Human beings have used selective breeding techniques on plants and animals for thousands of years.  Genetic engineering (GE, also known as GM or genetic modification), however, is a much more recent phenomenon, and has stirred considerable controversy over its use in the food supply.  

Advocates argue that GE can boost food production for the world’s growing population, and improve the qualities of food, like hardiness, flavor, nutrition, appearance.  Opponents charge that, among other things, GE plays with nature, is unsafe, and threatens the diversity of the world’s food supply as well as the livelihood of farmers worldwide who cannot afford to pay for GE crops.  

In light of this controversy, Learning Life offers the following five facts about GE’s origins, forms, and use in the food supply.  


1) 1973

The year the first genetically modified organism (GMO) was created.  That GMO was a microbe.  The next year, scientists produced the first GE animals: mice.  Source


2) 1994

The year the first genetically modified organism (GMO) — a microbe used to make many cheeses — was introduced into the food supply.  Source


3) 17 million farmers, 28 countries

The number of farmers and countries producing GE crops as of 2012. The 170 million hectares of land in use to produce these crops is more than 12 percent of the world’s arable land.  Source


4) 88%

The percentage of corn planted in 2012 in the United States that was genetically engineered in some way, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That same year, 94% of cotton and 93% of soybeans were genetically engineered in the USA. Source 


5) Zero

The number of GM animals approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) as meat for food. Currently, GM animals are used for research and medical purposes as well as to produce milk or other products. FDA guidelines state that “developers of GE animals of any species traditionally consumed as food must notify the agency that they are developing such animals, and cannot introduce them into the food supply without prior investigation from FDA.”  Source