What Are GE Foods, and What Do They Offer?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Genes are the blueprints of every part of an organism. Foods that have had foreign genes inserted into their genetic codes are called genetically engineered or bio engineered foods. Genetic Engineering can be done to plants, animals or microorganisms. According to the FDA, "genetically engineered foods must adhere to the same high standards of safety under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act that apply to more traditional food products."

Where do you find genetically engineered foods?

Foods are genetically modified or engineered to transfer desirable qualities from one organism to another. A tomato was the first genetically engineered whole food product. Designed for its ability to resist rotting, the tomato FlavrSavr first went on the market in 1994. Today more than 50 genetically engineered foods have been determined to be safe alternatives by the FDA. The Grocery Manufacturers of America estimates that between 70-75% of all processed foods in US grocery stores may contain ingredients from genetically engineered plants.

Some benefits of genetically engineered foods include:
  • More nutritious food
  • Tastier food
  • Disease and drought resistant plants that are environmentally beneficial
  • Require decreased use of pesticides
  • Increased food supply at reduced food cost and longer shelf life
  • Faster plant and animal growth
  • More desirable food traits
  • Medicinal food production

Some of the potential risks include:
  • Genetic changes to plants or animals
  • Loss of bio-diversity in crops
  • Creation of herbicide-resistant weeds
  • Spread of diseases across species barriers
  • Altered pest resistance and susceptibility
  • New toxin and allergen introduction to foods

The following is a list of genetically engineered crops that have been approved for sale:
  • canola (not a natural but a man made plant)
  • corn, including popcorn and sweet corn but not blue corn
  • cotton
  • flax
  • papaya
  • potatoes (Atlantic, Russet Burbank, Russet Norkatah, and Shepody)
  • red-hearted chicory (radicchio)
  • soybeans
  • squash (yellow crookneck)
  • sugar beet
  • tomatoes, including cherry tomatoes

Many genetically engineered foods are derived from canola, corn, cotton, and soy. These crop derivatives are commonly found in processed foods such as bread, pasta, candies, ice cream, pies, biscuits, margarine, meat products and vegetarian meat analogs. In a few years it may be almost impossible to find natural food. It seems that the food industry and government assume that newly derived foods are not substantially different from existing foods and pose no special risks. This will be a hot topic for the future as labeling requests and debates continue.

Many feel that genetic engineering, with its irreversible effects, are meddlesome and dangerous. What do you think?

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This is what I have to say about GE foods and why I try to avoid them, Monsanto the company who developed and supplies them is the same company who developed Agent Orange, was aware of the potential risks and told the US government that it was completely safe. If they didn't care about American soldiers during the Vietnam War why do people already assume that they are going to care about the every day person who consumes these GE foods. Also the current head of the FDA was a former VP of Monsanto, so no I don't trust that the FDA is being completely honest about the "safety" of GE food. On a side note, if a family farm next to a corporate farm inadvertently grows GE crops because the corporate farm's GE crops seeded and blew over to the family farm, Monsanto, a multi-billion dollar company, sues the family farm for growing GE crops without purchasing the seeds from them. Many of these family farms have ended up going bankrupt trying to defend themselves. Report
I'm definitely trying to eat more organic. I already read labels and I guess I'm going to have to step it up a notch. The more we learn, the crazier it gets. Report
GM foods should be labeled, just as they are in Europe. Unilever sells Breyers and Dreyers GM ice creams here because they won't sell in Europe. They contain a gene from fish blood that makes them creamier. If you have a fish allergy, shouldn't you be able to read a label and know to avoid that food? We certainly can't trust our FDA, so I try to buy organic as much as possible. Report
i think it doesn't matter what i think, it's already bigger than me, corporations are making money and the lobbist who love them. Report
I would at least like to have these foods labeled. Personally I think the change in tomatoes has been awful-- alot of the tomatoes commercially available today are tasteless balls that ship well, and look good in the market, if the goal of GE is to make a product that is better nutritionally that would be great. Unfortunately I am afraid it would be much more likely the end goal would be to produce a product that is cheaper to produce, easier to ship, more disease resistant, and have a longer shelf life. Even if that means they are tasteless and more naturally toxic. Report
I agree, very interesting. I knew about a lot of these changes, especially in tomatoes. My father has done farming on the side throughout his life. Many years ago, there were already experiments with selective breeding - most notably in flowers. I even remember when my dad would get the "multi-colored corn" because it would be sweeter. This is somewhat an extension of what was already being done then.

I agree that we should probably at least have these things labeled. That way, at least we have the information to make the decision. In the US, we have the LUXURY of choosing between products. Other places in the world, they're just happy to have food at all. Sometimes, we just have to remember that not all change is bad... Report
Interesting article, and very interesting comments!
Hmmm... Tap water is bad for us, as is the plastic that bottled water comes in, as is red meat, tuna fish, coffee, chocolate, bread, milk, eggs, flour, sugar, oil, and now vegetables are bad for us, unless we buy from a non-GE, organic health food sorce that charges much more money (when we can't afford regular groceries anyway!) Hmmm... will someone please tell me what I can afford to eat or drink that is safe??? Fruit? But it's GE also, right? Or sprayed with pesticides? I give up! I'm just gonna do the best I can to shop with the few bucks I've got, and quit worrying, since that is bad for my health also!!! Report
Definitely "natural" foods for me! Report
Give me REAL food. I don't trust what the industry does to food , the way it comes from the garden and vine or branch is the way God meant for us to eat it.
NOT GE!!! Report
There was a very good documentary released last year titled "The Future of Food". It is extremely informative and discusses this industry from all angles; including the farmers, consumers, law makers and businesses.

If GE foods are a concern for you then I would definitely check this movie out. I was shocked to find out that the businesses that profit from Genetically Modified foods are self-regulated rather than government regulated. They answer to themselves with very little government oversite.
I found it on the shelf at my local library. Report
I think that GE foods may not be the best things for us to be eating.. but from what I've read about it, it's also the closest we could come to being able to solve the problems of world hunger. I think maybe if we can solve that problem, that's better than feeling like our food isn't "tasty" enough. Report
Finding out how much of our food is actually GE makes me feel a little strange. At this point,they say its safe but what about years down the line?? I think its sad to see that even our food has to become fake. I agree, go organic as much as possible! Report
I have also heard that eating Organic is one way to prevent eating GE or GMO. So go Organic!!! I am glad I eat Organic. It really is the way to go! Report
As far as I have studied and heard thus far, corn (yellow and mixed), canola, cotton, and soy are almost always genetically engineered. (My understanding is that white corn is still unmodified. So, I guess white and blue corn are the only safe corn to eat.)

If you truly want to avoid GE/GMO foods, this really cuts out a lot of manufactured foods. But that's probably better for everyone anyway. Processing usually adds chemicals and other things that are bad for us.

It's nice to see so many people that have the same thoughts and concerns as I do about eating what is right and good. I'm sure that is why Mosanto (and others that were pumping up our cows with steroids) finally took a hit when big distributors - like WalMart - started refusing to buy milk with RGBH. Margaret Meade was right when she stated, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Except in this case, a "small group" can easily become a "large group" when we stand up for what we believe is right. The FDA has too long allowed so many bad things into our food. We must fight back to make a change! Report
Apparently we shouldn't be concerned about consuming these GE products because the ever-vigilant FDA is looking out for our well-being? Oh dear, my eyes have rolled completely to the back of my head on this one! Report
We should know what we are getting. That explains why food does not taste as good as it did when I was growing up. I rather take the bugs, drop the pesticides for unatural. I would like to know how we could have an opportunity to choose? Report
They should be labeled as such. Report
ummmm....we should try to eat as naturally as possible but i know we eat things we don't know where they came from or who raised them or what was sprayed on them. according to God's word there is going to be great famine (probably sooner than later) so we should do what we can do now cause the time is coming when all will be fulfilled in His timing. look up our redemtion draws close. Report
GMO foods are dangerous to our world. Farmers cannot use any pesticides except big company triple strength pesticides from the company that created the seeds. This correlates to a higher pesticide content in the gmo foods. Testing has been done and hidden about the increase in allergies due to the different protein modifications in the most common modified foods. It is not the same as heirloom seed creation. GMO's are created by randomly inserting dna (not necessarily from a related species) and it is not an exact gene science. The DNA is air forced into the seeds and they cannot guarantee where the introduced dna locates itself in relationship to where they are trying to match old dna to the introduced dna.
Indian farmers which use gmo cotton have increased their farm expenses so much so that many are losing their farms. Their crop yields have diminished not increased.
A good site to start at is the organicconsumers.org for beginning research on this science. It also addresses other issues. I used this as a base and expanded my research. So much so that I am petrified of eating gmo's. Report
Oh yes and I forgot to say that gmo crops usemore pesticides than non gmo crops and that was part of the premise (to have the crops withstand higher pesticide use). Research the farmers in India with their cotton and how their farms have gone bankcrupt because they can't afford the pesticides for bt cotton. It is very sad what has happened to our world. Report
The problem with GMO's are you don't know you are eating them. More reports have been hidden as to the allergies and other illness they have caused. Big business doesn't care if we get sick. My grocery bill has doubled due to my avoidance of gmo's. I buy mostly organic. If you start at the www.organicconsumers.org you will find all sorts of scary stuff of gmo's. No matter what the main stream press says about gmo's I do not trust them. Report
Genetically engineered foods allow us to feed larger populations. I feel blessed to live in a country where I have the luxury of turning up my nose at GE foods. Report
i worry about the lack of biodiversity with genetically engineered plants. If we are not careful, we will become a homogenized planet. And the very organisms that these genetically modified plants are engineered to resist will be the organisms that evolve to re-infect these plants! We have already engineered Round-Up resistent corn. This is frightening. Alas, we have a short-term outlook on such things. We need to be more concerned with the long-term consequences of genetically engineered foods. Report
1888MICHELLE, look for heirloom plants. And organic products can't contain GMO products by law (at least in the States), so you'll be safer there! Report
Genetic meddling scares me, but it scares me even more under an economic system that holds profit as the bottom line. It worries me that things get approved because they increase profit regardless of their effect on humans. There are so many recalls - of drugs, pesticides, etc. that have happened since the 50s when humans started meddling in this particular way, that I have trouble trusting science and government. Report
I have to leave a comment here. I used to be a research scientist and I can tell you that GE foods are rigorously tested before being approved by the FDA. GE foods are NOT dangerous. No more dangerous than the crops we have been planting for thousands of years. None of the food crops that we eat today and plant on a large scale can be considered to be completely natural. Humans have genetically bred and manipulated plants and animals to fit their needs for centuries. Genetic Engineering can be considered an extension of this process. I agree that the smallest possible problem that could go wrong with a GE food must be studied and considered before using this product, but 99.9% of the time the change will not cause any harm or be any more dangerous than a "natural" product. In fact, the changes would actually benefit the food source and the environment. I would rather eat a GE food that is resistant to disease than have to eat a food that's been sprayed with a variety of chemicals because it isn't resistant to disease. Report
I think before replacing natural foods with genetically engineered foods a lot more testing and data gathering needs to take place. We don't know the potential long term or short term risks. It's crazy to implement first and as questions later. I forsee a big OOPS sorry we didn't know that would happen in our future! Report
What concerns me is what we don't know. We don't have a great track record here. Remember when we refined our wheat and made it "better" by taking out the fiber and micro nutrients? Remember when we saved people from insect carriers of disease and increased food production with the miracle of DDT? Remember when thalidomide was a great way to prevent morning sickness?

All these things were "safe" according to authorities. People who questioned were called paranoid or alarmist.

I don't want to prevent progress, but I would appreciate more patience and consideration of the possible consequences. If we breed plants that are naturally insect resistant, what is the effect on the environment and our bodies of these "natural" pesticides? Report
I did a research paper in college on GE Foods and it seems to me we were not altering the food per se to make more but to stop having to use pesticides you see if we do not spray these plants we would not have any harvest because the bugs will eat them right to the ground and we all know what a Grasshopper or a bull weevil will do in one short day.. and after awhile bugs become immune to the spray. and the circle continues........so we gentically alter to keep bugs away....Correct me if I am wrong.. Report
Reading further....where do you get trout genes from? The flavr savr tomato was created using antisense technology to interfere with normal ripening process. To use antisense technology you use the original gene and adapt it to interfere with itself. Interesting thing on genetic engineering, when trying to get pros/cons. To get unbiased sources, you pretty much have to stick with the "pro" information to get actual facts. I have tried to do reports in the past and all the "con" information (other than from actual scientists or from "pro" sites trying to give complete information) was rabid half to complete lies.

Reminds me of years ago when test tube babies first came out and some people called them called soulless monsters. Now its a common technology for couples having problems having children. Report
For the question on where are the "god made" seeds kept. There are quite a number of facilities around the world both over all centers and specific centers (like for just corn or just wheat, etc) that tries to maintain a collection of seeds from all possible sources.

I do think its funny when people get outraged about moving away from the plants put on earth by God when we as humans and selective breeding have changed those plants a long time ago. The corn, wheat, potatoes, pretty much any staple crop is nowhere near what it was in its original God created form. Look at all the different breeds of dogs created by selective breeding, far from the original forms....its the same thing with the plants we use in agriculture. Report
Who is keeping seeds from all the original God created plants? The more we start to mess around with the genetics, the further we get from the original. If we totally scrap Gods' goodness and go with man-made, we are never going to have the ability to go back to the beginning, because there will be no access to the original seeds. It's like animals being extinct....you just can't get them back. Report
So aren't hybrids "genetically engineered"? Aren't they engineered to "transfer desirable qualities"? Report
I believe generic engineering needs to be researched further to determine its long term effects on us humans. Report
I wish that North America required GE information on food labels as they do in Europe. I believe that we North Americans allow big corporations to make too many decisions for us (not always for our benefit). With full disclosure labelling, we could decide for ourselves what foods we wish to inget. Report
Canola ... the hotlink in your article states that it is a natural plant.
Don't cite articles as alarmist when the truth is in your links.

GM is a necessary "evil" ... North American would be in the same situation, food wise, that Africa is -- i.e. none or all diseased without GM.

A proud farmer,
j. Report
It is rapeseed ... which is not a PC name, so it was changed to Canola. (Canadian Oil) decades ago. Report
DNA is DNA regardless of whether it is in a fish, squash, a tree, people, or what ever. It is the universal code of life ----- the only difference in DNA from one organism to another is the order of the nitrogen bases that make up the "steps” of the molecule. The organism doesn't know if a gene is jellyfish or trout, bear or skunk, cabbage or strawberry---- it is just a set of instructions ------a biological message that the organism's body picks up and follows its instructions.

I would much rather trust a scientist trying to figure out safe and economical food alternatives than some farmer pouring chemicals and hormones in the food and water supply of animals. I am not knocking farmers; I grew up on a farm and many members of my family still farm. I really have trouble with people pouring chemicals all over the ground to kill grass or insects. Do you have well water? Have you had it tested for harmful chemicals? Has there been cancer in your household?

I would rather let changes occur in controlled laboratory conditions under strict guidelines than out in the field or the barnyard as a result as an unfavorable mutation due to man made chemicals.

I have no problem with genetically engineered foods. I do have problems with the poisons and hormones that presently go in our food . All the hormones that are being fed to our meat supply are alarming. You know that something is wrong when young girls in the third grade are beginning menstrual cycles --- look at how “developed their young bodies are”.

This is possibly a chance to end world hunger. There are so many possible applications to this amazing technology.
We go to the farmers market during the summer. I just wish we had a farmers market all year round here. I'm not fond of store bought veg. if I can get fresh. It seems they want to alter everything we eat. First meat, now veggies, what's next? Report
I can't believe the positive flavour to this article. Not only are GE foods risky, they also put local business, out of business. Research Monsanto -- they're the ones that sue farmers when their product contaminates local farms (ie. a farmer's crops are contaminated with GE product by Monsanto, and Monsanto then sues the farmer for "using their product".) Stay away from GE foods! Buy local! I buy from farmer's markets and local farms. It's even cheaper too. Report
This is disturbing on so many levels, makes a person wonder how many diseases we are fighting that are a result of GE to our food supply, to say I will only eat natural healthy foods is not even possible any longer. Report
I think they need to be labeled per order of the FDA.

This article was a basic introduction of the genetic engineering concept and not a discussion of any specific techniques. Report
Why wasn't it pointed out that the genes that enhance the flavrsavr tomato are trout genes? The problem from my point of view is that people should be well informed about the foods they eat and information should not be withheld. We should have full disclosure so that we can make the most informed choice possible about what we eat. Report
I'm very doubtful that Genetically engineered foods will be as bioavailable as natural foods. God made natural foods. Scientists aren't a tenth as intelligent as God, nor as wise.

There is more of a chance that they'd make a mess of it and cause some hitherto unknown disease or cause a dramatic increase in one that was previously rare, such as HFC's seem to have done for diabetes as that they will be able to do something good for the earth or mankind.

It's hard to believe that food won't be "real" food in the next few years, due to GE foods and how it's been tested for the short term effects to be safe.

What about long term? I've heard of no long term studies/side effects of these foods having on people. Whos to say thats not where Autism is stemmed? Obesity? Breast Cancer? Or any other crazy disease...they haven't proved yet that, long term, GE foods are safe.

Scary! Report
Maybe you found the cure for cancer! Report
very interesting report! Report
Interesting article. Report
All that is rather scary. What will they think of next? Report
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