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Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's) - an introduction

There has been a general perception in the media and with the public at large that GMO's exist largely in the form of new crops producing Frankenstein Foods. In fact there are many different types of GMO under production, some of which we consume on a regular basis.

chromosone structure of a living organism showing the double helix structureA GMO is any living thing in which the genetic makeup has been altered for specific purpose. This includes organisms designed to manufacture proteins as well as modified crops and farm animals. Broadly we can classify these as Indoor -meaning laboratory based, and Outdoor meaning those found outside of the lab.

yeast for use in baking and brewingIndoor GMO's consist of laboratory based organisms used for the production of medicines such as antibiotics, vaccines and insulin. Some of these GMO's are also involved in the production of food products, for example yeast for baking and brewing.

maize has been widely modified for use in the US and currently subject to field trials in the UKOutdoor GMO's consist of a range of organisms that may have been modified to improve yields (crops or farm animals), to control pests or solve environmental or other problems. The most visible manifestation of these however is GM crops which have attracted much media attention.

statutory controls govern the use of GMO's in the UKAll GMO's are strictly controlled by law. Production and research is subject to inspection by the HSE whilst the release (eg the sale of a GM crop to farmers) is subject to the GMO (Deliberate Release) regulations. Any use of a GMO as a food is controlled by the Novel Food Regulations.