Frankenfoods or Full of potential?

The dawn of transgeinc crops has had a large impact in terms of social views about biotechnology, and the issues discussed by scientists and politicians in countries around the world has translated into a plethora of public opinions and responses. The viewpoints held by the American public varies greatly with those of the European public. Why?


European Response

"A 2002 public opinion survey of the fifteen European Union nations found that all supported or strongly supported genetic testing and the cloning of human cells. But when it came to growing transgenic crops, only one (Spain) strongly supported it while seven opposed it. As for consuming transgenic crops, residents of only four nations so much as mildly supported it." (Fumento 273)


Biotech crops have struggled to gain social acceptance in the United Kingdom and other European countries. Why, then, are these countries that have historically been on the forefront of scientific discovery, so hesitant to accept this new technology?

One reason could be that they have yet to see a “positive” of using GM foods in their countries. Most of the crops marketed to European nations have what are called “input” traits, or traits that help the crop to be healthier or to survive. These don’t add to the customer’s enjoyment of the food, as “output” traits do. Output traits increase things like flavor, freshness or nutritional value. From the viewpoint of a GM critic in Europe, it seems silly to face the risks of eating GM foods when there is no real benefit to the consumer.

Some say that GM foods have faced resistance in Europe because the attitudes held about food in these countries are different than those in the United States.  Europeans value “pure” food and hold the proper growing and preparation of food to a high standard. In the eyes of food “purists,” GM foods may be looked at as impure or even a disturbance to natural order. "That biotech food is different in any way from "natural" food is, for many Europeans, a strike against it, even if the difference has no effect on health or taste." (Fumento 273)

American Response

While GM foods have generally fared better in American perception, there is still a lot of misinformation and ignorance when it comes to both the benefits and challenges of creating safe GM foods. For example, in a 2001 study by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology found that when about 70 percent of the food in most grocery stores had GM ingredients, 62 percent of Americans surveyed reported that they had never eaten genetically engineered foods and only 19 percent said that they had eaten such foods.

Americans are largely unaware that they may be eating genetically modified foods every day. Advocates of GM foods say that this is not an issue, as there is no real danger to eating such foods, so theres no real reason that consumers need to know about the various GM foods in their everyday products.

Others disagree, citing large GM corporations as the source of such ignorance. Some claim that GM corporations work to keep Americans unaware of the extent to which GM foods have spread throughout our food supply. 

Citation 5, Citation 12

We surveyed some Californians about their knowledge and opinion of genetic engineering and GM foods. We asked members of the community to answer four questions: 

1. Have you ever eaten DNA? If so, from what?

2. What do you know about GM foods?

3. Have you ever eaten a genetically modified food? If so…what?

4. How do you feel about genetic engineering in general?

Davis Community Member, adult male: 

Eaten DNA? Yes, I eat DNA daily. For example, chicken

What to you know about GM foods? Genetic modifications are generally done in order to enhance the viability of the food source either physical characteristics or health benefits 

Eaten GM Food? I'm sure that I watermellon

Genetic Engineering? Im all for it. I think it might ought to be overseen not by the government. I dont trust the government to do anything for me. have you been to the DMV? A consortium of private companies

Sacramento Community Member, Doctor, adult Male

Yes, I have eaten DNA, so has everyone on the planet, since it is present in all plants and animals.

Genetically modified foods are those that have been bred, hybridized or otherwise had their genetic makeup modified to produce desirable characteristics.

Yes, I have eaten genetically modified foods since most livestock, grains and vegetables have been modified by cross-breeding hybridizing, etc.

Genetic engineering is misunderstood by most people due to a lack of understanding and misinformation, or disinformation. Of course, reasonable regulations and safeguards must be observed, but I don't feel terribly afraid of GM since it has been here in one form or another for a long time.

Davis High School Student, male, age 17:

Absolutely i've eaten DNA. Since DNA makes up everything I would suppose that with every bit of food that I consume I am consuming that food's DNA. 

I know that [GM Foods] are foods whose genome has been somewhat modified to yield a specific trait. Like with California being at large for viticulture, there is a specific parasitic nematode that was for a while destroying the rootstock of the grape plants. But through genetically modifying the rootstock, they were able to make the rootstock resistant to the nematodes.

I have eaten many GM foods, such as corn and tomatoes designed to have specific traits like a larger size and a redder color, for example. 

I feel that with overpopulation and world hunger being problems, genetic engineering provides hope. 

Davis High School Student, female, age 17

Yeah, if DNA makes up all living things, I have definitely eaten DNA every day.

Genetically Modified foods are foods that have been desigend to express a certain desired more nutrients or flavor

No, I really don't think I've ever eaten a GMO

Genetic engineering is really exciting! So full of potential!

Sacramento Community Member, female, adult: 

I dont know if I've ever eaten DNA...I'm pretty sure

I don't know very much about GM foods, I know that they can be designed to make foods healthier, etc. 

Yes, I believe that I've eaten some GM tomatoes and other vegetables

I think that I would like to learn more about the pros and cons of Genetic engineering before formulating an opinion...

Overall, of the people surveyed, most had a general idea about DNA and GM foods, although not all Americans may be as aware. Some knew that they had eaten GM foods. Chances are, they all had eaten GM foods but not known. About 70% of products in American grocery stores contain GM ingredients.