Research, regulation pave way to future
By STEVE MERCER
For the Capital Press
Food with ingredients that have biotechnology-derived traits have been available for almost 20 years and consumed in literally trillions of meals around the world with no evidence of added harm or illness.
Just last week, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications reported that developing countries for the first time have grown more acres of biotech crops than industrialized countries, "contributing to food security and further alleviating poverty in some of the world's most vulnerable regions."
Yet skeptics still question the safety of these food products and the validity of their regulation.
The fact is numerous studies undertaken by government agencies charged with monitoring food safety and conclusions by leading global health and medical organizations agree that biotech crops are equally as safe to eat as conventional crops.
In the United States, for example, companies put newly developed biotechnology traits to the test with rigorous safety evaluations that include molecular characterization, toxicological evaluation, allergenicity assessments, compositional analysis and feeding studies. This extensive testing takes five to 10 years and costs tens of millions of dollars.
One scientist just argued that this process "wastes resources and diverts attention from real food safety issues."
Bruce Chassy, a professor emeritus of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, presented this position at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston on Feb. 17. During his talk, Chassy said biotech crops are overregulated in a process that actually hurts the environment, reduces global health and burdens the consumer. Chassy said he believes this is a response not to scientific evidence but instead to a global campaign that disseminates misinformation and fear about these food sources.
Today, no wheat is commercially available in the world that has been modified by single gene transfer, but dedicated, upright public and private scientists around the world are conducting biotech research on wheat. Their goal is to help farmers produce more and better wheat with less impact on our environment.
The U.S. wheat industry believes that biotechnology will help the world address nutritional deficiencies and health problems while increasing yields to make food more accessible, affordable and better for people everywhere. That is why the industry supports rigorous, but not onerous, scientific study, testing and regulation of biotech crops, including wheat.
"Safety is our top priority and 20 years of experience has proven that the products of modern biotechnology are as safe and healthful as their traditionally developed counterparts," said USW President Alan Tracy. "We urge the U.S. government and governments everywhere to find ways, within a scientifically sound approval process, to significantly reduce the time and cost of regulatory approval to speed innovation and allow smaller enterprises and university breeding programs to participate in that innovation."
Steve Mercer is vice president of communications at U.S. Wheat Associates.