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Genetically modified food

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Genetically modified food (GM food) is food which has been produced using organisms that have been engineered genetically (GM organisms). GM food either contains GM organisms, or GM organisms have been used to create the food. Common examples include maize, soybean, cotton and rapeseed. The first genetically modified food animal could be salmon.

Commercial sale of genetically modified food began in 1994, when Calgene first marketed its delayed ripening tomato.[1] Genetically modified foods include: soybean, corn, canola, rice, and cotton seed oil. The aims include faster growth, resistance to fungi, production of extra nutrients, or some other beneficial purpose. GM livestock have also been experimentally developed.[2]

Research is being done on bacteria which would speed up making cheese. Genetically modified yeast could be used to make beer that has fewer calories.[3]

In some places it is legal to grow genetically modified crops, and to use this as food for farm animals grown for human food. The crops need to be labelled as "genetically modified", the meat and dairy products do not.[4] This can make it very difficult to determine if a product in the supermarket was produced using genetically modified organisms. Estimates are that between 60% and 80% of foods available at a typical supermarket came in contact with such organisms.


The approaches taken by governments to assess and manage the development and release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) vary from country to country. Some of the most marked differences are between the USA and Europe.

The US regulatory policy is the Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology.[5] The policy has three main principles:

  1. US policy will focus on the product of genetic modification (GM) techniques, not the process itself
  2. Only regulation grounded in verifiable scientific risks will be tolerated, and
  3. GM products are on similar enough to existing products that existing laws are sufficient to review the products.[6]

European Union have the strictest GMO rules in the world.[7] All GMOs, and irradiated food, are considered "new food" and subject to extensive, case-by-case, science based food evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The criteria for authorization has four broad categories: "safety," "freedom of choice," "labelling," and "traceability".[8]


One of the key issues is whether GM products should be labelled. A study into voluntary labelling in South Africa found that 31% of products labelled as GMO-free had a GM content above 1.0%.[9]

In Canada and the US labelling of GM food is voluntary.[10] In Europe all food (including processed food) or cattle feed which contains greater than 0.9% of approved GMOs must be labelled.[7]

Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Australia require labelling so people can choose between foods that have genetically modified, ordinary or organic origins.[11]


Most vegetable oil used in the US is produced from GM crops.[12] Vegetable oil is sold directly to consumers as cooking oil, margarine, and shortening, and is used in prepared foods.

As for soybeans, about 95% of the US crop is GM, and about 85% of the world's soybean crop is processed into soybean meal and vegetable oil.[13] The bulk of the soybean crop is grown for oil production, with the high-protein defatted and "toasted" soy meal used as for farm animal food and dog food. 98% of the US soybean crop is used for feeding farm animals.[14][15] A smaller percentage of soybeans are used directly for human food.

Potato blight

Researchers have made genetically modified potatoes which are resistant to potato blight. That disease caused the Irish potato famine in the 1840s. EU approval is needed before commercial growing of this GM crop can take place.[16]


  1. James, Clive (1996). "Global review of the field testing and commercialization of transgenic plants: 1986 to 1995". The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. Retrieved 17 July 2010.
  3. Genetically modified microorganisms and food production
  4. ISAAA: Global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops: 2009
  5. United States Regulatory Agencies unified biotechnology website
  6. Emily Marden, Risk and Regulation: U.S. Regulatory Policy on genetically modified food and agriculture, 44 B.C.L. Rev. 733 (2003)[1]
  7. 7.0 7.1 Davison, John. 2010. GM plants: Science, politics and EC regulations. Plant Science 178(2):94–98 [2]
  8. GMO Compass: The European Regulatory System. Retrieved 28 July 2012.
  9. Botha, Gerda M. and Viljoen, Christopher D. 2009. South Africa: a case study for voluntary GM labelling. Food Chemistry 112(4):1060–1064 [3]
  10. The regulation of genetically modified foods
  11. [4] Gibson, Johanna 2006. Consumer protection: Consumer strategies and the European Market in genetically modified foods. Nw. J. Tech. & Intell. Prop. 5, 176. Free access
  12. Michelle Simon 2011 Food Safety News. ConAgra sued over GMO ’100% natural’ cooking oils
  13. "Canola Oil". Soyatech. Retrieved February 18, 2012.
  14. David Bennett, Southeast Farm Press, 2003. World soybean consumption quickens
  15. "Soybean". Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved February 18, 2012.
  16. McGrath, Matt 2014. Genetically modified potatoes 'resist late blight'. BBC News Science & Technology. [5]