In Defense of Biotechnology
By Richard Haldenby
Re: "Biotech Bytes: Who's Winning the Frankenfoods Fight?" [Guest Essay, June 29-July 5]. The headline over a recent guest essay in the Weekly Alibi asks "who's winning" in the public discussion over biotechnology foods. The correct answer is consumers, the environment and people across the developing world as well as farmers who produce the means to feed and clothe them.
Far from being the unexplored field of science suggested in the article, biotechnology is as old as agriculture itself. The earliest farmers pioneered it when they began selectively breeding crops to improve their genetic characteristics. Today, science enables those improvements to be targeted more precisely and, therefore, more safely.
The results are improvements in our quality of life in a number of areas. For consumers, biotechnology offers the potential for higher-quality, more nutritious foods, like cooking oils with less fat and fruits and vegetables that contain more vitamins and minerals.
Biotechnology strains of corn, cotton and potatoes can, in some cases, reduce the use of chemical sprays by warding off pests with their own supply of Bacillus thuringiensis--a naturally-occurring protein routinely used as a spray in organic farming. Biotech crops can be produced to absorb more nutrients from the soil so that they do not--unlike the organic farming the author touts--consume large quantities of topsoil and water through repeated tillage and irrigation.
Across the developing world, people are welcoming biotechnology as an important means of producing more food for their growing populations. Biotechnology crops can deliver more core nutrients and enable food to be grown under tough conditions like drought and weather extremes. Biotechnology cannot solve the complex problems of hunger and malnutrition alone. But it can help.
Far from the "no labeling, no safety testing" position the article claimed the U.S. government has adopted, biotechnology foods are subject to the same rigid dietary and nutritional standards as every other product on the market. Reams of scientific data have proven their safety and promise again and again.
That these unfounded criticisms should come from an author who claims to speak for the causes--like the environment and food safety--for which biotechnology offers the most promise is especially unfortunate.
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