What is a Frankenfood?

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  • Written By: Jason C. Chavis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2019
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Frankenfood is a slang term describing the various types of genetically modified food products created using bioengineering. Certain food types, either plants or animals, are introduced to specific changes in their deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) structures. While Frankenfood has been on the market in the late 20th century, it suffers from many negative connotations due to the fact that it mutates naturally-occurring food sources. This has had the side effect of helping to stimulate the organic food industry, prompting many consumers and food producers to minimize the impact of genetically engineered food products and return to the basics of food production that their predecessors enjoyed.

The term Frankenfood comes from the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, relating genetically modified foods to the monster that Dr. Frankenstein created. In order for Frankenfood to be created, the DNA of the food needs to be manipulated. This usually involves either the insertion or deletion of specific genes within the genetic coding. Scientists identify a specific gene in a plant or animal that is responsible for an undesired trait in the finished product. To mitigate this trait, the engineer either adds or detracts the gene from the plant or animal's nucleus, allowing it to reproduce and create a food with or without the trait. For example, scientists have created bioengineered food such as corn to produce larger kernels that are less likely to be impacted by pests.


In 1994, a company named Calgene introduced the first Frankenfood to market. The product was called the FlavrSavr™ tomato, a breed that would ripen but failed to soften like other strains of the fruit. This allowed the company to charge more for the tomato. Despite this fact, the product eventually became unprofitable with the development of longer-lasting natural tomatoes that were available at a lower price.

As advances in Frankenfood technology became more prevalent, the planting of the crops increased substantially, especially in the United States. With this expansion came new regulations and laws regarding the production and sale of Frankenfood to consumers. The most prevalent came with limitations and additional labeling procedures enforced by the European Union. In the United States, similar legislative actions failed to provide adequate protection preventing the cross-contamination of organic crops with genetically modified foods.

One of the most challenging legal issues regarding Frankenfood is the fact that the companies producing genetically engineered food own the trademark on the DNA modification. When a seed from a company-owned crop is mixed with naturally-occurring seeds stocks, it can result in the creation of a trademarked collection of seeds inadvertently owned by an independent farmer. This can open up violations of patent issues for the farmer.


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