Genetic modification has gotten lots of attention in the Florida Keys of late. But in Tallahassee this legislative session, the discussion is focusing on food, rather than insects. Genetically modified foods are defined as those that have had genes from one or more other species inserted into them in a lab in order to provide desirable characteristics. Supporters of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), including multinational agricultural companies like Monsanto, say that this process of bioengineering can bolster a crop's ability to withstand insects, herbicides, drought, extreme temperatures or saltwater. It is also argued that genetic modification can be used to make crops grow faster and to make them tastier and more nutritious. Critics of the practice, however, worry about the unintended consequences and side effects of the use of GMOs. Among their concerns is that crops genetically modified to be resistant to certain insects will end up killing off beneficial insects as well, causing problems up the food chain; that wind can blow pollen of GMOs onto nearby native plants, potentially leading to a bevy of ecological problems, including native die-offs; and that farmers, unshackled by the resistance of their GMOs to herbicides, would use more weed killers, increasing pollution in nearby watersheds. Critics also say that the health impacts of GMOs on those who consume them are not yet known. Bills proposed in the Florida House and Senate would require the labeling of genetically modified products offered for retail sale. In addition, the bills would require that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services post a list on its website of agricultural commodities that are likely to have been genetically engineered. Singled out in the bills are canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soy, sugar beets, zucchini and yellow summer squash.
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