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Lesson Plan

Genetically Modified Food

About this Video
This 11-minute video explores how the rise of genetically modified foods has given rise to fears about food safety while transforming agricultural production processes. Focusing on the rise and fall of the genetically modified tomato, the video shows students how GMO food products have emerged as a convenience to many farmers, and a source of confusion for many consumers. Useful for lessons focused on the growth of GMO agriculture, the video helps students see the complexities of this new approach to agriculture, and sets up a classroom discussion on the costs and benefits that GMOs bring to food and farming.
  • How controversies have arisen due to the changing nature of contemporary agriculture and food-production practices.
  • How the history of GMO tomatoes demonstrates the potential benefits but also the potential for public confusion surrounding GMO agriculture.
  • How GMO crops have come to dominate agricultural production and consumption processes.
  • Social Studies
  • Biology
  • Science
  • U.S. History
  • Life Sciences
  • Biology
  • World History
  • Green Revolution
  • Cultural and Social Change
  • 1990s America
  • 21st Century
For Teachers
Introducing the Lesson

In 1994, the “Flavr Savr” tomato made its debut on supermarket shelves across the country, opening the door to the continuing dispute over genetically modified food products.

The Flavr Savr was the first commercially grown, genetically engineered food approved for sale. It was created by a group of scientists at Calgene who set out in the 1980s to create a tasty tomato that didn’t go soft.

Eight years and some $20 million later, the California company found a way to turn off the gene that made tomatoes squishy, and the Flavr Savr was born.

To be safe, Calgene sought approval from the Federal Drug Administration, which eventually ruled the Flavr Savr was as safe as tomatoes bred by traditional methods.

To be transparent, Calgene made sure packages of Flavr Savr tomatoes were labelled as “genetically engineered,” with an 800 number to field customer questions.

The tomatoes gained a lot of initial publicity but the company of bioengineers was poorly equipped to handle the business of actually selling their tomatoes, and eventually sold out to Monsanto.

Monsanto has since become the dominant player in the field of bioengineered foods, but the company’s reluctance to label its products as genetically modified has fueled protests and debates here and abroad.

While genetically-engineered foods are labelled in Europe, they are not required to be labelled in this country.

Essential Questions
  • In the 1980s, why were many consumers dissatisfied with most commercially sold tomatoes? How did Calgene genetically alter the tomato to increase consumer satisfaction?
  • How did the public respond to Calgene’s Flavr Savr tomato?
  • Why did Monsanto acquire Calgene?
  • By 2012, what percentage of corn and soybeans in the United States were genetically modified?
  • Are GMO food products in the U.S. required to be labeled? Does the European Union require labeling?
  • Are most GMO food products designed to benefit the consumer, or designed to make it easier for the farmer to grow the food?
Lesson Procedure
  • What’s the difference between a genetically modified tomato like the Flavr Savr and genetic modifications like those carried out for centuries through plant breeding practices? Is one approach more dangerous than the other? Why?
  • Do you think GMO food should be labeled? Why? If you were shopping at the grocery store, and one bag of tortilla chips was labeled GMO and another bag of chips was labeled GMO-free but cost an extra dollar, would you pay the extra dollar? Why?
  • What do you think are the greatest potential benefits of GMO agriculture?
  • What do you think are the greatest potential dangers or unintended consequences of GMO agriculture?
  • How concerned should the public be about large corporations like Monsanto-Bayer that dominate the economy of GMO crops? What are the advantages and potential dangers of allowing for-profit corporations to control the intellectual property and gene patents that are responsible for producing much of the world’s food supply?
Additional Resources
Transcript for "GMO Food Fears and the First Test Tube Tomato" Retro Report
You Call That a Tomato? Retro Report/The New York Times

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.

Ask questions to clarify relationships about the role of DNA and chromosomes in coding the instructions for characteristic traits passed on from parents to offspring.

Skill 1.C: Explain biological concepts in applied contexts.

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