Genetically modified (GM) foods are those produced from organisms with modified genetic material (DNA) e.g. through the insertion of a gene from another organism. Most of the currently available GM foods are derived from plants, with possibility of GM food production from GM animals or microorganisms in the near future. Ensuring an adequate supply of food for the booming population of today’s world will be a major challenge in years to come. The introduction of GM foods can meet the need of proper a surplus food supply in a quite a number of ways as follows:
Pest resistance: Crop damage from insect pests is a devastating loss for farmers also resulting in starvation in developing countries. Tons of chemical pesticides are applied to the crop fields annually, which the consumers do not wish to eat because of potential risks to health. Production of GM foods such as Bt corn help eliminate the application of chemical pesticides and reduce the cost of bringing a crop to market.
- Herbicide tolerance: Large quantities of various types of herbicide or weed-killer are sprayed to destroy weeds. This is an expensive process that requires careful handling so as to protect the crops and environment from the harmful effects of herbicides. Genetically modified crop plants should be synthesized in a way to be resistant to one or more harmful herbicides could protect the environment by minimizing the quantity of herbicides applied. As, for example, a strain of genetically modified soybeans has been developed by Monsanto that is not damaged by the herbicide product. When grown these soybeans only require a single application of the required herbicide instead of a number of applications, thereby reducing cost of production and reducing the dangers of environmental damage.
- Cold tolerance: Extreme cold can destroy some crop plants. A gene from cold water fish has been inserted into certain plants such as potato and tobacco that are capable of tolerating frost.
- Drought tolerance/salinity tolerance: As the world population grows and more land are utilized for housing instead of food production, farmers will need to grow crops in locations previously unsuited for plant cultivation. Creating plants that can withstand long periods of drought or high salt content in soil and groundwater will help people to grow crops in formerly inhospitable places.
- Nutrition: People in third world countries rely mainly on one crop plant such as rice as the main staple food. But rice lacks adequate amounts of all the necessary nutrients. A new strain of of "golden" rice has been developed by the researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Institute for Plant Sciences with an unusually high beta-carotene (vitamin A).
- Pharmaceuticals: Certain drugs and vaccines are often costly to manufacture and also require special storage facilities quite unavailable in third world countries. Research is being carried out to develop edible vaccines in plants such as tomatoes and potatoes which will be much easier to store and administer as compared to the traditional vaccines that are injected.