Feature Archive

Cultivating Debate

Arguments for and against genetically altered produce.

WebMD Feature

When it comes to genetically modified foods, many Americans are saying "Thanks, but no thanks." A tomato engineered to produce its own pesticides or corn altered to resist an herbicide may sound good to farmers, but consumers have serious doubts. Are the fruits (and vegetables) of bioengineering safe to eat? Are they safe for the environment?

More than 76 million acres of the nation?s farmlands are already planted with crops that have been genetically altered, including corn, soybeans, tomatoes, and other produce. But some experts worry that there may be hidden dangers. "When you start making combinations of traits that nature hasn?t made -- especially when you start designing proteins -- you need to be very, very careful," says Margaret Mellon, director of the Agriculture and Biotechnology Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Focusing on Allergies

The chief concern is that genetically altered foods could spark serious food allergies. "Since known food allergens are proteins, foods with new proteins added via genetic engineering could sometimes become newly allergenic," Environmental Defense Fund biologist Rebecca Goldburg recently said at a public hearing held by the Food and Drug Administration. Someone who has never had problems eating corn, for instance, might suddenly develop an allergic reaction. Such problems might not show up until the new items hit grocery-store shelves.