Whatever Happened to Genetically Modified Food?
Have you ever wondered what happened to genetically modified (GM) food? Does any of our food actually come from GM organisms, and does GM food have a future on the supermarket shelves?
The success of anti-GM campaigns
Growing genetically modified crops which are hardier, pest-resistant or produce fruit with a longer shelf life was once thought to be the future of farming. However, the British public did not embrace the idea of eating GM food, and now it is hard to find GM food on the shelves, and no GM crops are grown commercially in the UK.
The first GM product seen in the UK was tomato puree, produced from GM tomatoes, which was introduced by Sainsbury's and Safeway in 1996. The puree was clearly labelled as coming from GM tomatoes, and this fact was well-publicised by the supermarkets. The puree was extremely popular, being slightly cheaper and having a better texture than its non-GM equivalent.
So why has GM tomato puree now vanished from the supermarkets? The British public turned against GM food in a big way, and this was probably triggered by a story in 1999 about rats suffering ill effects after eating GM potatoes. Although the study was extremely controversial and described as 'flawed' and 'misleading', it was scary enough to give anti-GM campaigners the upper hand.
You may find genetically modified products in processed food
The first GM crops to be grown on a large scale were herbicide-resistant soya and pest-resistant maize. Growth of these crops is widespread in many countries including the USA.
Most processed foods contain products derived from soya or maize, and these foods were immediately labelled GM if there was a chance they contained anything derived from GM crops. However, this meant that customers rarely had the option to buy non-GM, and British food producers very quickly started to source from certified non-GM crops.
The European Union has not approved the sale of any fresh GM produce - the only GM foods you are likely to see in Europe are imported, processed foods. GM food is much more widespread in the USA and does not have to be labelled as GM. The justification there is that GM products used in food have been determined to be safe, and not substantially different from non-GM versions, therefore the mode of production is irrelevant.
Labelling of GM food in the EU
In the EU, food must be clearly labelled if it 'intentionally' contains products from GM crops at any level. Food which 'accidentally' or 'unavoidably' contains GM-derived products at less than 1% does not need to be labelled. A lot of animal feed contains GM soya or maize-derived products, but animal products (meat, eggs etc) from animals fed on GM food do not need to labelled.
Food produced using 'GM technologies' does not need to labelled either. A good example of this is the enzyme chymosin. Chymosin is the active ingredient of rennet, normally extracted from the stomach lining of calves, and used in the production of many cheeses. Most cheeses are now made using chymosin isolated from genetically modified microorganisms, as this is cheaper and vegetarian-friendly.
GM crops in the UK
Growing GM crops has not been banned in the UK, but is unlikely to occur for commercial purposes before 2009, if at all. GM crop trials are being tentatively re-introduced in the UK. In December 2006, permission was granted for a trial of blight-resistant potatoes.
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"In the US the tobacco companies now own the companies that produces most of our processed foods. Wonder what the goverment allowing them to put in it? We will never be able to take control back of our food supply. The big business this has created is The American Cancer Society. Sad when you think aboutit!"
"do we really know the side affects of gm foods look how long it took to discover the side affects of the pill it doesnt just stop at the us what does it do to the enviroment, to insects, birds how do you stop the gm pollen being carried to organic foods on the wind or other crops should we be playing with mother nature things are the way they were made for a reason is it right that we play god"