Benefits and Risks of Food Biotechnology

Release Date: July 15, 2002 | Last Updated Date: July 15, 2002

In the past two decades, agricultural biotechnology has shown promising benefits for increasing food production and fiber production for a burgeoning world population, reducing pesticide pollution, improving food, and providing new pharmaceuticals and bio-fuels for the future. At the same time, the introduction of the new technology has raised questions about potential risks.

To make sense of this debate, the California Food Biotechnology Task Force asked CCST to examine the scientific literature on the benefits and risks of using transgenic crops. Senate Bill 2065 created the Food Biotechnology Task Force, which is co-chaired by the Secretaries of the California Health and Human Services Agency, the California Technology, Trade and Commerce Agency, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The review references, details, and analyzes current literature and opinions on the benefits and risks of food biotechnology, particularly in California. CCST Project Manager Seymour D. Van Gundy, UC Riverside’s dean emeritus of agriculture, oversaw the study’s preparation and coordinated the principal authors.

As the report explains, the new biotechnology techniques offer a more versatile and precise method of introducing one or more genes into a plant from unrelated organisms than with traditional plant breeding or other forms of genetic modification such as mutation, radiation, and embryo culture.

The introduction of any new technology also brings risks, both real and imagined. Spliced-DNA crop technology has raised potential questions regarding food safety risks, environmental risks, and other social and ethical issues for the consumer. The ethical principles and goals that should be considered in this debate would:

  • Ensure that all stakeholders are heard;
  • Maintain a safe, nutritious, and plentiful food supply;
  • Preserve ecosystems, and;
  • Balance agricultural production and wise stewardship of the earth.

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