airplane Humans have a very strange attitude to risk. Probably the most dangerous thing most people do is travel. Loads of people die in road traffic accidents. But they still travel - more and more - and by doing so, they are probably taking the greatest risk of all: messing with our planet's climate system (see my guide on global warming for more on this). But how safe are genetically modified organisms? Nobody knows for sure. But I don't think anyone would go so far as to say there is absolutely no risk in eating GE food or of releasing transgenic organisms into the environment.

People have plenty of food to eat from natural plants and animals. And you know a great deal about what things you eat are bad for you, which ones might give you tummy ache or which are poisonous. You know that because you've been eating these things for thousands of years and so you know from practical experience what's good and what's bad. You know that things like potatoes, for example, can be quite poisonous if they are green (they contain an alkaloid poison called solanine) and that some types of cassava, a staple food in the tropics, contain cyanide (a deadly poison) unless carefully prepared. Why bother with new GM food?

During the 1990s, there were major protests in Europe over the safety of GM crops. But there were no such protests in North America and as a result, people there have been eating GE foods for 20 years or more. None of the catastrophes predicted by the environmental movement in Europe have occurred so it would seem that genetically engineered foods are not the danger that people thought they might be. The companies have carried out a great experiment, trying out their GM food crops on millions of people around the world. Fortunately for them, it has been successful... so far.

experiment on kids?Most of the GE foods grown so far have been for companies to make money and gain control of the supply of seeds. They are not nutritionally better for people and expensive for farmers to buy. The bottom line is that people who think GE foods are really needed must have much better reasons than just making lots of money. They do, of course, and some of those reasons are quite sensible. But will GE crops 'feed the world'? businessmenPrivate companies have one overriding aim: to make money for the people who own them. Feeding the world is not something they would be interested in doing... unless, of course, the hungry people could pay for the food. we need our own land, not GE foodBut hungry people are almost always hungry not because of lack of food, but because they have no money to buy it and no land to grow their own. Perhaps the companies will change and become really kind and generous and give away food to starving people in the future. I hope so. What do you think? Happily, there are other moves afoot which could mean useful GE becoming more freely available to poor farmers in developing countries.

To learn more about the risks of genetic engineering, visit the Union of Concerned Scientists.