Genetic engineering, long the focus of anticipation and discussion in American agriculture, entered the realm of reality in a big way in 1998. The fact is that if in the past year you've topped a sandwich with cheese, gobbled down a bowl of cereal, or guzzled a soft drink, chances are that you've eaten foods from genetically modified crops.
Although people in agriculture have been heralding the promise of genetically enhanced crops for 20 years, few products made it to market. Quietly, over the past three years, that has changed in a major way. Marshall Martin, professor of agricultural economics and director of Purdue University's Center for Agricultural Policy and Technology Assessment, says that many common foods now use biotechnology in their production and processing.
"The genetically engineered enzyme chymosin is used in two-thirds to three-quarters of the cheese produced," Martin says. "Bt-corn, which allows the corn plants to resist the corn borer, has found wide acceptance. So everyone is already eating foods produced through biotechnology."
In fact, the use of genetically enhanced corn has increased from 400,000 acres in 1996 to three million acres in 1997 to an estimated 17 million acres planted in 1998. Each year, total corn acreage in the United States is about 80 million acres.
Biotechnology is used to produce some of our most common foods: