Mary Helen Arthur

• John Vanderveen, scientist emeritis, Food and Drug Administration, and Bruce Stillings, Food and Agriculture Consultants, shared the scientific perspective on rDNA biotechnology-derived foods in a Gannett News Service article about the release of the IFT Expert Report on Biotechnology and Foods at a Sept. 19 press conference in Washington, D.C. “The science community needs to be more communicative with the public about what happens in this field,” Vanderveen said. “Genetics is not new, it’s just not widely understood,” he added. Stillings noted that scientists have long been selectively breeding or cross-breeding plants and animals but conventional techniques are now seen as unpredictable and imprecise.

• Vanderveen, chair of the expert panel that produced the labeling section of the IFT Expert Report on Biotechnology and Foods, provided perspective on the recent discovery of an unapproved variety of rDNA biotechnology-derived corn in the human food supply in an article by United Press International. He noted that rDNA biotechnology-derived foods are no more dangerous than any others and that the methods used for selecting traits actually are safer and more effective than older methods of hybridization.

Vanderveen cited three possibilities for how the unapproved variety got into the food supply: the transportation and storage system containers were not properly cleaned between loads, accidental sale of the corn by someone who was unaware the product was restricted to animal feed, or purposeful introduction into the food chain by someone trying to make an additional profit. “The likelihood of this product winding up in the general supply was not zero and in fact the way the systems are designed in this country, there is the potential for getting small amounts of contamination in very innocent ways,” Vanderveen said.

Responding to activist calls for mandatory labeling of all rDNA biotechnology-derived foods, Vanderveen said, “A food label is only useful to consumers if it is easily understood, truthful and not misleading. Creating a program that meets the needs of the consumer can be far more difficult and complex than many people realize.”

• Dallas Hoover, University of Delaware and chair of the expert panel that produced the human food safety section of the IFT Expert Report on Biotechnology and Foods, emphasized the safety of rDNA biotechnology-derived foods in the Oct. 11 Lindsay (Calif.) Gazette. “All of the existing foods produced using rDNA biotechnology have undergone a science-based safety assessment focusing on the characteristics of the product, especially the unique components,” Hoover noted. “Considering that there are tens of thousands of the host organism’s own genes, the introduction by precise techniques of one or a few additional, well-characterized genes does not create an organism that is more likely to be changed in major physical properties or wholesomeness than an organism derived through traditional breeding. Indeed, because of the greater precision in selecting the desired trait, an adverse event is unlikely,” he concluded.

• Al Clausi, an agricultural consultant, offered his perspective on food biotechnology in the Oct. 20 Christian Science Monitor. “There’s no way you are going to stop this technology, any more than you could stop the automobile or the computer,” Clausi predicted. “It’s just too good,” he explained.

• Food Science Communicator Mary Ellen Camire, University of Maine, discussed eating dried blueberries to ease an upset stomach in the November issue of Prevention. Reports in medical journals indicate that dried blueberries are absorbent and inhibit bacterial adhesion, thus reducing infection. “There is a long history of using dried blueberries for diarrhea and upset stomach,” Camire said. Dried blueberries should be used because the moisture in fresh or frozen berries may actually cause diarrhea.

• Communicator Manfred Kroger, Pennsylvania State University, offered insight into an old folk remedy for minor kitchen burns—rubbing the burn with the cut surface of an onion—in the November issue of Prevention. Onion juices have a cooling effect on the skin, much like water, Kroger explained. In addition, they are antibacterial and will seep into surrounding tissue to help prevent infection, he said.

• Communicator Christine Bruhn, University of California, tackled the issue of irradiated foods in a Oct. 19 article by Reuters Health. Irradiation has been shown to lower the amounts of the B vitamin thiamin in pork and vitamin A in eggs, but these changes are not significant, Bruhn said, adding that there is no evidence that irradiation causes cancer.

Information Specialist