Since they were introduced 15 years ago, genetically modified foods have taken astonishing hold in North America. This time of year, the result is a Thanksgiving menu that may, on the surface, look much the same as the one your grandma cooked 20 years ago. But at the genetic level, it is very different, and it's a far cry from the fabled feast shared by the pilgrims and American Indians in the 17th century. In celebration of Thanksgiving, the most food-focused day of the year, here's a look at how biotechnology is changing the way we eat.
The grain crops that we humans depend on daily to hold body and soul together are annual crops -- they have to be planted every year. They germinate, bear their delicious product, and then die off; the following year, a brand new crop is put in to take their place.
Such annual crops are high in yield, but they require vast amounts of artificial fertilizer, and their impermanence contributes to soil erosion.
Food-borne illness frequently grabs headlines: tomatoes, peanut butter and, most recently, pistachios have all made people sick from salmonella and caused headaches for grocers across the United States.
Now, another food illness of sorts is popping up on the international radar screen -- only this one makes the food itself ill. Well, one of the plants that turns into much of our food, in any case. Scientists from 40 countries on six continents are fighting a virulent form of an old wheat disease that some fear could threaten 90 percent of the world's wheat crop. They aim to fight the fungus on the genetic level, hoping to prevent it from spreading to North America by replacing much of the world's wheat varieties with tougher plants.