A Meaty Subject

No genetically modified animal food products are available on the market right now. But the meat sold in stores might come from livestock fed on genetically modified grains and other crops.

Benefits of Agricultural Biotechnology

The applications of agricultural biotechnology are nearly limitless. Your own diet may include many products that are the result of agricultural biotechnology projects. Produce, milk and other foodstuffs may be in your store courtesy of agricultural biotechnology.

Through genetic manipulation, scientists can create crops that produce more than their unmodified counterparts. It's also possible to introduce genes so that a crop has more nutritional value. The Golden Rice Project is a good example -- scientists have used genetic engineering to produce rice rich in vitamin A. While rice already has genes that would produce vitamin A in wild species, these genes are turned off during the growth process. The genes inserted into golden rice keep the vitamin A production genes turned on.

Another useful application of agricultural biotechnology is to give plants the ability to grow in a wider range of environments. Some plants do well only in certain climates or soil conditions. By introducing genes from other organisms, scientists can alter these plants so that they'll grow in climates that normally would be too harsh for them. Land previously unsuited for crops can be reclaimed for food production.

A third application involves making plants more resistant to disease, pests and chemicals. Genes can give plants a defense against threats that could normally wipe out an entire generation of crops. Genetic manipulation can lead to plants that are toxic to pests but still safe for human consumption. Alternatively, scientists can develop genes that will make crops resistant to pesticides and herbicides so that farmers can treat their crops with chemicals.

Genetic manipulation doesn't stop there. By introducing new genes -- or turning off existing genes -- scientists can change everything from the appearance of food to its taste. But while genetic engineering and modification has many benefits, the practice isn't free of criticism. Some scientists, agriculturalists and activists are worried about what genetic modification could produce in the long term. We'll look at some specific criticisms in the next section.