Development and History of GM Foods
Genetically modified (GM) foods have an interesting history and their development has experienced rapid growth over the last decade. Within all of the history, there has been a great deal of controversy and debate about the benefits and risks of GM foods and the production process. Given the current situation around GM foods, the controversy will likely continue for some time as well.
The Early Days And Development Of GM FoodsIn the earlier days of genetically modified foods, tomatoes were the first crop to be genetically engineered and grown commercially. Prior to this commercial production, GM tobacco had been produced over a decade earlier. The GM tomato crop was created to be resistant to the usual rotting and decay of a typical, conventional tomato that is not genetically modified.
Created by a company in the United States called Calgene, the company was permitted to commercially produce the tomatoes in the mid 1990s without any kind of unique labels to indicate their difference from conventional tomatoes. At that time, consumers paid a lot more for the tomatoes – between 2 and 5 times more than the cost of conventional tomatoes. Overall, however, consumers did support the product and it was purchased.
Not too long after, however, Calgene experienced problems relating to its production of the GM tomato and new competition was introduced from another product. At the same time, a variation of Calgene's tomato was used in a tomato paste produced by another company, which ended up being sold in Europe a couple of years later. The product was labelled and priced accordingly, with industry professionals expecting that the consumers in Europe would happily accept and support GM foods.
The Rise Of Controversy Around GM FoodsThe expectation would prove to be wrong as a prominent scientist in the United Kingdom (UK) spoke out against GM foods and the development process – speaking out across various media outlets. He had initially been hired to create a safety procedure for GM foods in Europe but during his research, he found that rats had suffered from various physical changes – some precancerous – and he concluded that the actual process of genetic modification led to these changes, rather than the specific inserted gene itself. He made public references to consumers being guinea pigs for this new technology and he expressed great concern about genetic modification techniques.
In response, consumers in Europe were understandably upset and shortly thereafter, a number of food companies all confirmed their commitment to avoiding genetically modified foods. With numerous other consumer health scares unrelated to GM foods occurring over the next decade, consumer mistrust of GM foods only strengthened. Protestors began to rally against companies such as Monsanto, where they criticised the production of GM foods.
Other GM foods soon hit the market – soybeans, cotton and many others. Although GM foods had been more comfortably accepted and produced in the United States, Europeans were still overall not showing support for these foods. Other countries such as India had generally embraced the concept of GM foods and were producing them quite widely.