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  • The difficulties of defining the term 'GM'

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In an article published in Science last November, Nina Federoff of Pennsylvania State University, United States, argued that thousands of years ago, the pre-Columbian indigenous peoples of Mexico were already 'genetically modifying' maize by selective breeding (see Prehistoric GM corn).

Two letters to this week's Science argue that Federoff's use of the term 'genetically modified' to include prehistoric crop domestication is both misleading and confusing. 'GM' should be used to refer exclusively to genetic engineering, they say, and should not extend to traditional selective breeding.

But in a response, Federoff defends her use of 'GM', arguing that "it is time to eliminate the altogether artificial boundary between what humans did before molecular techniques were developed and what they do now to improve their crop plants". She also expresses concern that "the apparently personal preferences of European consumers for foods made from plants that have been genetically modified in many ways, but not by molecular methods, may set Africa's agricultural and economic agenda".

Link to full text of letters in Science

Reference: Science 303, 1765 (2004)

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