GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS

A subject of great controversy at the moment is genetically modified foods.  What is this?  It is the transfer of genes, very minute parts of plants or animal bodies which dictate the whole life of the organism, size, health, movement, growth etc.  This has been going on in nature for possibly millions of years as plants and animals evolve and in our "thousand years" have been more and more utilised to improve our garden plants and our domestic animals.

There is now however, one big difference.  Scientists are now involved in selecting genes from one species and transferring them into another.  They are transferring genes from animals to plants.  This very seldom, if ever, takes place in nature, and only within very close species.

The purpose of present day research is to increase crops, extend shelf life of foods, breed plants which would be more resistant to weed killers etc.  There are great dangers here.  Taking the weed killer resistance, some of the "manufactured" plants may cross-pollinate a close specie of weed plants and produce off-springs - weeds very resistant to modern weed killers.  Also, we have an example of hidden characteristics in the recent scare of modified potatoes fed to rats have a detrimental effect on their health.  Let us not forget that until recently we had the "mad cow" disease scare.  Scientists are divided in opinion on this and as yet no firm cause has been proved.

The use of ORGANO-PHOSPHORUS INSECTICIDES and FUNGICIDES has been blamed by some and several farmers involved in sheep dipping with these chemicals have either died or are severely affected.  There is also the incidence of the Gulf War Syndrome, again blamed on these compounds.

Known food groups which have been modified so far are soya (used in many prepared foods), maize (in cereals) and tomatoes (tomato puree)  Cheese has also been modified.  General opinion is that any food containing these should be clearly marked.

Finally, how does it affect us as gardeners?  We are now being offered a few varieties of plants which have been so modified and it is fairly difficult to identify these.  Examples are sugar enhanced sweetcorn, tomato vine ripe and tomatoes which, when ripe, will keep fresh for longer.