Editorials

Why all the fuss about genetically modified food?

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.316.7148.1845 (Published 20 June 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:1845

Much depends on who benefits

  1. Derek Burke, Chairman, Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes 1989-97
  1. 13 Pretoria Road, Cambridge CB4 1HD

    Why are some consumers concerned about food from genetically modified plants? After all, we have been modifying crop plants for centuries by plant breeding. What is new is the recent development of biotechnology that makes it possible to move a single gene from one species to another to produce crops which do not rot so quickly or which are resistant to herbicides or to attacks from viruses, fungi, or insects.

    Over the past 20 years we have learnt how to isolate genes from any living organism, introduce the new gene into another organism, and get it to work there. The DNA is isolated and treated with restriction enzymes, which break the DNA down into large fragments about the size of a gene or bigger. These fragments are then forced into strains of bacteria or viruses so that, on average, each bacterium or virus contains one piece of DNA. Growth of the mixture amplifies every piece present, the mixture is plated out, and the bacteria or viruses are then grown up from single colonies. …

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