Like humans, all organisms have genetic material. When scientists alter genetic material, or DNA, it's called genetic modification (GM). Genetically modifying foods or food crops can enhance taste and quality, increase nutrients or improve resistance to pests and disease. In some cases, GM foods help conserve natural resources, because the altered version might require less water or energy for processing.
The first genetically modified food to reach our tables was the Flavr Savr tomato. Grown in California, the Flavr Savr tomato received Food and Drug Administration approval in 1994, after two years of testing and assessment. Mounting costs made the crop unprofitable, however, and production ceased in 1997. Creation of the Flavr Savr opened the doors for other GM foods to make their way into our kitchens.
In the U.S., genetic modification has expanded into almost every area of food production. Scientists can introduce some sort of modification into the genes of crops, dairy products and animals. For example, ranchers and dairy farmers normally feed cattle a GM diet, which is in turn passed on to you when you drink milk or eat beef. Do you need to worry about what's on your family's dinner table? And are there some surprising benefits to GM foods? As you'll see, this subject is one hot potato.