Agbiotech: Healthier Frankenfoods?
The growing opposition to biotech foods around the world is threatening the future of the technology. And a number of industry executives now acknowledge that the problem with first-generation products-for example, MonsantoÕs herbicide-resistant soybeans and insect-tolerant corn-is that while they may save farmers money and cut down on chemical use, they lack a visible payoff for the average shopper. "There may be risks with no benefit. So the consumer says Ôwhy should I put up with it?Õ," says David Wheat, an industry analyst at the Bowditch Group in Boston, Mass.
While nutrition in developing countries has never topped the biotech industryÕs to-do list, companies hope their next generation of products gets a warmer reception. That generation will include many crops with genetically engineered "output traits" that improve a plantÕs taste, size or nutritional value. One of the first to reach market is a DuPont soybean engineered to produce a frying oil without trans-fatty acids, a current villain in public health circles. "The consumer wonÕt know quite what kind of oil was used to make the donut, but the consumer can read a label that says zero trans-fats and thatÕs what matters," says Wheat. According to Virginia TechÕs Information Systems for Biotechnology, about 16 percent of the 800 biotech plants currently in field testing are aimed at improving such output traits.
Antonio Regalado is a senior associate editor at Technology Review.
Organization Product Status
Agritope Slow-ripening melons, tomatoes and raspberries -Field tests DuPont High oleic soybeans for healthier cooking oil - Marketed Dow Chemical Corn with increased starch levels - Field tests Monsanto Amino-acid enhanced corn for animal feed - R&D Swiss Federal Inst. of Tech. Beta-carotene producing rice - R&D
Return to the home page of Better Foods