GM Food is a food product that has been derived from a genetically modified organism (GMO). This organism or life form can be anything starting from crop plants to animals and even microscopic organisms. The ‘genetic modification’ or ‘genetic reconstitution’ of these life forms is based on the advanced form of Genetic Engineering, Recombinant DNA technology, which attempts to improve the food-yield (from the organism) – both quality and quantity wise – by combining genes from different organisms.
GM food crops thus are high-grade crops with superior quality and taste. The genetically modified food crops are planned to be nutritionally rich. GM not only improves the quality of the yield, you get increased produce and that in less time. Genetic modification also endows the crops with greater resistivity to common diseases and harsh weather conditions. Genetic modification of animals, likewise, improves animal health, minimizing their chances of being affected with common infections. Naturally, the improved breeds give better yields of eggs, meat and milk.
GM Food – The Story Of Progression
Genetically modified foods arrived in the market in the recent past – in the early 1990s. The first genetically modified food crop grown on a commercial scale was the tomato called FlavrSavr (created by Calgene in 1992). It was released in the US market post FDA approval in 1994. A slightly different variant of the FlavrSavr was introduced in Europe in a paste form in 1996.
An agriculture-statistics shows that the total land being cultivated with GMOs was 17,000 km² (4.2 million acres) in 1996. In contrast, a 2003 report shows a massive increase, spread over a land area of 676,000 km² or 167 million acres. Although, USA lead the production of transgenic or GM crops in 2003 with a huge share of 63%, at least 18 nations all over the world involved themselves with GM cultivation. The other major contributors were Argentina (21%), Canada (6%), Brazil (4%), and China (4%), and South Africa (1%).
The chief GM food crops being farmed these days are herbicide and insecticide-resistant soybeans, canola, corn and cotton. Other agricultural produces like a sweet potato (resistant to a virus that has been destroying most of the African harvest), an iron and vitamin-enriched rice variety (to combat widespread malnutrition in Asian nations) and a variety of plants able to withstand extreme weather conditions are being field-tested prior to being launched in the market. Genetically modified fruit and nut varieties that attain maturity early and bear fruits for long (or twice a year) have also been introduced.
Apart from agricultural produces, genetic modification is also being practiced to develop fast maturing varieties of fish and poultry. As said earlier, genetic reconstitution is also at work to increase milk production (e.g. Monsanto recombinant version of the bovine growth hormone Somatotropin, which when injected into dairy cattle, increases milk production from 10% up to 40%.
Although the industrialized countries are leading GM food production from the front now, the developing nations are exhibiting a strong inclination for GM foods of both plant and animal origin. This owes as much to the positive impacts of transgenic production in maintaining ecological balance as to its potentiality to provide for the ever-growing population.