Genetically Modified Foods: What Do You Think?

Students research current {definitionbot=disable}studies and uses of genetic engineering. They then conduct a role-playing forum that focuses on the advantages and disadvantages of incorporating genetically modified foods into society. This may also be used with the chapter "What's Left to Eat?"

Materials Needed
Extension Activities
Relevant Curriculum Standards


Students research current information on genetically modified foods and participate in a role-playing ethics forum in the classroom.

Estimated class time:
Five to six class periods: one class period for introduction of topic, two to three periods for research and preparation, one day for presentation.


Students will:

  • Define the term "genetically modified food," "genetically modified organisms," and "Frankenfood."
  • Research current studies and uses of genetically modified foods.
  • Explain the advantages and disadvantages of incorporating GMFs into society.
  • Discuss the impacts of GMFs on different groups of people.
  • Present a viewpoint in a role-playing format.


  • Internet access
  • Access to other library resource materials for research
  • Poster materials for visual aid construction


  1. Introduce topic by directing students to the chapter of the website entitled Unbalancing Act and reading the introductory paragraphs. Point out the phrase "humans stay alive—and healthy—because of balance." Ask students if they've heard of genetically modified foods; what do they know about them; and how might such foods contribute to upsetting the balance. Let's find out more!

  2. Direct students to the section, Agriculture: Green Revolution, Red Alert, specifically the "Science & You" section, "Does our food supply need a bio break?" Ask them to answer the following questions from the site.
    • What does it mean to genetically modify a food?
    • Before bioengineering was used, how did humans modify the plants and animals we cultivate for food?
    • What does "transgenic" mean?
    • Describe two examples of genetically modified foods currently in use.
    • What questions or concerns does the use of genetically modified products provoke?
    Discuss their responses.
  1. Divide the class into five groups and assign each group one of the following roles:
    • Bioengineering or biotechnology company representatives:
      Your job is to choose a particular GMF that your company is developing and to present your product in the best possible way, convincing others that it is economical, safe and generally a good thing!
    • Ethics committee representative
      Your job is to study the ethics of using genetically modified products. What questions must be answered before the products should be accepted? Is this practice right or wrong? Why?
    • Developing country diplomat
      You represent a country that lacks the same resources as the United States. You want to find out exactly how GMFs could benefit and/or hurt your country.
    • Food and Drug Administration official
      Your job is to ensure that certain legal requirements concerning GMFs are met. What kinds of testing must be done on all GMFs; should labels be required; what restrictions, if any, should be placed on their use?
    • Farmer
      Your group is to find out if GMFs will help or hurt you. Do GMFs increase production and profits? Are there safety risks in producing GMF products? Is there a market for your product-who will buy it?

    You may want to direct students to the Activity Sheet used in The Harvest of Fear lesson plan at www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/teachers/activities/28gm_harvest.html to help them solidify their arguments.

  2. Have each group research the internet and other publications, focusing on information pertinent to their roles. Tell the groups that each member should be prepared to present their research findings and questions, while acting out their particular role.

    Possible sites to use include:

    NOVA Online — Harvest of Fear

    Online Newshour High Tech Crops at

    NOW: Science and Health- The Seeds of Conflict at

    The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods at www.thecampaign.org

    Genetically Modified Foods News at www.connectotel.com/gmfood/

    Human Genome Project Information at www.ornl.gov/TechResources/Human_Genome/elsi/gmfood.html

    DuPont Biotechnology at www.dupont.com/biotech/

  3. After a day or two of individual research, have the students in each group meet and compile what they found out into a presentation, including a visual aid. Choose one student from each group to represent consumers/moderators and have them meet together as a new group to compile a list of questions (based on what they learned as a member of one of the original groups) to direct to each of the different focus groups.

  4. Have the groups assign each student within their group a number (from 1 to however many there are in each group). Then on the day of the presentation, the teacher will pick a number for each of the six (the five original, plus the consumer/moderator) roles assigned and whichever student is assigned that number will be the one who is responsible for presentation. The presentations continue with the consumer/moderator students directing questions to each of the other roles. The students remaining in the audience will evaluate the quality of each presenter based on the evidence of research and agreement to type of information presented and the particular role being represented.


  • Participation in introductory brainstorming and question session
  • Research and group participation
  • Presentation skills
  • Presentation evaluation


  • Find out which, if any, GMFs are currently being sold at local grocery stores. How are they labeled? How are foods that are not genetically modified labeled?
  • Interview local farmers and residents on their knowledge and opinions of GMFs.
  • Research legal cases involving GMFs

This lesson correlates to the following National Science Education Standards, located online at bob.nap.edu/html/nses/html/6e.html#csc912, and National Health Education Standards located online at www.aahperd.org/aahe/pdf_files/standards.pdf.

National Science Education Standards

Content Standard E:
All students should develop understandings about science and technology:

  • Understanding basic concepts and principles of science and technology should precede active debate about the economics, policies, politics, and ethics of various science- and technology-related challenges.

Health Education Standard 4:

  • Students will analyze the influence of culture, media, technology and other factors on health by analyzing and evaluating the influence of technology on personal and family health


Celbrate Biodiversity Placemat | Genetically Modified Foods:
What Do You Think?
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