The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)


Genetically Modified Foods: An Analysis of Issues, Perceptions, and Concerns Conducted by University of Maine Honors Program Students


Bernice A. Cross, Rachel A. McNameeDana E. O’Day Senior, Rebecca A. Samuels,
Calah H. Tenney, A. Randall Alford, University of Maine.





Genetically modified organisms (GMO) and questions about their safety fill the news and are on the minds of many citizens throughout the world. On a University of Maine research farm in late August of 1999, an experimental field of Round-Up ReadyŽ corn became the target of a late night attack by an eco-terrorist group. This attack both shocked and stunned the scientists involved, spurred the surrounding community into debate about GMO, and served as a wake-up call to a group of Honors Program students. The students set out to identify and research key issues surrounding GMO. The product of the students’ effort is a comprehensive treatise on GMO.

Their work includes perspectives of agricultural industries on GMO, including the many objectives the industries seek to obtain, such as improved production efficiency, reduced production costs, increased nutritional benefits, alternatives to pesticides, and simplifying the distribution of vaccines. The paper compares public policy and perceptions between the United States and Europe. In Europe, decisions concerning GMO are of high priority throughout society due to recent food scares. In the United States, however, the general public is not as aware of the introduction and health concerns of GMO because the government has based policies of GMO on economics and trade rather than health issues. The U.S. government’s regulations of GMO are compared to that of pesticides. Pesticide regulation and registration have been implemented since the early 1900s and have been considered sufficient for regulating most GMO thus far. However, further legislation is necessary in order to cover non-pesticide-related genetic modifications.

The labeling of GMO is an issue that governments around the world are debating. In the United States, many foods contain at least some genetically modified ingredient, while in Europe these foods are considered a safety risk. Currently in the U.S., foods that are "Kosher", "Organic", or "Green" receive special labels. There are many reasons for labeling GMO, including consumers’ rights to know and potential allergens introduced via genetic modification. These are all discussed along with labeling-related trade issues, which stem from differences in GMO labeling policies between the U.S. and the rest of the world.

The interaction of GMO with evolutionary mechanisms in the natural world presents both potential threats and benefits. The paper examines the interactions of GMO with mechanisms of evolution and the implications on future selection of food crops and ecosystem stability. As pest resistance is a major biological and environmental concern, the paper discusses specific resistance mechanisms and management practices currently used with GMO crops and several potential problems such as pest resistance to GMO.

After analyzing complex issues and perspectives related to GMO, many questions remain. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of issues that will require further experimentation, analysis, and discussion.


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