Alibi V.23 No.10 • March 6-12, 2014 

The Mouthful

A Brief History of GMO Foods

33000-10000 BCE: Humans begin domesticating dogs. Animals are selectively bred for characteristics that humans find desirable, like docility, responsiveness and hunting ability. Later, early farmers plant and tend crops, nurturing those that provide increased food value (larger pods, more numerous fruit, etc.) or hardiness, and purging those that do not.

1973 AD: Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen accomplish the first genetic engineering, a process by which genetic material is directly transferred between organisms. Unlike selective breeding, this allows humans to mix DNA from entirely different species.

1983: The first genetically engineered plant, a variety of tobacco with increased antibiotic resistance, is created.

1998: Scientist Árpád Pusztai at the Scottish Rowett Institute gives an interview regarding a study of rats fed a diet of GMO potatoes. He states that the results showed the rats suffered stunted growth and a repressed immune system. A later review of the data finds his conclusions unsupported, and he is suspended from the Institute.

1992: China becomes the first country to use GM tobacco commercially.

1994: For the first time, the FDA approves a GM plant, Calgene’s Flavr Savr tomato, for human consumption in the US. The tomato, however, has a poor shelf life and is withdrawn from the market.

1996: University of Nebraska scientists conclude that cross-species genetic engineering can lead to increased risks of allergic reactions in consumers.

Sharon Drummond via flickr

1998: Scientist Árpád Pusztai at the Scottish Rowett Institute gives an interview regarding a study of rats fed a diet of GMO potatoes. He states that the results showed the rats suffered stunted growth and a repressed immune system. A later review of the data finds his conclusions unsupported, and he is suspended from the Institute.

2000: StarLink corn, a variety of GM maize approved for animal use only, is found in products for humans in US supermarkets, including Taco Bell branded taco shells. These products are recalled.

2002: A measure to require GMO food labeling is included on an Oregon general election ballot. Voters reject it 7 to 3.

2009: Scientist Elson Shields with Cornell University protests the GMO industry’s reluctance to allow public study of GM crops with a statement to the EPA. “As a result of restrictive access, no truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions regarding the technology," he states.

2012: The American Medical Association conducts a literature review to assess hazards in the use of GMO foods. It concludes that no adverse health effects in humans have been reported to date. Because of no evidence of increased risk in GMO foods, the AMA opposes mandatory labeling laws.

2013: A poll by the New York Times shows that 93 percent of Americans want GMO foods to be labeled. Meanwhile, Connecticut’s legislature passes the nation’s first labeling law.