Biotech Could Help the Malnourished

February 22, 2000

One scientist says genetic engineering technology used in food could help feed developing countries and reduce malnutrition.

Susan McCouch, a plant breeding professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., spoke at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington, D.C., this past weekend.

Many people have a negative view of what bioengineered food means, but if that technology was used to solve social problems, the public may be more supportive, McCouch says. For example, scientists have genetically spliced organisms to create a type of rice that is higher in vitamin A. If this approach was used on other foods, she says, it could help wipe out hunger and malnutrition.

"People who suffer from malnutrition generally lack essential levels of micronutrients because they lack the purchasing power to obtain sufficient diversity in their diet," McCouch says.

"The impact of delivering those essential micronutrients through food products such as enriched yellow rice is parallel (in the United States) to fortifying milk with vitamin D, salt with iodine or orange juice with calcium."

In other biotechnology news, an advisory panel to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests the federal government should improve testing and monitoring of genetically-altered crops to ensure they arenŐt killing harmless insects.

Last year, Cornell University reported that bioengineered corn, which produces its own pesticide, could harm the Monarch butterfly. That issue brought protesters to an international meeting on biotechnology in Montreal, Canada, last month.

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