AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com
Sound science and foods from biotechnology
By C.S. Prakash and Christine Bruhn
San Diego Union Tribune
June 14, 2000
Sound science. It has been the safety determinant and underlying consumer
protection for our country's food supply for more than a century. In fact,
it's a legacy that dates back to 1861, when President Abraham Lincoln
initially understood its importance by establishing the first
science-based labeling initiative to protect our nation's consumers from
misleading marketing campaigns, food safety scares and snake oil salesmen
who preyed on the unwitting.
The sound-science legacy is alive and well. The U.S. Food and Drug
Administration's recent announcement reaffirming the safety of foods
derived from biotechnology, while adding requirements for mandatory
notification of new products and allowing for voluntary labeling of these
products, is one to be applauded. Rather than bowing to the pressure
tactics of the anti-biotech crowd, the FDA has reaffirmed the current
science-based approval process. This decision continues a long tradition
of ensuring that Americans have the safest food supply in the world and
provides consumers with the means to make informed choices in food
The scientific community overwhelmingly agrees that the FDA's actions are
the kind of responsible oversight consumers should expect. The
biotechnology products approved through the current process have a record
of safe consumption, and this enhanced, more effective process will only
strengthen the benefits America's consumers enjoy and deserve.
Through biotechnology, farmers and consumers benefit from crops with
traits that nature has developed in other organisms -- disease resistance,
for example, or improved nutritional performance or even better flavor.
Biotechnology-improved crops are a simple, but more precise, extension of
traditional breeding and other improvements farmers have been making to
crops for centuries.
Years of independently reviewed research and testing have shown that
commercially available foods developed through biotechnology are
substantially equivalent to foods developed through traditional plant
breeding and are safe. The term "substantially equivalent" is used by
scientists and regulatory agencies to indicate that the composition of
these foods is basically the same as conventional foods and that the
nutritional content is the same. Should a product be developed that is not
equivalent, labels and further testing are required under the FDA's rule
to protect consumers.
Foods produced using biotechnology have been available since 1990. To name
just a few, consumers have been able to benefit from tomatoes with delayed
ripening traits that remain fresh longer and withstand transport better
than traditional tomatoes. Also, soybeans, canola, corn, cotton and
potatoes have been enhanced to be resistant to insects, herbicides or
both. Squash has been improved to be resistant to a virus that destroys
the vegetable, and papaya resistant to ring spot virus that otherwise
would destroy the papaya industry in Hawaii and prevent consumers from
enjoying this delicious, nutritious fruit.
As we consider the many advantages of agricultural biotechnology, we must
understand that this approach improves life for all living things. Higher
crop yields due to the planting of improved seed have contributed
appreciably to saving more than 15 million square miles of wildlife
habitat from being plowed for low-yield traditional farming. That's equal
to the total land area of the United States, Europe and South America.
And the development of crops that naturally resist insects allows less
pesticide use, while maintaining high quality and production efficiency.
During the first three years of its use, growers planting biotech cotton
reduced their use of chemical insecticides by more than 1 million gallons
in the United States alone.
Consider also that every night, 800 million people in the developing world
go to bed hungry. Almost 200 million pre-school children are
undernourished. An estimated 5 million children die annually from
nutrition-related illnesses. Biotechnology crops offer an important tool
to help alleviate these problems and help end world hunger. According to
the 1997 World Bank and Consultative Group on International Agricultural
Research, biotechnology can help increase food production in the
developing world by 25 percent.
The advantages of agricultural biotechnology are many, and the FDA's
recent decision on mandatory notification and voluntary labeling allows
consumers to safely enjoy the advances brought by this process and have
the facts necessary to make informed choices. President Lincoln understood
the importance of protecting consumers through education and sound
regulatory science. The scientific community does as well. That's why we
believe strongly that FDA's actions are in the best interests of everyone.
Prakash is director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at
Tuskegee University. Bruhn is a consumer marketing specialist at the
Center for Consumer Research at UC Davis.
Union-Tribune Publishing Co.