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NABC Report 02: Agricultural Biotechnology, Food Safety and Nutritional Quality for the Consumer
Published June 1990 by NABC.
Increasing media attention given to food safety and food quality in the year of the first United States approval of a genetically-engineered product for use in food production has focused on the coming of biotechnology to the food arena. See the intense public debate about the introduction genetically engineered bovine somatotropin (BST). The public concern about its use resulted in at least a temporary ban in some parts of Europe, and if approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) it will be initially banned in some parts of the United States. In this report, diverse viewpoints are expressed by speakers and in the workshops. Numerous examples of potential benefits that biotechnology can bring to food safety and food quality are presented: the first genetically-engineered, food-grade microbe, a baker's yeast with enhanced leavening properties; Chymosin as the first enzyme produced by a genetically engineered organism for use in cheese production replacing rennet; the DNA probe detects more quickly and earlier in the production process microbial contaminations.
However, lack of trust, value conflicts, unequal distribution of benefits and risks, failure to communicate influences the consumer’s willingness to accept biotechnology, probably influenced by past experience, when the promises of DDT, aerosol sprays and nuclear power were acclaimed at the time of their introduction, only to later be shown to pose environmental or health risks. In addition, something that is scientifically sound, and environmentally and nutritionally safe, may have social or economic consequences that are unacceptable to certain segments of the population. Finally, the public trust in the regulatory agencies is shaken.
The current lack of stringent food labeling guidelines, a scientifically undereducated public, and a loss of faith in traditional “experts" has resulted in a marketplace that is emotional and highly volatile in terms of food issues. This is due partly to lack of communication between stakeholders. The whole spectrum of issues related to biotechnology and food needs to he quietly discussed and carefully evaluated. In order to reach meaningful resolution, all voices must be heard, but first consumers need to be educated to understand both, terms and concepts, of this debate.
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