in the U.S. House of Representatives, the first foray into genetic modification for agriculture came from Cologne, Germany in the 1980s. Scientists there modified a bacterium that normally causes plant disease to instead produce an antibiotic, thus imbuing its host with a resistance to other disease causing bacteria. This was the beginning of a new age of agriculture.
Now, almost any hindrance to cultivation or sale of a plant can be circumvented in a lab. Take, for example, the tomato. The average tomato will stay edible for about 15 days in a supermarket, until recently that is. According to Fiona MacRae from The Advertiser, Indian scientists have debuted a new tomato that will “stay fresh for 45 days – three times longer than a conventional [tomato]” (MacRae). If this tomato were to become widely used, it would allow everyone to save money. Grocery stores would be less likely to lose money on unsold product and consumers would be able to keep their tomatoes longer without having to worry about them spoiling. There are also far more philanthropic possibilities for GM foods. In an article on the popular technology website Red Herring, Missy Globerman presents the work of Charles Arntzen. Arntzen...