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Genetically Engineered (Modified) Foods - Safe or Sinister?

2.0 Contact Hours
Target Audience: Nurses, healthcare professionals, and interested individuals
Purpose/Goal: The outcome of this course is for the learner to describe what genetically engineered foods are, how they are developed, the national and international issues surrounding their use, and potential risks and benefits associated with them.
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Genetically engineered (“GE”) or genetically modified (“GM”) foods are foods with foreign genes (genes from other plants, animals, or substances) inserted into their genetic codes. While the debate continues, most experts agree there is no consensus on the safety of genetically modified foods. Organizations aligned with the chemical/biotechnology industry provide claims of safety while numerous other health care organizations request transparency, clear labeling, and long-term studies on health effects.

Upon completion of the course, you will be able to do the following:

  • Define genetically engineered or modified foods.
  • Identify the main sources of genetically engineered foods.
  • Describe how technology is used in GE foods to manage pests.
  • Identify some of the national and international political issues related to GE foods.
  • Describe the potential benefits and risks of GE foods, including possible health effects.
  • Explain the concept of food sovereignty.

Humanity has eaten more than 80,000 edible plants throughout its evolution and more than 3,000 varying crops on a consistent basis. Yet, today, the human race relies on just eight crops to provide more than 75% of the world’s food because seed and herbicide/pesticide manufacturers (supported by the United States, the Vatican, and corporations such as Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, and Bayer) encourage the development of genetic engineering (Sarich, 2014b). This support seems to be working. Currently, up to 92% of U.S. corn, 94% of soybeans, and 94% of cotton (including cottonseed oil used in food products) are genetically engineered (Center for Food Safety, 2015a). But is genetic engineering of food crops and plants safe or is it a dangerous technology?

Genetically engineering plants has been done since the 1980s and it has been controversial since it began. The process can be applied in animals, bacteria, or other organisms as well. Genetic manipulation has been carried out for thousands of years in a less formal way by breeding plants and animals to have specific traits, but the process has been limited to naturally occurring variations (Phillips, 2008). For example, roses have been bred to have specific aromas or no smell at all, and dogs have been bred to have certain types of fur (such as poodles) or height (such as Great Danes) (U. S. National Library of Medicine, 2014).

The use (and ingestion) of genetically engineered or modified foods, animals, or ingredients is a highly controversial subject and has been since it was first introduced. Genetically engineered (“GE”) or genetically modified (“GM”) foods (often called “Frankenfoods” by opponents) are those foods with foreign genes (genes from other species) inserted into their genetic codes. These foods or animals are also called bioengineered foods, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or genetically modified foods (GMFs). The term “GMO” is the term used most commonly by the general public and health care providers to refer to the overall category of these foods and products.

Genetic engineering was first developed in 1973. By breeding mice to have particular mutations, researchers have been able to explore how certain diseases (such as diabetes and cystic fibrosis) behave. However, the process of altering genes remains inexact and laborious. Engineering a single mutation in a mouse took two years and altered genes often ended up in random locations, or in widely varying numbers with confounding results (J. Kahn, 2015).

The first genetically engineered food was a tomato named Flavr Savr. Created in 1994 by the biotech company Calgene, the GE tomato’s characteristic was delayed natural rotting. This characteristic allowed farmers to ripen the GE tomatoes in the field before harvesting them, rather than picking them while they were still green and pushing the ripening process by spraying them with ethylene gas (the normal ripening process for tomato farmers). The Flavr Savr tomato ultimately failed as a product, not because it was genetically engineered but because, despite its name, it had no flavor. Monsanto bought Calgene in 1995 and discontinued the revolutionary tomato (Barber, 2014).

Later on, the commercialization of GM crops resistant to the herbicide glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup® Ready crops) revolutionized agricultural weed management. Prior to this technology, weed control required a high level of skill and knowledge to carry out without harming crops. Farmers had to carefully select from a range of herbicide ingredients and then manage the timing of when those herbicidal ingredients were applied. All this was done while also using nonchemical control practices. When glyphosate was introduced, it was toxic to a large number of weed and crop species, it was flexible and simple to use, and its use was adopted at unprecedented rates. However, unintended problems began to appear—a dramatic rise in the number and extent of weed species resistant to glyphosate and a decline in the effectiveness of it as a weed management tool (Mortensen, 2012).

Today, the market for genetically engineered products is worth almost $2 billion and that number is expected to double by 2020 (K. Kahn, 2015).

Complete the course post exam (CE Test) with a score of 80% or greater. Complete all fields of the course evaluation form. Certificate of Completion is provided once the course post exam is passed per criteria above.

  • American Board of Managed Care Nursing
  • ANCC - American Nurses Credentialing Center
  • AOTA - American Occupational Therapy Association
  • ASWB - Association of Social Work Boards
  • California Board of Behavioral Sciences
  • California Board of Registered Nursing
  • California Department of Health, Aid, and Technician Certification Section
  • District of Columbia Board of Nursing
  • Florida Board of Massage Therapists
  • Florida Board of Nursing
  • Florida Board of Nursing - Certified Nursing Assistants
  • Florida Board of Respiratory Care
  • Florida Council of Dietetics and Nutrition
  • Florida Council of Licensed Midwifery
  • NAADAC - The National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors
  • NCBTMB -National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork
Course Expires:

April 16, 2019

  • Caroline Young, MPH
  • Cyndie Koopsen, RN, BSN, MBA, HNB-BC, RN-BC, HWNC-BC
Jurisdictional Requirements:

Continuing education (CE) licensing requirements vary by jurisdiction, are not well defined, and may change. These CE requirements may vary in terms of the number of hours required to the types of courses that must be taken. ALLEGRA Learning Solutions, LLC recommends you contact your licensing board or accrediting organization for the latest continuing education requirements of your state or territory. Compliance with CE requirements is the responsibility of the individual health care provider. Health care providers must understand the CE requirements in their jurisdictions, and be sure they are up-to-date on any rule changes that affect their license. For further information, please see our Accreditation Information.

Accommodations for Disabilities:

Every effort will be made to accommodate your special needs. To request accommodations, please contact us.

Conflicts of Interest and Relevant Financial Relationships:

The authors/planning committee members have no conflicts of interests or relevant financial relationships to declare relevant to this activity.

Commercial Support:

No commercial support has been received for this activity.

Non-endorsement of products:

Accreditation refers to recognition of continuing nursing education only and does not imply ALLEGRA Learning Solutions, LLC approval or endorsement of any commercial product.

Off-label Use of Products:

None of the authors intend to discuss off-label uses of drugs, mechanical devices, biologics, or diagnostics not approved by the FDA for use in the United States.