The purpose of this activity is to help students understand what genetically modified foods are (especially corns) and how and why they were created. The students will be exposed to various issues surrounding genetically modified foods and to help them understand the complexity of the issues surrounding the biotechnology movement. This activity will allow students to be able to use appropriate vocabulary to identify and argue the potential benefits and risks of genetically modified food such as corn (pros and cons) and the opportunity to argue and collect evidence to support the benefits or risks that surround the use of genetically modified corn. This activity is also designed to provide students with the opportunity to learn how to write in science, using scientific language in writing and discussion, and develop their speaking and listening skills.
The Content and Related Concepts
What are genetically modified foods?
GMOs, also called genetically engineered (GE) foods, have had their genes altered in a way that would not occur naturally or they can contain genes that are inserted from another organism. Those with genes from other organisms are called “transgenic” and represent a large number of GMOs available today, such as Bt corn, so-named because it contains a gene from bacteria (Bacillus thuringiensis) that is resistant to the herbicide Roundup commonly used for weed control.
GMOs have been around since 1994, when the Flavr Savr tomato first came to market after FDA approval. GMOs are everywhere and the United States is the largest producer of GMOs in the world.
The most common GMO crops that make their way into our food are corn, vegetable oils (like canola), and soybeans, where 85% of soybeans grown in the US are genetically modified. Squash and papaya are also approved GMO crops, with many more grains, veggies and fruits on the way to being approved.
Click here for a list of other GMO crops from Discovery.
Here is a link to an online quiz about GMOs for the students.
Attached is a face-off published recently in Genes & Nutrition, putting two researchers – one pro-GMO, one anti-GMO – against each other. Here is a quick summary of the pro and con arguments discussed in the face-off publication
The main argument that proponents of GMOs make is that they will help with global food production and security.
Improved nutrition: foods “bio fortified” with vitamins/mineral like Golden Rice could help solve nutrient deficiencies
Less food waste: food modified for better transportability, less bruising, etc.
Con’s: advocates are concerned that there are too many unknowns surrounding GMOs, and that approvals have been premature and ahead of solid safety evidence.
Gene flow: the possibility of GMOs passing on genes to wild species and interrupting natural processes
Pest resistance: use of GMOs leading to natural selection for pesticide- and herbicide-resistant insects and weeds
Health: limited evidence to support long-term safety of eating GMOs
Ownership over life: in essence, corporations like Monsanto own these specific life forms and have pursued litigation to protect their property
What does the research say?
There is little evidence of long-term GMO safety and much of the research available is from one group in France and it is not pro-GMO. The safety of NK603, a Roundup-resistant corn, was called into question after Séralini et al documented significant liver, kidney and hormone disruption in rats fed GMO corn. However, Health Canada and several other international organizations disputed the study results because of “methodological issues”, concluding that a re-opening the issue of GMO safety was not warranted.
Regardless of methodological issues, the fact remains that there are no long-term studies looking at the effects of GMO consumption on human health. Despite the questions surrounding GMO safety, the issue is not on everyone’s agenda and public awareness and opinion vary considerably worldwide. Those living in Europe and Asia seem to question GMOs more rigorously than North Americans and those who are older, female and more educated also seem to be more cautious.
The arguments related to environmental implications of GMOs seem to have the most traction, as gene flow to wild species and an increase in resistant pests have already been demonstrated. If
you want more information on GMO regulation and evidence, click on the following link: FAQ from the World Health Organization.
In all likelihood, you have been eating GMOs since the 1990s when they were first introduced. The biggest concern there is regarding GMOs and health is that the science is still relatively new and there is little health-related research, yet GMOs have been fully embraced by many governments with little attention to consumer concern.
Many feel that “consumers have the right to choose” and appropriate labeling should be required. While many other countries have mandatory GMO labeling rules in place (such as Europe and Japan), Canada and the US do not. There is a voluntary labeling program in Canada but you manufacturers are reluctant to advertising that their product is full of GMOs!
In North America, about 60 – 70% of food sold in stores includes genetically modified ingredients. Why is this number so high? Because corn, soybeans and canola are so pervasive in our food supply – as processed food ingredients and components of animal feed – and they happen to be the top genetically modified crops. Look no further than any food with corn in its history – from corn-fed ground beef to soda pop containing high-fructose corn syrup – GMOs are stocking the shelves.
There have been arguments going for decades regarding the safety of GMOs. With so many opinions, it’s hard to sift through rhetoric (on both sides) of the argument! and get to the actual evidence.
Genetically Modified Foods Lecture and students fill in handout
The Advantages of Genetically Modified Food Supplies Video Clip (5:29 min)
Scientists Address the Opposition to Genetically Modified Crops Video Clip (6:22 min)
The Future of the World Hunger With and Without Genetic Modification (3:41 min)
Argument (Environmentalist versus Country Representative)
Curriculum and Instructional Considerations
This activity is best used as part of a unit on genetics. This activity can be an extension of the unit based on understanding the application of DNA technology and evaluate some of the ethical issues surrounding the use of DNA technology (including cloning, genetically modified organisms, stem cell research, and Human Genome Project). Or the teacher could assign the activity before discussing applications of DNA technology and the students would have to use scientific inquiry to discover information about GMOs. So, if the teacher decides to use this activity before discussing GMOs in the classroom then the students will not need any additional information beyond what is supplied as part of the student pages (Notes section). The teacher would need to explicitly discuss the concept and provide definitions for the students to ensure the students gain an understanding of the concept. Or, the activity could be used to enhance the students’ knowledge of DNA technology and the related science fields. The teacher would have already covered DNA technology and briefly discussed different aspects of science related fields that incorporate DNA technology in everyday life aspects. So, the students would be required to complete additional research to aid in their understanding of GMOs and the impact on their everyday lives.
Recommendations for Implementing the Activity
This activity will take approximately one 90 minute instructional time period to complete. The table below provides the type of materials that are needed to implement this activity in class. The students will work in groups of 4 to prepare an argument between representatives of the world who intend on planting a genetically modified corn crop and environmentalists who oppose the sale of genetically modified seeds to countries. Both sides of the debate must be carefully prepared with claim, data researched, and positions represented. This will require a team of 4 students, 2 for each side of the debate and a 5th student will be chosen to act as a moderator. The students (group of 4) will use the iPads to research data to support their team debates and the fifth student will use the iPad to prepare themselves as a moderator for the debate. The fifth student will have to research both sides of the debate and develop questions to aid in the debate.
Amount Needed With
All students will have local internet access
1 per student or use of Smartboard
1 per student
Use the provided rubric to assess the arguments of the students at the end of the activity.
Standards Addressed in This Activity
This activity can be used to address the following standards outline in the North Carolina Essential Standards:
Bio 3.3 Understand the application of DNA technology.
Bio 3.3.3 Evaluate some of the ethical issues surrounding the use of DNA technology (including cloning, genetically modified organisms, stem cell research, and Human Genome Project).
This activity can also be used to address the Next Generation Science Standards.
HS-LS3-2 Make and defend a claim based on evidence that inheritable genetic variations may result from (1) new genetic combinations through meiosis, (2) viable errors occurring during replication, and/or (3) mutations caused by environmental factors.
Science and Engineering Practices
Asking Questions and Defining Problems
Ask questions that arise from examining models or a theory to clarify relationships
Developing and Using Models
Use a model based on evidence to illustrate the relationships between systems or components of a system
Analyzing and Interpreting Data
Apply concepts of statistics and probability to science and engineering questions and problems, using digital tools when feasible.
Engaging in Argument from Evidence
Make and defend a claim based on evidence about the natural world that reflects scientific knowledge and student generated evidence.
Cause and Effect
Empirical evidence is required to differentiate between cause and correlation and make claims about specific causes and effects. (HS-LS3-1), (HS-L3-2)
Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
Algebraic thinking is used to examine scientific data and predict the effect of a change in one variable on another. (HS-LS3-3)
Systems and System Models
Models can be used to simulate systems and interactions-including energy, matter, and information flows-within and between systems at different scales (HS-LS1-4)
Connections to Nature of Science (Science is a human endeavor)
Technological advances have influenced the progress of science, and science has influenced advances in technology (HS-LS3-3).
LS3.A: All cells in an organism have the same genetic content, but the genes used by the cell may be regulated in different ways.
Variation of Traits
LS3.B: Environmental factors affect expression of traits and hence affect the probability of occurrences of traits in a population. Thus, the variation and distribution of traits observed depend on both genetic and environmental factors. (HS-LS3-2), (HS-LS3-3)
Please review the figure below and answer the questions that follow:
What do all these foods shown above have in common?
Please share with your team member next to you
Research Question: “Is the use of genetically modified corn beneficial to feed our world or are they a disaster in disguise?
Prepare an argumentation between representatives of the world who intend on planting a genetically modified corn crop and environmentalists who oppose the sale of genetically modified seeds to countries based upon population growth and available land usage. Both sides of the argument must be carefully prepared with claims, data researched, and positions represented. This will require a team of 4 students, 2 for each side of the argument and a 5th student will be chosen to act as a moderator.
Arable land is being lost at the rate of 38,610 square miles per year and 2039 there will only be 0.53 acres of arable land per person worldwide.
2.81 acres per person
With the world’s population approaching 8 billion, the amount of land required to feed this growing population is becoming scarcer.
Please read the research question stated below and complete the rest of this worksheet to generate your claims, evidence, reasoning and rebuttals.
Is the use of genetically modified corn beneficial to feed our world or
could they be a disaster waiting to happen?
Use the table below as a guide to develop your claim to answer the question stated above.
You must support your claim with evidence that will be collected through online research.
Use your iPads to collect evidence that supports or opposes the use of GMOs such as corn
You will also need to justify your claim with the use of the evidence that you have collected.
Please read through the article below as a source of evidence for or against your claim
News Hour article Food Crisis in Zambia Posted:12.18.02
President Mwanawasa of Zambia has refused international food aid even though many in his country are starving.
Zambia, a landlocked nation in southern Africa, has suffered from severe drought for two years and is unable to feed many of its people. Yet, the country continues to refuse food aid from the international community.
More than 2.9 million people need food aid, according to the World Food Program, the United Nations agency that fights global hunger. But in August, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa rejected the corn offered to the county because he says it is “poison” and poses health risks to his people.
Genetically modified food
The corn in question is genetically modified (GM) maize, mostly donated from the United States. Genetically modified food contains genetic material from another organism. That material has been added to the crop to add traits that the crop did not originally possess, such as resistance to insects or tolerance to drought.
Critics of GM foods say the technology is untested and the long-term effects unknown. In addition, they fear that GM crops will infect a nation’s native crops, causing later problems. Many critics of GM technology are in Europe, where many GM foods are prohibited or require special labeling. President Mwanawasa has said that he does not want the introduction of GM foods to hurt his export trade with Europe.
The European Union issued statements in November saying that scientists have not found evidence of harm to humans from genetically modified foods. They also said that trade with the EU would not be negatively affected if Zambia accepts the GM food aid.
The World Food Program, which distributes the food aid, says that they won’t force Zambia to accept the shipments but they can’t guarantee replacement of the corn with different food. They fear that many people will die if they don’t receive food. They also worry that people will riot if they do not get the food, which has already been sent to the country and is rotting in storage.
Zambia based its rejection of the genetically modified food on its own scientific report on the food's possible effects on the health and economic welfare of the country. Their report concluded that there was insufficient evidence to show the safety of GM foods. But some critics of the report, including the opposition political party, say that it is inaccurate.
And while scientists debate the research, Zambian myths about the effects of GM food continue to spread. Some believe it makes women infertile, while others think it infects people with HIV/AIDS.
Other countries in the region that need food aid but don’t want GM foods are accepting the corn after it has been milled -- a process that prevents the planting of the GM corn seeds. Zambia has rejected this offer. However, Zambia has allowed the milled corn to be given to Angolan and Congolese refugees in camps within the country.
The GM food debate
Many international organizations such as Food First, a research and policy group, have criticized the international community for offering the GM food. They believe that it puts Zambia in an impossible position of having to accept food that the U.S. cannot sell to Europe and Japan or having to refuse international assistance, which it needs.
They also criticize the use of GM seeds, saying the system forces poor farmers to become increasingly dependent on multinational corporations. They recommend the purchase of non-GM foods from other developing countries.
Other human rights groups in Zambia say that the rejection is unrealistic. They believe that Zambia should accept the corn if it is milled.
The debate within the country cuts across political and class lines. Refusing GM foods was popular with the urban elite who saw the issue as a test of national strength. Hungry villagers, however, wanted the food aid, but lacked the political power to accomplish this goal, according to foreign diplomats in the country.