Genetically Modified Foods

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

For thousands of years, farmers have improved their crops by crossbreeding plants that have good traits. They take pollen from one plant and add it to the flowers of another plant to produce a plant with the traits they want. But cross-breeding is slow and unreliable.

Now, there are amazing shortcuts. Scientists can take a gene from one living thing and put it directly into another plant or animal. That way, changes can be made more precisely in a much shorter time period.

Scientists say the new techniques have created crops that are pest-proof, disease resistant and more nutritious. For example, a rice has been modified so it gets an extra boost of vitamin A from a daffodil gene. The rice was made for those who don’t get enough vitamin A in their diet.

Not everybody thinks bioengineering is a good idea. Many people say these genetically modified, or GM, foods may end up harming the environment and humans. They fear that plants with new genes forced into them will accidentally crossbreed with wild plants and create pesticide-resistant superweeds. They also say GM foods could carry genes that trigger allergies or other side effects.

So far, GM foods haven't harmed anyone. Most genetic researchers believe that if troubles do crop up, they will be manageable.

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