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FOOD: How Altered?
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FOOD: How Altered?

By Jennifer AckermanPhotographs by Jim Richardson



Want disease-free grapes? Add a silkworm gene. How about vitamin-enhanced rice? While the technology promises new ways to help feed the world, some see risks to the land and to human health.




Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

In the brave new world of genetic engineering, Dean DellaPenna envisions this cornucopia: tomatoes and broccoli bursting with cancer-fighting chemicals and vitamin-enhanced crops of rice, sweet potatoes, and cassava to help nourish the poor. He sees wheat, soy, and peanuts free of allergens; bananas that deliver vaccines; and vegetable oils so loaded with therapeutic ingredients that doctors “prescribe” them for patients at risk for cancer and heart disease. A plant biochemist at Michigan State University, DellaPenna believes that genetically engineered foods are the key to the next wave of advances in agriculture and health.

While DellaPenna and many others see great potential in the products of this new biotechnology, some see uncertainty, even danger. Critics fear that genetically engineered products are being rushed to market before their effects are fully understood. Anxiety has been fueled by reports of taco shells contaminated with genetically engineered corn not approved for human consumption; the potential spread of noxious “superweeds” spawned by genes picked up from engineered crops; and possible harmful effects of biotech corn pollen on monarch butterflies.

In North America and Europe the value and impact of genetically engineered food crops have become subjects of intense debate, provoking reactions from unbridled optimism to fervent political opposition.

Just what are genetically engineered foods, and who is eating them? What do we know about their benefits—and their risks? What effect might engineered plants have on the environment and on agricultural practices around the world? Can they help feed and preserve the health of the Earth’s burgeoning population?

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.



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What’s safe? What’s not? What’s altered? Hear from photographer Jim Richardson in our award-winning multimedia series.

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Scientists are altering our food at the genetic level. Some see this as a benefit, others a danger. Voice your opinion.


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In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
The first genetically engineered whole
product to hit the U.S. market was Calgene’s Flavr Savr tomato, approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1994. The tomato was developed because many U.S. consumers had expressed displeasure with off-season tomatoes that were tasteless and hard. Ripe tomatoes cannot normally be trucked long distances because they spoil too quickly. Tomatoes are picked green and chemically ripened. The Flavr Savr tomato was engineered to stay on the vine longer, develop more flavor, and ship long distances without rotting. The company’s research, which demonstrated to the FDA that the modified tomatoes were as safe as conventional ones, became a model for the agency’s procedures for reviewing the safety of biotech foods. Though the tomato was relatively well received by the public when it was introduced, production ceased several years later because of production, marketing, and other problems

—Abigail Tipton

Did You Know?

Related Links
Transgenic Crops Resource Guide
www.colostate.edu/programs/lifesciences/TransgenicCrops/index.html
This Colorado State University site provides impartial information and links to other sources on genetically engineered crops.

Pew Institute on Biotechnology and Food
www.pewagbiotech.org/
Listen and engage in the debate and dialogue on the issues surrounding genetically engineered foods by tuning in to this site, which is committed to providing balanced information for consumers and policymakers.

Biotechnology Resources
www.biotech.cas.psu.edu/links.htm
An extensive listing of Web links to government, industry, environmental, and scientific resources related to genetically engineered foods.

Rockefeller Foundation
www.rockfound.org/
Visit this site to learn some of the biotechnology advances that may help the developing world.

Biotechnology Industry Organization
www.bio.org/
Read what industry advocates have to say about the latest developments in genetic engineering.

Union of Concerned Scientists
www.ucsusa.org/
Hear the voices of concerned scientists on the risks of genetically engineered foods.

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Bibliography
Charles, Daniel. Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food. Perseus Publishing, 2001.

Hopkin, Karen. “The risks on the table,” Scientific American (April 2001).

Lambrecht, Bill. Dinner at the New Gene Café. Thomas Dunne Books, 2001.

National Research Council. Genetically Modified Pest-Protected Plants: Science and Regulation. National Academy Press, 2000.

Nelson, Gerald C., ed. Genetically Modified Organisms in Agriculture: Economics and Politics. Academic Press, 2001.

Pollack, Andrew. “New Research Fuels Debate Over Genetic Food Altering,” New York Times, Sept. 9, 2001.

Wolfenbarger, L. L., and P. R. Phifer. “The ecological risks and benefits of genetically engineered plants,” Science (December 15, 2000), 2088-2093.

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NGS Resources
Fitzgerald, Nancy. “Food: New & Improved?” National Geographic Kids, (November/December 2001), 4-7.

Weaver, Robert F. “Beyond Supermouse: Changing Life’s Genetic Blueprint,” National Geographic (December 1984), 818-847.

Nicholas, William H. “America’s ‘Meat on the Hoof’: Because Housewives Want Smaller Beef Roasts, Bigger and Leaner Pork Chops, Scientific Breeders Remodel the Steer and Hog,” National Geographic (January 1952), 33-72.

                                                                         
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