The most controversial applications of biotechnology involve the use of animals and the transfer of genes from animals to plants. The first animal-based application of biotechnology was the approval of the use of bacterially produced bovine somatotropin (bST) in dairy cows.
Bovine somatotropin, a naturally occurring hormone , increases milk production. This application has not been commercially successful, however, primarily because of its expense. The cloning of animals is another potential application of biotechnology. Most experts believe that animal applications of biotechnology will occur slowly because of the social and ethical concerns of consumers.
Concerns about Food Production
Some concerns about the use of biotechnology for food production include possible allergic reactions to the transferred protein . For example, if a gene from Brazil nuts that produces an allergen were transferred to soybeans, an individual who is allergic to Brazil nuts might now also be allergic to soybeans. As a result, companies in the United States that develop genetically engineered foods must demonstrate to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that they did not transfer proteins that could result in food allergies . When, in fact, a company attempted to transfer a gene from Brazil nuts to soybeans, the company's tests revealed that they had transferred a gene for an allergen, and work on the project was halted. In 2000 a brand of taco shells was discovered to contain a variety of genetically engineered corn that had been approved by the FDA for use in animal feed, but not for human consumption. Although several antibiotechnology groups used this situation as an example of potential allergenicity stemming from the use of biotechnology, in this case the protein produced by the genetically modified gene was not an allergen. This incident also demonstrated the difficulties in keeping track of a genetically modified food that looks identical to the unmodified food. Other concerns about the use of recombinant DNA technology include potential losses of biodiversity and negative impacts on other aspects of the environment.
Safety and Labeling
In the United States, the FDA has ruled that foods produced though biotechnology require the same approval process as all other food, and that there is no inherent health risk in the use of biotechnology to develop plant food products. Therefore, no label is required simply to identify foods as products of biotechnology. Manufacturers bear the burden of proof for the safety of the food. To assist them with this, the FDA developed a decision-tree approach that allows food processors to anticipate safety concerns and know when to consult the FDA for guidance. The decision tree focuses on toxicants that are characteristic of each species involved; the potential for transferring food allergens from one food source to another; the concentration and bioavailability of nutrients in the food; and the safety and nutritional value of newly introduced proteins.
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