You are here

What is Genetically Modified (GM) food?

GM food has had its DNA (or RNA) changed in a way that can only happen in a lab. It is totally different to the cross breeding and selective breeding people have done in fields and gardens for thousands of years. 

The original form of GM breeding made two main types of crops:

  1. Plants designed to survive being sprayed with a weedkiller, usually Roundup, which is a probable carcinogen. Herbicide tolerant.
  2. Plants produces toxins that destroy the guts of certain insect that eat them, so they die. Insect resistant. 

Weeds and pests have evolved to survive these poisons. Now more and more toxic pesticides are being used in the US leading to the death and damage of huge areas of crops. 

GM 2.0 breeding

This includes gene editing, CRISPR/Cas9, fake meat and Synthetic Biology (Synbio), gene drives and more that you may have been hearing about in the media. We are still investigating where these may be introduced into our food and if they are here already.

These GM2.0 technaiques are presented as far more accurate than the existing GM breeding. There is pressure to not regard these techniques as GM and so avoid regulation even though the US intelligence community assessed them as a potential "weapon of mass destruction and proliferation". They carry all the same risks as existing GM as well as additonal risks in that organisms may be repeatedly altered and so a bacteria maybe transformed so it can produce the anthrax toxin, for example. A full report on the techniques that include CRISPR/Cas9, gene editing and more can be accessed here.

Synthetic biology is where life is seen as a factory designed to produce the intended product. GM yeast or bacteria are grown in vats, it is deceptively called "fermentation", and produces synthetic versions of vanilla, stevia and patchouli fragrance and more. These may end up in food and personal care products. A US shoppers guide can be downloaded here.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety definition of GM breeding is:

  • In vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles, or OR
  • Fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family, that overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombinant barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection"

The World Health Organisation, WHO, defines them as:

Genetically modified (GM) foods are foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, e.g. throught the introduction of a gene from a different organism.

How Does GM breeding differ from normal plant breeding?