Two events in the past few months raised the profile of foods with genetically modified ingredients - and also put a spotlight on how messy the issue can be.
The first was the publication in September of a study led by Gilles Eric Séralini involving the herbicide Roundup and herbicide-resistant Roundup Ready corn (technically known as NK603) - both Monsanto products. Rats in the study developed tumors, died prematurely, and suffered organ damage.
The second was the defeat in November of California Proposition 37, whose ballot summary read that it would have required the "labeling of food sold to consumers made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways."
There was a lot of heat with both events.
The Séralini study and its PR roll-out were met with an intense backlash from genetic-engineering apologists and much of the scientific community, and the European Food Safety Authority - among other scientific organizations - rejected its validity, saying it featured "inadequate design, analysis, and reporting."
In California, Prop 37 opponents - including Monsanto Company, E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Company, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association - spent more than $40 million to defeat the labeling ballot measure.
Yet combined and detached from the rhetoric and motivations on all sides, these two events neatly summarized the national and international debate over foods with genetically modified ingredients. Are they safe for human consumption? And should the government require the labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients - the way nutrition and ingredient labels now note the presence of allergens?
Depending on whom you ask, the answer to the first question ranges from "absolutely" to "we don't know" to "absolutely not." And the answer to the second question is largely - but not wholly - determined by the answer to the first.