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Chapter 17. Food Safety

The Effect of New Technologies

As mentioned earlier, new technology has had a tremendous effect on the food we eat and the customs and culture related to food consumption. For example, microwaves are used to reduce cooking time or to heat up leftover food. Refrigerators and freezers allow produce to travel great distances and last longer. On the extreme end of making food last longer, there is special food for astronauts that is appropriate for consumption in space. It is safe to store, easy to prepare in the low-gravity environment of a spacecraft, and contains balanced nutrition to promote the health of people working in space. In the military, soldiers consume Meals Ready-to-Eat (MREs), which contain an entire meal in a single pouch.

Consumer Info About Food From Genetically Engineered Plants

FDA regulates the safety of food for humans and animals, including foods produced from genetically engineered (GE) plants. Foods from GE plants must meet the same food safety requirements as foods derived from traditionally bred plants. Read more at Consumer Info About Food From Genetically Engineered Plants.[1]

Genetically Modified Foods

Genetically modified foods (also known as GM or GMO foods), are plants or animals that have undergone some form of genetic engineering. In the United States, much of the soybean, corn, and canola crop is genetically modified. The process involves the alteration of an organism’s DNA, which allows farmers to cultivate plants with desirable characteristics.[2] For example, scientists could extract a gene that produces a chemical with antifreeze properties from a fish that lives in an arctic region (such as a flounder). They could then splice that gene into a completely different species, such as a tomato, to make it resistant to frost, which would enable farms to grow that crop year-round.[3]

Certain modifications can be beneficial in resisting pests or pesticides, improving the ripening process, increasing the nutritional content of food, or providing resistance to common viruses. Although genetic engineering has improved productivity for farmers, it has also stirred up debate about consumer safety and environmental protection. Possible side effects related to the consumption of GM foods include an increase in allergenicity, or tendencies to provoke allergic reactions. There is also some concern related to the possible transfer of the genes used to create genetically engineered foods from plants to people. This could influence human health if antibiotic-resistant genes are transferred to the consumer. Therefore, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other groups have encouraged the use of genetic engineering without antibiotic-resistance genes. Genetically modified plants may adversely affect the environment as well and could lead to the contamination of non-genetically engineered organisms.[4]

Genetically modified foods fall under the purview of the EPA, the USDA, and the FDA. Each agency has different responsibilities and concerns in the regulation of GM crops. The EPA ensures that pesticides used for GM plants are safe for the environment. The USDA makes sure genetically engineered seeds are safe for cultivation prior to planting. The FDA determines if foods made from GM plants are safe to eat. Although these agencies act independently, they work closely together and many products are reviewed by all three.[5]

  1. Foods from Genetically Engineered Plants. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/geplants/default.htm. Updated January 4, 2018. Accessed January 20, 2018.
  2. What Are Genetically Modified Foods?. Genomics.Energy.gov. http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/elsi/gmfood.shtml.  Last modified November 5, 2008. Accessed October 11, 2011.
  3. Whitman DB. Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?. CSA Discovery Guides. 2000; 1-13. https://biomed.brown.edu/arise/resources/docs/GM%20foods%20review.pdf. Accessed January 20, 2018.
  4. Food Safety: 20 Questions on Genetically Modified Foods. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/. Updated May 2014. Accessed January 18, 2018.
  5. Whitman DB. Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?. CSA Discovery Guides. 2000; 1-13. https://biomed.brown.edu/arise/resources/docs/GM%20foods%20review.pdf. Accessed January 20, 2018.