Genetic modification of food was first used in the 1940s as a method of altering the DNA of natural foods to solve social and economic challenges.
Gene technology is applied to plants, animals or microorganisms and occurs when genes are transferred from one organism to another and between non-related species. For example, a nut gene may be introduced into a potato to give it a richer flavour.
Genetically modified (GM) foods are cheaper to produce than non-GM alternatives and may provide benefits such as a longer shelf life or higher nutritional value.
The developers of GM seed appealed to the needs of farmers by genetically modifying plants resistant to insects and virus and with a greater tolerance for herbicides allowing effective weed control.
Genetically modified (GM) foods are thoroughly assessed by national food authorities regarding the direct effects on human health including increase in allergies. The potential for allergic reaction is avoided as the transfer of genes from common allergens like peanuts is not encouraged. All GM foods are tested and there have been no known allergic effects caused by genetically modified food currently on the market.
When genes migrate from GM plants to conventional crops outcrossing may occur. This is when unrelated genetic material may enter a breeding line potentially leading to abnormalities or disease and an impact to human safety.
Mixing of engineered genes into wild populations is a concern for environmentalists, as is a loss of biodiversity and increasing use of chemicals.
While some countries have strict protocols ensuring GM food is unlikely to pose risks to health other countries do not regulate GM food.