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Name: Christopher
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Question:
Is genetically engineered food safe to eat?



Replies:
Well, I hope so, since I and you and all of us have been eating it for centuries. All common foodstuffs have been seriously engineered since they were discovered. The modern tomato plant, apple tree, wheat stalk, and corn plant bear only a general resemblance to their ancestors, as farmers have engineered them to increase their yield, shelf life, resistance to disease, etc.

It is, however, true that up until recently changes to the genetic code of foodstuffs could only be made via natural mutation (which occurs via naturally-occuring ionizing radiation and mutagenic chemicals), and the food engineer's job was limited to selecting those changes he wanted to preserve, and those he wanted to weed out. Now you can induce mutations directly, with intention and forethought, and avoid much of the waiting around for natural mutation that was heretofore necessary in plant breeding.

The major risk of engineering food, by any means, breeding it the old-fashioned way or fiddling directly with its genetic code, is that a strain with certain highly desirable characteristics can become so widely adopted that it replaces all others. Then your food ecosystem loses some of its genetic diversity and hence some of its resilience. One nasty pest that happens to prey very successfully on the dominant, popular strain can seriously compromise your entire nation's crop.

To put your question in a different, useful focus, you might ask yourself this: Suppose, as a plant breeder, I decide to cross corn with deadly nightshade, wanting to transfer to the corn some of the nightshade's ability to grow readily without fertilizer. The cross works (unbelievably) and I have a new hybrid corn that will grow anywhere. How do I decide whether the corn is safe to eat? Whatever your answer to this question is, is also the answer to your question for corn that was engineered by messing with its DNA in a test tube.

Grayce


Genetically engineered food is definitely safe to eat. The problems people have with genetically engineering crops isn't due to fears in eating them-some people are afraid of environmental problems, such as weeds interbreeding with these crops and becoming resistant to pesticides, or the monarch butterfly larva being killed by the pollen of genetically engineered corn. Many of the food products you eat are already genetically engineered and you don't even realize it.

Van Hoeck



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