Biotechnology and Food for Canadians

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posted March 20, 2002

Biotechnology gives us crops that can be grown with fewer pesticides, and farmed using more environmentally sustainable methods. Crops with healthier food characteristics that carry fewer natural toxins or allergens are now in the pipeline. Canadians are fortunate in being able to benefit from these foods and medicines.

But biotechnology can also help less fortunate people around the world. Despite the miracles of modern agriculture, there are still 800 million hungry, malnourished people in the world. It may well be true that there’s enough food in the world and the real problem is poor distribution. It also may be true that politicians could work to improve distribution and overcome hunger and malnutrition. But how many more starving children will die waiting for an appropriate political solution?

How can biotechnology help the world’s poor? By using biotechnology, scientists in less developed countries can increase the nutritional composition of foods, or even deliver vaccines inexpensively. The technology can be used to produce more food of better quality with better storage and transport qualities.

Biotechnology, like all technologies, is not without risk. Canadians are assured of environmental and health safety of biotech products by stringent regulations administered by Health Canada and other government agencies. To date, about four dozen biotech foods have been approved here. The majority of our canola farmers grow biotech canola varieties. In the seven years since the release of the world’s first biotech food, over 300 million people have consumed biotech products, grown on over 100 million acres around the world each year. Remarkably, there’s not one documented incident of harm, either to human health or the environment.

Professional scientific and medical groups who have issued statements on biotechnology concur that the products are safe. Such groups range from the American Medical Association (AMA) to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Even the skeptical Europeans recently issued a report on over 81 studies on the health and environmental safety of biotechnology. These studies, conducted by 400 teams of mostly public scientists, found no reason to condemn biotechnology, and even concluded that biotech foods were as safe as, some even safer than, other foods.

Canadians currently benefit from safe and environmentally responsible biotech foods and medicines, and the future will bring even more useful products, such as healthier cooking oils, low calorie sugars, and peanuts with allergens removed. Poorer countries are using biotechnology tools to develop local crop varieties with increased yields, reduced natural toxins, and better nutritional qualities.

Biotechnology by itself cannot solve the world’s hunger and malnutrition problems. But it is a safe and useful tool, and it can help.

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