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Genetically Modified Food

Genetic modification consists of splicing a gene with a desired quality from one plant and inserting it into another.

In nature, only closely related plants are able to mix genes, but in genetic engineering it's possible to mix genes of entirely unrelated plants or organisms. For example, a variety of tomato was made frost-resistant by the insertion of an 'antifreeze' gene from an arctic fish.

There are, however, worldwide concerns about this form of modification - and accidents have already happened. In 1989, a batch of genetically engineered L-tryptophan, a calming amino acid, caused the death of 30 people in the United States and afflicted thousands of others with a rare blood disorder.

The worry is that modified plants might 'escape' in an uncontrollable way and threaten mankind

On the consumption front, clear labelling is important to give customers a choice. Several supermarkets in Britain have banned GM ingredients from their own products, but the scale of GM basic crops in the U.S.A. - such as Soybeans, means it's hard to avoid in manufactured food unless constantly vigilant.

The spread of airborne seeds might also threaten the viability of organic farming.

Genetically modified fish and animals are already being developed. See 'Banana'; "Cloning"; "Agricultural and Environment Biotechnology Commission"; 'Tryptophan'

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