Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 19, 2001

Our Environment
Biotech could alter food world forever

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Columnist

Some people are severely allergic to specific substances, and a peanut allergy is among critical ones.

So critical in fact, that it can be fatal.

Biotechnologists are examining ways by which scientists could remove whatever gives people allergic reactions from products such as peanuts.

Until now, biotechnology has focused on such things as making plants easier to grow and lengthening the shelf life of food products. But some scientists are suggesting that producing allergy-free foods may be possible.

Steve Taylor is the head of the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of Nebraska. Taylor has said that he believes it is possible — through biotechnology — to remove allergenic compounds from foods, and potentially ensure that allergenic properties don't pass into foods.

But he warns that achieving that goal will not be be easy or quick.

Biotechnologists are also looking at ways to deliver medicines through food, to improve the nutritional and anti-cancer properties of food plants, and to further enhance the ease of growing them.

Support for biotechnology is by no means universal. Many people have expressed concern about humans tinkering with genetic material.

While the industry continues to seek out ways of improving the foods we eat, many are pushing to stop genetic engineering of food.

Bioengineered food is sometimes referred to by its opponents as frankenfood. While anti-biotech consumer activity has been fairly quiet in this country, it has been quite active in other nations.

Some countries have required labels on genetically modified foods, but is voluntary in the United States.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that organic food, which does not contain bioengineered products, is slowly gaining consumer acceptance.

Organic foods grew 20 percent in the '90s, with retail sales of organics reaching $7.76 billion in the year 2000, the agency said.

But there have also been issues about what organic means.

Under the new National Organic Program, farmers and producers with annual incomes of more than $5,000 will need to be certified if they want to say their products are "100 percent organic," "organic," or contain organic products.

The National Organic Program is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Learn more about it at the National Organic Program Web site.

Jan TenBruggencate is The Advertiser's Kaua'i bureau chief and its science and environment writer. Reach him at (808) 245-3074 or jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.