So, what is food biotechnology? Why does it cause so much concern? In simple terms, food biotechnology is the use of living material to improve food production and food quality. This is a broad definition. It includes food production methods that have been used for centuries. An example is the fermentation of grape juice to make wine. Another is using yeast to make bread. Most people are comfortable with these uses. However, people have more questions about foods using modern biotechnology, also referred to as genetically modified or genetically engineered foods.
DNA: Deoxyribonucleic acid - contains the information that determines the structure of proteins.
rDNA: Recombinant DNA, novel DNA made by joining DNA fragments from different sources.
GMOs: Genetically Modified Organisms
GE: Genetically Engineered
GM: Genetically Modified
Genes carry information about the characteristics of an organism. In the 1970s scientists developed the ability to transfer a piece of information from a gene, a specific genetic trait, from one organism to another. These techniques have been used in the medical field for some time. Only over the last six to eight years have they have been used in agriculture and food production. Most of the first products developed using modern food biotechnology were crops. Genetic changes allow these crops to withstand a certain type of herbicide or protect themselves against specific damaging insects or viruses. Farmers who use these modified seeds can use farming practices which are more friendly to the environment and reduce pesticide use. Future use may help to improve the nutritional quality of our food supply. One food currently under development is rice with higher levels of beta-carotene. This helps prevent childhood blindness in Asian countries. Another variation is tomatoes with increased lycopene, a powerful antioxidant for fighting cancer and artery disease. These types of foods are still several years away from store shelves but may hold promise for the future.
Some genetically modified crops have been approved by Health Canada, Environment Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for use in this country. These include certain types of canola, corn, cottonseed, flax, potato, soybean, squash, sugar beet and tomato. Only the canola, corn, soybeans and a small amount of flax are currently grown here. For the most current information on foods submitted for government approval, visit the CFIA website.
Some foods from these crops have been on grocery store shelves since the late 1990s. They may not be labelled as “genetically modified.” In Canada, foods from these crops must be labelled if they are different in composition or nutrition, or if there are any health or safety concerns. Modified foods now approved for use are not different in composition and nutrition from those that have been traditionally bred. They do not pose any health or safety concerns. Voluntary labelling of genetically modified foods is allowed as long as the label is truthful and not misleading. The Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors and the Canadian General Standards Board are developing standards for the voluntary labelling of foods from modern biotechnology.
Biotechnology Unzipped by Eric Grace.
Pandora’s Picnic Basket by Alan McHughen.
Food is one subject near and dear to most people’s hearts. This important and personal topic touches everyone. With food biotechnology, as with many things food related, there are many opinions. Patience and persistence and a broad viewpoint are needed for better understanding. It is not possible to gain a thorough understanding of this subject and the related issues in any one article or from any one point of view. Ask the questions and get the information you need to make informed choices that are right for your family.