Thursday, March 24, 2005

Is your diet genetically modified? Most Americans haven't a clue / Business / Technology / Biotechnology / Is your diet genetically modified? Most Americans haven't a clue: "Can animal genes be jammed into plants? Would tomatoes with catfish genes taste fishy? Have you ever eaten a genetically modified food?

The answers are: yes, no, and almost definitely. According to a survey, most Americans couldn't answer correctly even though they've been eating genetically modified foods -- unlabeled -- for nearly a decade.

Today, roughly 75 percent of US processed foods -- boxed cereals, frozen dinners, cooking oils, and more -- contain some genetically modified ingredients, said Stephanie Childs of the Grocery Manufacturers of America. Despite warnings about ''Frankenfoods," there have been no reports of illness from these products of biotechnology. Critics note there's no system for reporting allergies or other reactions to genetically modified foods. Nearly every product with a corn or soy ingredient, and some containing canola or cottonseed oil, has a genetically modified element, according to the grocery manufacturers group.

In the Rutgers survey, fewer than half the people interviewed were aware genetically modified foods are sold in supermarkets. And more than half wrongly believed supermarket chicken has been genetically modified. Genetically modified food first hit supermarkets in 1994, with the highly touted Flavr Savr tomato, altered to give it a longer shelf life and better flavor. It flopped, in part due to disappointing taste, and disappeared in 1997, said Childs. Genetic modification of crops involves transferring genes from a plant or animal into a plant. Nearly all genetically modified changes so far are to boost yields and deter insects and viruses, cutting the use of pesticides, thus making farming more productive and affordable.

More than 80 percent of the soy and 40 percent of the corn raised in this country is a genetically modified variety. Global plantings of biotech crops -- mostly corn and soybeans and much of it for animal feed -- grew to about 200 million acres last year, about two-thirds of it in the United States. Experts say within several years there will be new genetically modified foods with taste and nutrition improvements: cooking oils with less trans fat, tastier potatoes, and peanuts that don't trigger allergies."

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