Pros and Cons of Genetically Modified Foods

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Our ancestors first cultivated plants some ten thousand years ago. They domesticated animals later and then selectively bred both plants and animals to meet various requirements for human food. Humans discovered natural biological processes such as fermentation of fruits and grains to make wine and beer, and yeast for baking bread. Manipulation of foods is not a new story, therefore. The latest agricultural discovery uses genetic engineering technology to modify foods.

Farmers and plant breeders have been changing crop plants to improve characteristics such as size, resistance to disease and taste. Plants which grow well, have a higher yield or taste better are selected and bred from. This is still the most widely used technique for
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Transgenic crops are grown commercially or in field trials in over 40 countries and on 6 continents. In 2000, about 109.2 million acres (442,000 km²) were planted with transgenic crops, the principal ones being herbicide- and insecticide-resistant soybeans, corn, cotton, and canola. Other crops grown commercially or field-tested are a sweet potato resistant to a US strain of a virus that affects one out of the more than 89 different varieties of sweet potato grown in Africa, rice with increased iron and vitamins such as golden rice, and a variety of plants able to survive extreme weather.

Between 1996 and 2001, the total surface area of land cultivated with GMOs had increased by a factor of 30, from 17,000 km² (4.2 million acres) to 520,000 km² (128 million acres). The value for 2002 was 145 million acres (587,000 km²) and for 2003 was 167 million acres (676,000 km²). Soybean crop represented 63% of total surface in 2001, maize 19%, cotton 13% and canola 5%. In 2004, the value was about 200 million acres (809,000 km²) of which 2/3 were in the United States.

In particular, Bt corn is widely grown, as are soybeans genetically designed to tolerate glyphosate herbicides. Future applications of GMOs include bananas that produce human vaccines against infectious diseases such as Hepatitis B, fish that mature more quickly, fruit and nut trees that yield years earlier, and plants that produce new plastics with unique properties. The next decade will see exponential
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