Who Benefits from rDNA Biotechnology-Derived Foods?

DATE:Sept. 19, 2000

Who Benefits From rDNA Biotechnology-Derived Foods?

WASHINGTON—Much has been said about food biotechnology’s potential to feed the world in the future. But the benefits aren’t all in the future. Right now, rDNA biotechnology-derived foods offer concrete benefits to farmers and consumers. Products on the market or already under development offer advantages that might never be achieved using conventional breeding techniques.

“Modern biotechnology adds tremendous timeliness and precision to traditional cross-breeding techniques. It is the result of scientists understanding and using what nature has been doing unaided since life began,” according to Dr. Sanford Miller, Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center. Miller chaired the expert panel that produced the benefits and concerns section> of the IFT Expert Report on Biotechnology and Foods.

After a comprehensive review of the available scientific evidence, IFT has found many people benefit from rDNA biotechnology-derived foods.

Farmers benefit from increased yields on the same acreage, decreased production costs, less exposure to pesticides and herbicides, and more flexibility in crop rotation.

People with allergies will gain from foods in which the allergens have been reduced or eliminated and from increased knowledge about which proteins trigger allergic reactions.

People who want low cost, nutritious food will benefit from foods with longer shelf life and less spoilage, increased crop yields with lower production costs, and foods with improved nutritional characteristics.

People who are concerned about the environment will appreciate less pesticide and herbicide use, increased use of no-till agriculture, and less deforestation in sensitive ecosystems because food demand can be met by increased yields on existing farmland.

People in developing countries will benefit by planting crops tolerant of local soil and weather conditions, increasing yields without expensive chemical treatments for disease by using virus resistant varieties, and getting basic nutrition from crops enriched with essential vitamins and minerals not present in sufficient quantities in the traditional diet.

It is rare for a new technology to receive a broad and enthusiastic welcome. For example, pasteurized milk was originally viewed with deep suspicion, although it is a life-saving technology in its elimination of the microorganisms that cause tuberculosis and undulant fever. Similarly, all sorts of health threats—far beyond pacemaker interference—were originally attributed to microwave cooking. Biotechnology is no exception.

Although it is not surprising that consumers are wary of rDNA biotechnology-derived foods, the scientific evidence does not support their concerns,” said Miller. Numerous national and international scientific organizations have considered the potential risks associated with rDNA biotechnology-derived foods and have consistently concluded that these foods pose risks less severe, or no more severe, than those risks associated with conventional breeding techniques that have been practiced for centuries.

“The science involved in many of these issues is extremely complex. People worry about potential risks that sound logical, given their understanding of the science. However, a thorough analysis reveals that the risks have already been adequately addressed,” Miller said.

Food biotechnology offers tremendous promise for the future. It is another powerful tool to use in our continuing efforts to provide low-cost, enjoyable, nutritious food to the world.

In an effort to contribute to a meaningful dialogue on scientific issues and consumer concerns about rDNA biotechnology, the Institute of Food Technologists, a non-profit society for food science and technology, conducted a comprehensive review of biotechnology. IFT convened three panels of experts, consisting of IFT members and other prominent biotechnology authorities, to evaluate the scientific evidence and write a report divided into four sections: Introduction, Safety, Labeling, and Benefits and Concerns.