Covering Issues in Biotechnology and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's)

By Hegarty, P. Vincent | The Quill, April 2000 | Go to article overview

Covering Issues in Biotechnology and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's)


Hegarty, P. Vincent, The Quill


Rarely has a technolog emerged that captured sa many polarized admirers and detractors as has biotechnology. This polarization involves issues in international trade, consumer acceptance, health and, food safety concerns, ethics," culture, environmental issues, intellectual property rights> and concerns in its applications in developing countries. There are concerns partly because the pace of development has been rapid and there has been little time to examine the implications of advances in biotechnology. After all, biotechnology is a product of the biology revolution atf the 1900s. Here are a few brief comments with website references to more extensive information,

The Foundation for American Communications is an independent, nonprofit institution providing education for journalists. Since 1979, 10,000 journalists have attended more than 225 FRCS mid-career educational conferences sponsored by news organizations and philanthropic foundations.

WHAT IS BIOTECHNOLOGY?

Biotechnology when applied to food is a collection of scientific techniques, including genetic engineering, that are used to create, improve, or modify plants, animals, and microorganisms. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and Living Modified Organisms (LMO) are other terms that describe the food products from biotechnology. Biotechnology has been applied also in medicine. Public concerns about its applications in medicine are not as great as it is when applied to food.

load sources an terminology and issues in biotechnology include: Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) (United Kingdom): "Genetic Modification and Food" (http://www. ifst.org/ hottop10.htm).

UST?A's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Frequently Asked Questions" is a useful publication with general information and same issues pertinent to the United States http://www_aphis.usda.gov/biotechn ology/faqs.html).

International Food Information Council Foundation ((IFIC); "Backgrounder - Food Biotechnology (http://ificinfo.health.org/backgrnd/bkgr14.htm). European Union: "Chemicals and genetically modified organisms; Facts and trends" (http:// www.europa.eu.int/commn/environment/chemgen/facts

en.htm) contains facts on the European Union. Canadian Food Inspection Agency: "Food Derived from Biotechnology" has general information and some specific to Canada (http://www.cfiaacia.agr.ca/english/ppc/foodinsp/food-gen.html).

CURRENT INFORMATION IS ESSENTIAL

For example, the Convention on Biological Diversity held in Montreal at the end of January 2000 came to some important agreements on international trade in GMOs. The same group of over 130 nations could not agree the previous year when they met in Cartagena, Columbia. Now the rules for international trade in GMOs are spelled out (http://cbc.ca/cp/world /000129/w012905.html). Various interest groups involved in issues dealing with biotechnology, such as environmentalists, gave cautious endorsement to this Biosafety Protocol. (http://cbc.ca/cp/world/fJ 129 /w012935.html). Official documentation of the Convention on Biological Diversity, from which the Biosafety Protocol was signed, can be obtained at: (http://www.biodiv.org/biosafe/biosafe6.html). Rules on the labeling of foods produced by biotechnology are apt to change also, especially in Europe. For example, the European Commission is considering new regulations for labeling food derived from GMOs. This is due to improved testing techniques that allow lower levels of GM food to be detected (http://www.binas.unido.org/binas/News /00jan.shtm).

SOURCES OF INFORMATION

There is a virtual mountain of information from issues on all sides of the biotechnology debate. A balanced perspective is best provided by reference to the reports and documents from government agencies both in the USA and abroad, from industry publications, from NGOs and from consumer advocacy groups. Here is a small sampling

Union of Concerned scientists: (http://www. …

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