Secrets in Your Food

ByELISABETH LEAMY via via logo

Aug. 21, 2006 — -- The Battle over geneteically altered food continues, even while it's use is increasing. Advocates say genetically modified biotech food is perfectly safe. Critics say it's food that's been fooled around with. Whether you find biotech food appetizing or appalling, one thing is for sure: Americans are eating more and more of it. Seventy-five percent of all processed food in the United States now contains ingredients from genetically modified crops.

The food industry says if the product has corn or soybeans in it -- and most processed foods do -- it's probably been genetically modified. Even so, many shoppers have no idea they're already eating the food of the future.

Biotech crops are created by taking genes from one organism and inserting them into another. That gives the plant traits that make it easier to grow or harvest.

Anti-genetic food protesters have been taking it to the streets -- and the Internet. One site called claims we are all "taking part in the largest genetically engineered food experiment in history. ... They're serving up new and inadequately tested combinations of DNA never before eaten by human beings."

The food industry is fighting back with an entirely different point of view. The U.S. Grains Council produced a DVD that features farmers who grow modified food.

"If it wasn't safe for me to grow and my family to consume, I wouldn't grow it," says one farmer. According to the council's Mark Farmer, "We would not be using those ingredients unless the authorities had evaluated them and determined them to be safe."

But activist groups disagree. Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety says, at the very least, genetically modified food should be labeled."If we saw the label, we'd start asking the questions that we need to ask. Are they safe? Are they good for our children? Are they safe in the environment?"

The center says labeling modified foods would make it possible to identify allergic reactions.

"When we see the label and [if someone] should get ill, we'll be able to connect the product to the illness and our health professionals can begin to trace potential illnesses coming from these foods," says Kimbrell.

A 2003 ABC News poll indicated most Americans want genetically modified food to be labeled.

Shopper Cynthia Hatch agrees. "I read the ingredient, and I would like to know what's in there. It's very important to me to have everything labeled."

The grocery industry concedes labeling might scare consumers. "Certainly that could happen," says Mark Nelson of the U.S. Grains Council.

There are a lot of myths about what kinds of food are genetically modified.

Here are the facts: The majority of corn and soy products we eat are genetically modified. There is also some biotech papaya.

Currently, there is no genetically modified meat, poultry, dairy or vegetable products on the market. A biotech salmon is being developed but hasn't been approved yet. And the Food and Drug Administration announced last week that genetically modified rice intended for animals has somehow found its way into the human food supply.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events