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Health Panel Affirms the Many Benefits of Modern Food Biotechnology

New York, NY—September 2000. Physicians and scientists affiliated with the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) assert that modern biotechnology, as applied to a variety of crops and foods, presents no inherent risks to consumers or the environment. Indeed, they state that these methods will provide many benefits to consumers, farmers, and food processors.

In the second edition of the popular publication, Biotechnology and Food, ACSH discusses and reviews the basics of modern biotechnology—also called "gene splicing," "genetic modification," "recombinant DNA technology," "bioengineering," and "genetic engineering." The author of the report—agricultural molecular biologist Dr. Alan McHughen of the University of Saskatchewan —explains that modern biotechnology provides elegant simplifications of the traditional types of genetic changes that we humans have been introducing into our foods for many generations.

"The main difference," notes Dr. Ruth Kava, ACSH director of nutrition, "is that the modern processes are much more specific. Instead of transferring hundreds or even thousands of genes with traditional breeding, modern methods allow biologists to move only the gene or genes that are known to have the desired effects."

With the advent of modern biotechnology, farmers can grow crops with "built-in" pesticides, reducing the need for widespread spraying. Further, bioengineered crops will provide consumers with cooking oils that have more healthful types of fatty acids. In the future, farmers may well be able to grow crops on lands that were too dry or salty for traditional varieties. Staple foods like rice can be enhanced with extra nutrients such as beta-carotene. Such advances are likely just a few years away from widespread availability, and could go far to reduce the toll of childhood blindness, malnutrition, and anemia in some areas of the world.

In the report, Dr. McHughen addresses some of the public's concerns about modern biotechnology, and shows that they are largely unwarranted. For example, he notes that fears that such foods are unregulated are baseless. In the United States, any new food—produced by traditional or new methods—must be rigorously scrutinized before it can be marketed to consumers. It must be shown, for example, whether the nutrient content or that of naturally occurring toxic substances is changed. It is important to note that bioengineered crops have been part of the North American food supply since 1996, and no adverse effects have been noted in humans, wildlife, or the environment.

Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, ACSH president, notes that "Government regulation, consumer acceptance, and private-sector investment are all important factors in the future status of foods produced by modern biotechnology." She added, "It would be tragic if fear and superstition were allowed to impede the development of this incredibly valuable technology."

A copy of " Biotechnology and Food" 2nd edition may be downloaded fromwww.acsh.org/publications/booklets/biotechnology2000.pdfHard copies are available for $5.00 from ACSH, 1995 Broadway, Second Floor, New York, NY 10023.

The American Council on Science and Health is a consortium of more than 350 scientists and physicians dedicated to consumer education on public health issues, such as the environment, nutrition, and pharmaceuticals. ACSH attempts to illuminate the difference between real health risks and hypothetical or trivial health scares.

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