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G M Foods

What are G M foods?
Genetically modified or G M foods are foods produced from plants or animals which have had their genetic make up altered by scientists. By modifying the genes, they can alter the characteristics of an animal or organism. This could be to boost crop yields, increase resistance to disease or in the case of animals to increase bulk or muscle.

For many years farmers and horticulturalists have engaged in the practice of cross-breeding to produce desirable characteristics in crops and animals. However, genetic engineering is a more specific process. Scientists can identify a single gene and either transfer that stretch of DNA or modify the gene so that it switches off the undesirable characteristic. The first G M food was created in 1983 and was a tobacco plant that was antibiotic resistant. Ten years later, in the United States, the first commercial G M food was a slow ripening tomato. In 1996, the first G M product was launched in the United Kingdom in the form of tomato puree.

Arguments for and against G M foods?

Some argue that scientists do not fully understand the way in which genes operate and therefore should not attempt to modify them. Critics argue that the use of DNA from plant viruses may trigger disease. They also fear that genes placed into specific crops may be transferred to other species with adverse reactions. In particular, genes that carry herbicide or insect resistance if transferred may lead to the creation of super weeds.

An environmental argument put forward is that the British countryside has already been subjected to a variety of pesticide products that have affected the 'natural balance' of the countryside and G M crops would only add to this imbalance.

Anti G M protesters object to the use of antibiotic resistant marker genes used in the modifying process. They feel that the antibiotic resistant genes could be passed into organisms and we would not have the necessary drugs to combat this.

To counter the above arguments genetic engineers argue that much of our 'conventional food' has already been treated using a variety of chemicals and that the regulations concerning the production of G M foods are far greater than those for 'normal food production'. They argue that the use of genes from plant viruses offer little risk to humans.

G M scientists argue that genetic modification can improve the nutritional value of the food and that unhealthy fat levels can be reduced. They say that medicinal characteristics can be introduced to the food, such as anti-cancer agents.

Environmental arguments put forward in favour of G M foods are that fewer chemicals would be needed to manage G M crops. Genetically engineered higher yields would ease pressure on threatened, uncultivated land.

Is it safe to eat G M foods?

All food sold or consumed in the European Union, is subjected to regulations which should ensure the food is fit for human consumption. However, due to public concern over G M foods, many manufacturers and supermarket chains have excluded G M derived foods from their stocks.





Food Standards Agency


New Scientist -GM


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