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The Evolution of Modern Agriculture and Its Future with Biotechnology

Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 21, No. 3 - Article by Susan K Harlander


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Since the dawn of agriculture, humans have been manipulating crops to enhance their quality and yield. Via conventional breeding, seed producers have developed the modern corn hybrids and wheat commonly grown today. Newer techniques, such as radiation breeding, enhanced the seed producers’ ability to develop new traits in crops. Then in the 1980’s–1990’s, scientists began applying genetic engineering techniques to improve crop quality and yield. In contrast to earlier breeding methods, these techniques raised questions about their safety to consumers and the environment. This paper provides an overview of the kinds of genetically modified crops developed and marketed to date and the value they provide farmers and consumers. The safety assessment process required for these crops is contrasted with the lack of a formal process required for traditionally bred crops. While European consumers have expressed concern about foods and animal feeds containing ingredients from genetically modified crops, Americans have largely been unconcerned or unaware of the presence of genetically modified foods on the market. This difference in attitude is reflected in Europe’s decision to label foods containing genetically modified ingredients while no such labeling is required in the U.S. In the future, genetic modification will produce a variety of new products with enhanced nutritional or quality attributes.

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