by William E. Peace

Since the 1980's, scientists have developed techniques to insert genes into plant crops to give the plants new traits. For example, genes for insect resistance, originally from bacteria, can be placed into corn or soybean or potato plants; the plant is not harmed by insects, and no insecticides are needed.  Other genes can be inserted that are for resistance to plant viruses or fungi, or that make a plant resistant to herbicides that are ordinarily used to kill weeds in that crop field.  Plants can be made to be resistant to drought or to contain higher levels of nutrients as well. 

All of these things can directly increase the yield or health value of the crops and thus provide more food. In a world where people are starving, some think that this is an important way to meet food needs of a growing world population.

The use of genetically engineered crops such as this may also reduce the use of environmentally harmful insecticides and herbicides. But there are serious questions about the impacts of this type of genetic engineering, too. Are these foods safe for us to eat, for farm animals to eat, and safe for the environment?

Today in the United States, ninety-four percent of soybeans, ninety-four percent of the cotton, and ninety-two percent of the corn that is grown is already genetically modified.  In 2015, more than 448 million acres of genetically engineered crops were grown worldwide by 18 million farmers in nearly 30 different countries; 10% of farmland worldwide is planted with genetically modified crops.  Still, most people do not know very much about genetic engineering and biotechnology.  

What are the pro's and con's of using genetically engineered crops? Why have they been adopted by millions of farmers worldwide?  How are genetically engineered plants actually made?   What specific crops are grown and why? How do the crop yields per acre of genetically engineered crops compare with the yields of traditional crops?  What are environmental risks of growing genetically engineered crops and how are those risks met? What regulations are there of genetically modified crops? Do consumers want labels on food crops that state that they are genetically modified?   

1. First, thoroughly investigate all five areas of the Resources below. You may use a search engine such as Google to access additional information. If you are working in a group, you will need to divide your research between the different areas. Suggestions on roles that you can take in doing the work are found by clicking here.

2. Next, examine the text of several sample laws, so that you are familiar with how they can be worded and the format that they must follow.

3. Now decide what the content of your proposed law will be. If you are working in a group, discuss this within your group, otherwise come up with your own ideas of what you think should be in a law.

4. Draft the law and print a copy of the law to hand in.

5. Present your law in a 250 word factual statement that explains why the law should be enacted. Present factual support. If you have been working in a group, you need to determine as a group what to write, including comments of each student in the final statement.

Hand in the results to steps 1-5 before proceeding with step 6. Wait for your instructors approval to continue with step 6.

6. This step should be done only if you, the student, chooses to do it. It should not be required for credit. Send a personal email to a Senator or Congressional Representative from your state, or to the President or Vice President of the United States, or to the House Committee on Science or Agriculture, or to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry. These can all be accessed by clicking here. The email should express your views on what type of law that you think should be passed regarding labelling genetically engineered foods. Be sure to indicate that you are a student and that you are working on a project.

The following links will be useful to you in
completing this WebQuest.

1. DNA and How It Works In General

2. How Biotechnology Works & Some Agricultural Examples of It

3. Some Positive Aspects of Agricultural Biotechnology

4. Some Questions About Agricultural Biotechnology

5. Labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms

You may also find information on these five topics in your school or local library.
As you complete this WebQuest, you will first assess the current information about genetic engineering of food crops. You will need to find out how genes in plants an be changed, why they are changed, and what the possible side effects might be, if any. Then you will take your knowledge and use it in several ways.

First, you will draft a law that would address labeling genetically engineered foods in the United States.

Then, you will explain your proposed legislation in writing.

Finally, if you choose to do so, you may email officials in your state or Federal government and let them know what type of legislation that you think that they should be considering. Be sure to indicate that you are a student and that you are working on a project.

All of these activities will be for the purpose
of answering one important question:

Should genetically engineered food crops be specially labelled for

consumers and why?

It is important as you proceed that you gather lots of information before you come to a decision on this matter. Try not to make a quick or an emotion-based decision and then back that up with inaccurate information that you pick and choose from here or there. Instead, try to put your decision about this question off until you have lots of factual information first.

The grade on the WebQuest will be based on the details of your work on the proposed legislation, and your presentation of the legislation in writing. A rubric may be used to determine the grade.