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Biotechnology Materials Free Download



Can foods developed using biotechnology cause food allergies? 

Developers of foods enhanced through biotechnology are mindful of the possibility, albeit unlikely, of introducing an allergen into that food. FDA regulations require companies that use genes from a known allergenic source to assume that they will produce an allergen and to perform allergenicity tests on the food product. Approximately 90 percent of food-related allergies are linked to proteins found in tree nuts, peanuts, soybeans, milk, eggs, fish, crustaceans, and wheat. Knowing this, agricultural biotechnology companies have avoided using genetic material from these foods in developing biotechnology products. In addition, all foods enhanced through biotechnology are tested for allergenicity in comparison to its conventional counterpart before being approved for market by the FDA. According to FDA labeling guidelines, products produced through biotechnology that contain a likely allergen require a label informing consumers of this fact. To date, no allergic reactions have been attributed to any food product of biotechnology. In fact, advanced techniques are being used to remove allergens from certain foods. Hypoallergenic rice and soybeans have already been developed, and researchers are at work on wheat. The removal of allergens from foods will open up a broader range of products for those with food allergies to enjoy. 

What are examples of agricultural biotechnology products currently available?

The first effort at marketing a crop food modified through biotechnology occurred in the 1989, when Calgene Corporation sought approval for its Flavr Savr tomato, engineered to provide extended shelf life. Since then, there have been a number of crops developed offering a wide variety of enhanced traits. Crops designed to resist insect and viral pest or tolerate broad-spectrum herbicides account for most of the biotechnology crops available commercially. Bt corn, potato, and cotton incorporate select genes from the widely used biological control agent Bacillus thuringiensis to resist the European corn borer, Colorado potato beetle and pink boll worm, respectively. Bt sprays have been used to combat these pests for many years. The Bt genes allow the crop to produce the pesticide within the plant, eliminating the need to spray for these pests. Important commercial plants that have been modified to resist viral infection include potato, squash, cucumber, watermelon, and papaya, among others. These plants resist viruses through a mechanism known as cross-protection, which is somewhat similar to immunization. Farmers growing these plants are able to reduce pesticide applications to control virus-carrying insects. Soybean, corn, canola and other crop plants have been modified to tolerate safe, broad-spectrum herbicides. Herbicide tolerance allows farmers to use weed controls more selectively. Rather than applying herbicide before planting, farmers can wait until after the crop emerges to apply herbicides only where and in the quantities needed. Likely advances include a promising array of products that will offer improved yields, enhanced nutrition, medicinal properties and vaccines, healthier cooking oils, extended shelf life, renewable resources and industrial feedstocks, and other desirable products. These new varieties of plants could open up lucrative new markets to farmers and provide enhanced food products to consumers. 

Have farmers adopted new crop varieties developed using biotechnology?

Yes. Farmers have embraced crops enhanced through biotechnology because they provide value and solve real, sometimes previously intractable, problems. U.S. farmers, in particular, have taken advantage of this new technology. USDA has estimated that in 2004, 45 percent of the corn (36.4 million acres), 76 percent of the cotton (10.4 million acres), and 85 percent of the soybeans (63.5 million acres) planted were biotech varieties. This is a remarkable level of market penetration considering that these crops were only introduced in the mid-1990s. Today, about 60 to 70 percent of the processed foods available in U.S. grocery stores contain some ingredients or oils derived from biotech crops. Worldwide, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), biotech crops were grown on more than 167 million acres in 2003 by 7 million farmers in 18 countries. A total of 85 percent of growers using biotech crops are small farmers in developing countries, which represents nearly one-third of the global biotech crop area. While the United States grew more than 105 million acres of biotech crops in 2003, Argentina and China each grew more than 10 million acres of biotech crops that same year; China and Brazil each grew more than 5 million acres of biotech crops in 2003. Adoption throughout the rest of the world has been slower. The United States is fortunate in that it had a science-based regulatory policy in place to accommodate the production and use of new biotechnology varieties. As acceptance of biotechnology grows worldwide, new varieties of important staple crops, such as rice, will be readily adopted overseas. 

Does biotechnology benefit America's agricultural economy?

Yes. Farmers have adopted biotechnology products because they deliver value by reducing operating and input expenses. Biotechnology-derived varieties of pest-protected corn, cotton, and potatoes and herbicide-tolerant soybean have significantly reduced pesticide and herbicide use, boosted yields, and saved growers tens of millions of dollars. A recent study by the National Center for Food and Agriculture Policy (NCFAP) found that six biotech crops – canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soybean and squash – increased grower incomes by an additional $1.9 billion, boosted crop yields by 5.3 billion pounds and reduced pesticide use by 46.4 million pounds in 2003. These savings came from reduced inputs including time, labor, and wear and tear on farm equipment. A study by University of Minnesota professor C. Ford Runge found that four commercial biotech crops – corn, soybeans, cotton and canola – represented $20 billion in value in the United States in 2002, half of the total $40 billion value of the four crops. The study also found that the economic impact of plant biotechnology extends beyond the farm gate and in individual states active in biotech research and development. At least 41 of the 50 states had some type of biotech initiatives in 2001, and those that have readily adopted and invested in biotechnology are reaping the greatest economic rewards. Corn Belt states with higher adoption levels of biotech crops have a greater number of agriculture and food science jobs than those with lower levels of adoption. Additionally, the study found that these new jobs typically pay 1.5 to 2 times the average wage of workers in these states, mostly because these types of jobs require at least a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, and sometimes a doctoral degree. Crop biotech also demands a variety of other high-tech, high-paying jobs, such as food scientists, microbiologists, biochemists and biophysicists. 

Does pest-protected Bt corn harm monarch butterflies?

No. Bt crops incorporate genes from the common soil microbe Bacillus thuringiensis, which allows them to produce proteins (endotoxins) that protect them from certain insect pests. The protein expressed in Bt corn has long been known to be toxic to the caterpillars of butterflies, including the monarch. Laboratory studies confirming this led some outside the scientific community to claim that Bt corn posed a severe threat to the monarch. Subsequent field studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrate that the threat to monarch populations from Bt corn is negligible. Indeed, some of the evidence suggests that Bt corn could greatly benefit monarch butterfly survival by reducing pesticide use. Scientific evidence gathered by the EPA also demonstrates that Bt corn does not harm monarch butterfly populations. Given this scientific consensus, in October 2000 EPA agreed to renew the registration for Bt crops for an additional seven years. Has gene flow occurred between Bt corn and landraces in Mexico, and does this threaten natural biodiversity? A November 2001 article in the journal Nature claimed that genetic material from Bt corn had found its way into traditional landraces in Mexico. In 1998, Mexico instituted a ban on growing corn enhanced through biotechnology. Critiques of this study identified flawed methodology and interpretation, unprecedented assertions, and a failure to confirm results. As a result, the editors of Nature published an editorial note, saying, "In light of these discussions and the diverse advice received, Nature has concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper." A review by the editors of Transgenic Research also concluded that "no credible scientific is presented in the paper to support claims made by the authors that gene flow between transgenic maize and traditional maize landraces has taken place." Testing by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center has not found any trace of the promoters associated with Bt corn. However, sampling and analysis performed by Mexico's National Institute of Ecology indicated the presence of transgenes in landraces in two states, but even these results were the subject of controversy. Further testing may confirm these results, but to date, there is little reason to believe that large-scale gene flow has occurred or that is has harmed the biodiversity of landraces, which themselves have been genetically manipulated by Mexican farmers for generations. 

What is "terminator" technology?

Terminator technology refers to research of seeds/plants that produce sterile seeds. While research of this technology has been conducted in conjunction with the USDA, no agricultural biotechnology company currently uses this technology. In the future, this technology could be used to prevent any gene flow between biotechnology and traditional crops. Can biotechnology play a beneficial role in aquaculture? Yes. Using biotechnology, developments in the field of aquaculture will allow a high-quality source of food to be brought to market more quickly, reduce the price to consumers, and eliminate the demand to overfish wild stocks. For example, AquaAdvantage® salmon, developed by Aqua Bounty Farms, can grow from egg to market size (6 to 10 pounds) in 12 to 18 months. Fish produced using conventional fish-breeding techniques normally require two to three years. Federal regulatory agencies will require rigorous testing for food and environmental safety. New biotechnology salmon varieties could make fish farming more sustainable, decrease overfishing of wild salmon and lower consumer costs. As sterile females are used, there is little risk to wild stocks should these fish escape to the wild. Aqua Bounty expects to introduce the AquaAdvantage® salmon within two to three years to a public for whom salmon is an increasingly popular food. 

Can agriculture biotechnology assist in meeting the food demands of a growing global population? 

Yes. Agricultural biotechnology can be a key element in the fight against hunger and malnutrition in the developing world. 

Today, an estimated 800 million people do not have access to sufficient supplies of food. By 2030, the global population is expected to reach, if not exceed, 8 billion people, putting a further strain on food supplies. But while world population is expected to grow rapidly, particularly in developing countries, the amount of available agricultural land is limited. Only 10 percent of the world's land surface is arable, and overfarming and soil erosion are growing problems in some areas. 

To overcome these dynamics, farmers will need to find ways to grow more food using less land. The National Academies and six other international scientific organizations recently issued a report discussing the role of biotechnology in meeting global food needs. It concluded that, "GM technology, coupled with important developments in other areas, should be used to increase the production of main food staples, improve the efficiency of production, reduce the environmental impact of agriculture, and provide access to food for small-scale farmers." Other groups-including the International Food Policy Research Institute, Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Nuffield Council on Bioethics-have issued similar findings. 

Biotechnology already is beginning to make a contribution. For example: 

• "Golden rice," enriched with beta carotene, will help combat vitamin-A deficiency, a major cause of blindness in the developing world. (A similar strain of rice has been enriched with iron to ward off anemia.). A "golden mustard" also may yield provitamin A-enriched cooking oil. 

• New varieties of corn, sorghum and wheat are being developed to provide more lysine, an important dietary protein. 

• "Pharma foods" are being developed that may help prevent or cure diseases such as cholera and diarrhea, leading causes of infant mortality in developing countries. 

• Plants that resist viral pests, such as a new variety of African sweet potato that wards off the feathery mottle virus, can improve yields of important staple crops. Viral resistance also is being imparted to high-value cucurbit crops grown throughout Southeast Asia. 

• Foods with extended shelf lives can reduce food losses caused by spoilage. 

• Plants that resist toxic or salty soils will increase the areas available for farming in many regions of the world. 

These are just a few examples of what biotechnology can do to improve the lives of people in the developing world. While not a total solution, biotechnology can play an important role in helping developing countries achieve food security. 

What is "golden rice" and can it be an effective means to prevent vitamin deficiency? 

Vitamin-A deficiency is a serious condition that can lead to blindness and increase susceptibility to infectious agents. It affects an estimated 200 million people, primarily in developing countries where rice is a dietary staple. Using biotechnology techniques, scientists have developed a new strain of rice, called golden rice, that naturally produces beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A. Golden rice can provide enough beta-carotene to make up vitamin-A deficiencies in the diets of poor children, and it can also increase the amount of vitamin A in breast milk, an important source of nutrition for infants. Further, scientists has enriched the same strain of rice with additional iron to combat anemia, which affect hundreds of millions of the world's poor. .

What are the international trade issues affecting biotechnology food products? 

While the science has repeatedly demonstrated that foods produced through biotechnology are as safe as conventional foods, approval of these foods in some overseas markets has been slow in coming. Despite their growing acceptance and history of safe use in the United States, certain countries-including the United Kingdom, France and other members of the European Union-have not yet approved these crops to be planted or purchased from another country. Many variables have worked to slow the acceptance of biotech crops. For instance, Europeans have a strong cultural tie to food and resist any perceived change. Also, many countries have not enjoyed a reliable regulatory environment like that in the United States. Outbreaks of mad cow and hoof-and-mouth diseases in the United Kingdom, contaminated soft drinks in Belgium and HIV-tainted blood supplies in France are just some of the mishaps that have made citizens in other nations, especially Europe, wary of any government agency's claims that a new technology is safe. This has led some countries to reject our risk-based approach and adopt the precautionary principle, which could delay a new technology on the basis of improbable hypothetical risks. And in some instances, ostensible concern over biotechnology is being used to promote protectionist policies that aim to shut out American products from overseas markets in direct contradiction to World Trade Organization guidelines. 

What are the issues regarding intellectual property and agricultural biotechnology? 

All new crop varieties that meet the criteria of the federal Plant Variety Protection Act-whether produced by conventional means or biotechnology-are eligible for intellectual property rights protection. To receive protection, the new variety must be distinct from other varieties and genetically uniform and stable through successive generations. The length of protection is 20 years for most crop plants. Researching and bringing a plant biotechnology product to market takes several years and tens of millions of dollars. As with any industry that requires such extraordinary investment, it is crucial that biotechnology companies can recoup the initial investment and continue their research and development of new products that benefit the public. Intellectual property rights also enable companies to do a better job of ensuring that their products are used responsibly.

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