Food Safety and the Environment!
Though the practical applications of environmental biotechnology have generally lagged behind those in medical and plant biotechnology, many scientists believe that biotechnology can play an important part in developing sustainable solutions to the problems of air, soil, and water pollution, and waste treatment and reduction.
On the opposite side, concerns have been raised about the potential impact of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on the environment, particularly biological diversity.
In considering the risks associated with genetic modification, it is important to look also at the risks posed by conventional farming (including organic farming) and food production methods. GM tomatoes, potatoes, and other fruit and vegetable products are on the market in the United States. Tomato puree made from genetically modified tomatoes was on sale in two British supermarket chains from 1996 to 1999. A wide range of GM crops have been approved for cultivation in the United States.
In the European Union, maize modified for herbicide tolerance and insect resistance has received approval for animal feed and for processing into starch. Soybeans modified for herbicide tolerance have also been approved for food and animal feed uses. Soybean products such as oil, flour, and lecithin are used in a wide variety of processed foods.
In many cases, however, the food products which include the derivatives of such GM crops among their ingredients are processed in ways which remove all or most of the modified DNA or protein. Even where modified DNA or protein survives in the final food product, the amount of genetically modified material present is generally small, denatured or otherwise destroyed in biological function. Gene-sized pieces of DNA decay during storage and are readily destroyed in food processing and cooking.
There is broad agreement among most scientists, among food regulatory agencies in this country and other EU and OECD member states, and among international bodies such as the World Health Organisation and the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation that the GM foods currently on the market are as safe as their conventional counterparts.
These bodies are independent of the biotechnology industry, have a primary role of safeguarding public health, and possess high levels of scientific expertise among their staff. It is a measure of how much public confidence in Europe has been rocked by the BSE crisis that repeated assurances from independent scientists and regulatory bodies that GM foods are safe to eat appear to have had relatively little effect in easing public concerns.
The prevailing scientific view that current GM food products present no threat to human health rests on several grounds. The cases of genetic modification of crops and foods to date have typically involved the transfer of two or three genes with specific, well-understood functions.
This is a more precise and controlled process than the genetic transfers undertaken in the course of conventional breeding which typically involve the random switching of tens of thousands of genes. This includes an assessment of the implications for human health which focuses on the gene product and its function, and addresses both the intentional and unintended effects that may result from the genetic modification of the food source.