The Truth about Genetically Modified Food

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Proponents of genetically modified crops say the technology is the only way to feed a warming, increasingly populous world. Critics say we tamper with nature at our peril. Who is right?

From my article in the September 2013 issue of Scientific American 

Robert Goldberg sags into his desk chair and gestures at the air. “Frankenstein monsters, things crawling out of the lab,” he says. “This the most depressing thing I’ve ever dealt with.”

Goldberg, a plant molecular biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, is not battling psychosis. He is expressing despair at the relentless need to confront what he sees as bogus fears over the health risks of genetically modified (GM) crops. Particularly frustrating to him, he says, is that this debate should have ended…read more.

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2 thoughts on “The Truth about Genetically Modified Food

  1. James Blandford says:

    I love the theme of this article and believe in the approach it advocates very much, in principle. But in terms of taste, I feel as though theory is bumping up against reality in a real unfortunate way, especially with McDonalds. McD has not advertised that the REGULAR Egg McMuffin has changed the english muffin portion of the dish, but I’m pretty sure they have done it a cross the board and it is noticeable. The higher-fiber muffin seems, understandably, to have much less gluten and the pleasant stretchy mouthfeel is gone. The teeth just go straight through without any resistance and the result is a real flat unappetizing sensation. I also had the hash browns the other day and they seem different; less oily and with a flat thin “skin” that I suspect is a sort of starch layer designed to absorb less oil. But the result is that the nicely irregular crust composed of brown potato bits isn’t there any more and again, I much prefer the old version. Noble as this is, and as subtly as its being rolled out, I think this is going to backfire. I’d love to know if you can confirm whether the hash browns have been reformulated. I don’t think it’s my imagination.

    • Thanks for writing, James. Tastes differ, of course, and many people used to eating standard fast foods will (if they’re paying close attention) be able to find something objectionable in any changes to the food, especially if the changes make it healthier. (This is true even if you just tell people the food has been changed to make it healthier, but don’t actually change it–many people will insist it tastes worse anyway.) I’m not aware of many complaints about the changes to the muffin, the vast majority don’t seem to have noticed. Maybe you’re a “super-taster,” which as you may know is actually a technical term for people with a more sensitive sense of taste. Most people used to white-flour-based foods are able to get used to whole-grain foods, and many eventually come to strongly prefer them. I haven’t heard anything about changes to the hash browns. It could be that the recipe has been changed in your local McDonald’s as a test. Maybe you could ask the manager there.

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