Genetic manipulation of plants can be traced throughout history as farmers and gardeners have used selective breeding to produce better tasting varieties, increase yields and improve weather, pest and disease resistance. Genetic modification for plant agriculture is the process of making a copy of DNA for a desired trait in one plant or organism and inserting it into another. Advances in biotechnology have made the process much more effective and efficient because the techniques used to insert individual genes are much more predictable than attempting to make changes through cross-breeding. Currently, commercial genetic modification of crops focuses primarily on making them either resistant to insect pests, or resistant to herbicides.
GM technology has flourished in the last 20 years. Commercial sale of GM food began in 1994 with the introduction of the Flavr Savr, a delayed ripening tomato. In 1995, genetically modified canola, corn, cotton, soybeans and squash were granted marketing approval. By the year 2000, scientists were successful in boosting the nutritional value of a crop through genetic modification with the introduction of golden rice. In some cases, GM plants are directly consumed as food, but for the most part, the crops are further processed into food products or livestock feed. Most of the scientific research for GM crops has focused on seeds for commodity crops like cotton, canola, corn and soybeans. Currently, about 90% of canola, 85% of corn, 91% of soybeans and 88% of cotton produced in the United States are genetically modified.