Scientists Embrace Food Biotechnology

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Methods of modern biotechnology now provide farmers and food producers with advanced tools to produce more healthful and better tasting food, as well as produce which resist attacks by insects and survives inclement weather conditions. Genetically modified food is really nothing new: farmers have long performed cross breeding of plants to provide improved products. But today's sophisticated science allows food producers to make alterations selectively and with precision.

Rarely has there been such a widespread consensus on an issue as there is among scientists world wide on the subject of the utility and safety of genetically modified foods. Just last month , Nobel Prize winners Dr. Norman Borlaug and Dr. James Watson were among 1,000 scientists signing an open letter endorsing biotechnology and its benefits.

Why then, would a major U.S. food company announce that it was disregarding the scientific consensus and rejecting produce which was the product of biotechnology?

In January, Frito-Lay ordered their farmers to stop using genetically altered seed for corn. Specifically, Frito-Lay instructed farmers who grow about 95 percent of the corn used in the company's snack foods like Doritos, Tostitos and Fritos not to use genetically modified seed for this year's planting. Frito-Lay spokesman Lynn Markley, told the New York Times that the company thought it was "a prudent business decision now that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has renewed its interest in biotech and we are hearing from our consumers that there is confusion." Frito-Lay said further said that they will inform the farmers who grow potatoes for its Lay's and Ruffles potato chips "not to plant genetically altered potatoes."

The official statement of Frito-Lay is ambiguous. While repeated phone calls to the corporate headquarters to clarify the matter were not returned, it appears the company is saying that

1) The FDA is having second thoughts about the safety of genetically modified foods, and

2) that consumers are worried about safety and Frito-Lay wants to please and re-assure their customers by removing potentially unsafe products.

But in reality the FDA is not having second thoughts about agricultural uses of biotechnology. The FDA fully endorses the application of the science of biotechnology to improve our food supply. So why is a major food company sending out a message which has no basis in fact?

Yes, there are vocal advocates opposing genetically modified foods. But there is no evidence that informed consumers are anything but enthusiastic about the changes for the better which biotechnology will bring to the world's food supply. Do consumers suffer, as Frito-Lay maintains, from "confusion" about genetically modified foods? That could be the case, but spreading seeds of doubt will not ease that misguided confusion, it will only serve to compound it.

American consumers are better served by corporate leaders who stick with science, instead of running for the tall grass the moment strident, ill-informed critics of food technology try to foment unfounded fears.