Biotech & Food INTRODUCTION This paper is about Biotechnology and its use in creating new food products. In researching this paper, I found there is a lot of information on this subject and a lot of debate on the creation of genetically altered food, medicine, crops, and more. I decided to do my paper on the genetically altered food part of the subject. I will discuss what biotechnology is, who is for it and who is against it, and what some of the ethical concerns are when it comes to growing genetically modified (GM) crops. THE FOOD BIOTECHNOLOGY DEBATE WHAT IS BIOTECHNOLOGY? Biotechnology is a broad term that applies to all living organisms.
It is used for everything from microorganisms used to ferment beer to the most sophisticated forms of gene therapy. There are two categories of activities in biotechnology: the traditional methods and new scientific methods. The traditional methods are the way that farmers have been breeding their crop for centuries, cross breeding plants until finally some generation down the line is exactly the way they want it. The new methods are taking genes from different organisms and inserting them into another organism in the lab. This eliminates the waiting period to get the results they want, instead they get the exact plant they want right away. The United States government defines it as being any technique that uses living organisms or parts of living organisms to (1) make or modify products, (2) improve plants or animals, or (3) develop microorganisms for specific uses.
The purpose of biotechnology in foods is to create better tasting and more nutritious foods, that have higher crop yields, and plants that are naturally protected from disease, insects, and drought. Through biotechnology scientist can develop plants with only specific beneficial traits and leave out the undesirable traits. They can change one characteristic or a few characteristics at a time with current technology. This enables them to release, for use, the modified seeds one step at a time instead of spending years to develop the best tasting and hardiest plants all at once. It takes 10 12 years to breed plants in the traditional way.
With biotechnology, breeders can select the exact traits they are looking for and mix them together enabling them to get the plants they want in only 1 – 2 years. Crops that are currently produced in the U.S. through biotechnology are soybeans, corn, canola, tomatoes, squash, and potatoes. These crops are suppose to be improved versions of the traditional ones with added beneficial traits. RISKS Some of the risks, to humans, that scientists have identified are new allergens in the food supply, antibiotic resistance, a concentration of toxic metals, and enhancement of the environment for toxic fungi. NEW ALLERGENS New allergens could cause problems for people that are sensitive to certain things and do not know that they are now part of something else that they were not allergic to.
For example if they put certain milk proteins into carrots, parents would know not to give children allergic to milk the milk but they would not think twice about giving them the transgenic carrots that now contain milk proteins. A study done at the University of Nebraska showed that soybeans that were genetically engineered to contain proteins from Brazil nuts caused people allergic to Brazil nuts to have reactions to the soybeans. ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE In genetic engineering the often use antibiotic resistant genes as what they call selectable markers. The markers help select cells that have taken up foreign genes. Although the cells no longer have a use for the genes, they still stay in the plant tissues forever. Having these antibiotic genes in foods could cause two problems.
This first is eating the foods that contain the genes could reduce the effectiveness of taking antibiotics that need to be taken with food when you are sick. An example is if you eat a tomato with the antibiotic genes at the same time as you take an antibiotic, the genes could destroy the antibiotic in your stomach. The second thing that could happen is the resistance genes could be transferred to humans making the antibiotics taken when ill useless. Although number two is unlikely with out some kind of scientific mediation, the possibility should be closely checked. CONCENTRATION OF TOXIC METALS Some of the new genes being added to plants have the ability to remove heavy metal, such as mercury, from the soil and concentrate then in the tissues of the plant. The reason, they have added these genes in some plant, is so that municipal sludge can be used a fertilizer. The sludge contains nutrients that are good for the plants, however the sludge is also contaminated with heavy metals.
The idea is to make the plant so that they can remove the metals to non-edible parts of the plant. For example, in a tomato plant the metal would concentrate in the roots and in a potato plant, the metal would be in the leaves. To do this they use some kind of genetic on and off switches. The risk is that if the switch is not completely off the edible part of the plant could be contaminated. ENHANCEMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENT FOR TOXIC FUNGI It is possible that removing genes from plant could cause problems.
The example I found is the caffeine in coffee beans, by turning the gene off or removing it completely to grow decaffeinated coffee they could create a fungal problem. The caffeine in coffee beans actually protects the plants from fungi. If beans are unable to produce the caffeine, they could be coated with a layer of toxic fungi, such as aflatoxin, which is toxic to humans and these toxins can remain in the food through the processes of food preparation. BENEFITS There are many potential benefits of genetic engineering of organisms. Some of the envisioned benefits are engineering animals for leaner meat, drug-producing facilities, to resist diseases and sources for transplant organs. Engineering plants to resist herbicides, diseases and pests, to be more nutritious, to grow faster and to improve the taste and quality. Bacteria to produce drugs for livestock and food processing aids.
So far, the plants and the bacteria are the only genetically engineered products on the market. Currently tomatoes, papayas, peppers, squash, corn, soybeans, and cotton have been genetically altered to resist herbicides, insects, and disease and to improve the flavor and quality. Plant can produce larger crops …