May 2017

Biotechnology: How Science Impacts Our Diet

Biotechnology: How Science Impacts Our Diet

Biotechnology is the science that allows the food industry to modify the DNA of crops and animals. Biotechnology also is known as genetic engineering.

The following are some examples of how biotechnology impacts or could impact the foods we eat:

  • The Bt gene, taken from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis , is applied to crops to resist insect infestation. Bt presents no risk to human health and does not harm beneficial insects.
  • Half of the cheese made in America is created using chymosin, an enzyme that is created through biotechnology. The alternative to chymosin is rennin (from stomach of a calf).
  • Today tomatoes are created to have a much greater shelf life. The Flavr Savr(tm) tomato was the first genetically engineered plant, approved by the FDA in 1994.
  • Many crops, including potatoes and corn, are protected against insect infestation by biotechnological methods.
  • Broccoli was created by crossbreeding cauliflower and peas.
  • Nectarines were created by crossbreeding peaches and apples.
  • Rice is engineered to have a higher protein content and/or a higher level of beta-carotene (known as 'golden rice').
  • Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) is used in dairy cows to increase milk production.
  • Porcine somatotropin (pST) is used to encourage lean muscle tissue production in pigs.
  • Alpha-amylase is used in the production of high-fructose corn syrup and dry beer.
  • Plant cells grown in fermenters are used to produce flavors, such as vanilla.
  • Microbes can produce amino acids for the synthesis of aspartame.
  • The lactase enzyme is added to milk to make it more tolerable for lactose-intolerant people.

Benefits of biotechnology
The following are benefits of biotechnology:

  • Decreased spoilage and increased shelf life; improved ripening
  • Resistance to herbicides and insect infestations (leading to less use of pesticides)
  • Viral resistance of plants and animals
  • Enhanced nutrient content
  • Enhanced flavor profiles
  • Resistance to adverse environmental conditions, such as freezing, heat, and drought

Regulation of biotechnology
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US Dept of Agriculture (USDA), and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) all regulate bioengineering.

Foods derived from biotechnology are not labeled as such unless they are significantly different from their conventional alternatives. However, the food label must list the presence of any allergens or any differences in nutritional quality from the conventional alternative. Any food labeled 'organic' cannot contain any genetically modified organisms.

Concerns about the use of biotechnology
Some people are worried about the possible inclusion of allergenic foods into foods that generally do not contain them. For instance, if a peanut DNA were added to a form of produce, a person who was allergic to peanuts could become ill from eating the produce.? However, the FDA regularly tests foods to prevent this from occurring, and any food that contains a common allergen must include this information on its food label.

The introduction of unnatural hormones to our food supply has many people concerned. Other individuals are concerned about possible resistance to antibiotics, although no evidence exists to show that this has occurred.


References and recommended readings

Bruhn C, Earl R; American Dietetic Association. Position of

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