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What are Bioengineered Foods - Genetically Modified Foods? Print E-mail
Written by Gary Presant, MD   
Monday, 05 October 2009
Genetically engineered foods are foods in which the genetic code is scientifically altered to produce foods with a desired trait. This process is also known as bioengineering. Foods are bioengineered to meet many needs.
Some of these include:
- developing crops that can grow in varied climates. This makes certain food crops available all year and across many areas.
- creating crops that are more resistant to adverse conditions. Foods can be made to withstand attacks by bugs or molds or severe weather conditions such as drought.
- developing foods that have more consumer appeal such as improved nutrition, longer shelf-life, and better taste.


Biotechnology is a broad term. It translates to using living organisms, such as plants, animals and bacteria, to develop new products. It covers both traditional and modern techniques used to control organisms for a desired effect. Food biotechnology began more than 6,000 years ago when yeast was added to flour to make the first loaf of bread. Other examples include adding bacteria to milk to make yogurt, and breeding livestock or food crops to produce desired traits.

In the early 1970s, scientists found a way to cut a piece of genetic material, called DNA, out of one organism and insert it into another. This was the start of genetic engineering. Today, one can find several genetically engineered foods on the market. One example is tomatoes. They are bioengineered to ripen more slowly and not to spoil as quickly. This produces a better-tasting tomato. Most tomatoes are picked when still green and shipped to prevent bruising and spoilage. Then they are ripened artificially. But with this type of tomato, they can ripen before they are shipped, and not spoil. Many more types of foods are being developed.

Research suggests that these foods are safe to eat. Food allergies have been the major focus of concern. For example, if a person who is allergic to fish or peanuts eats a food into which a fish or peanut gene was inserted, will it cause a reaction? The answer appears to be no. More research is being done.

Federal law controls these foods and the process they go through. The regulations for these foods are similar to those for new food additives. Eleven agencies of the US Department of Agriculture, called the USDA, are involved in food biotechnology. The US Food and Drug Administration have the main responsibility concerning safety.

Currently, most foods that are genetically altered require the same type of label as those used for all packaged foods. Exceptions include cases in which the value of the food has been greatly changed or there is a health concern about the food, such as an allergy.

Food biotechnology is a field that is growing rapidly. People will start to see more of these types of foods in the grocery stores as time goes on. Some that might show up include, low-caffeine coffee beans, rice, corn, and soybeans. Other vegetables that contain a higher-quality protein and fruits and vegetables with higher levels of antioxidants like vitamin C, E and beta carotene may also become more common.

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