Food Biotechnology: Talking Points
(from the Alliance for Better Food -- a coalition of 26
organisations, including the Grocery Manufacturers of America, the American Soybean
Association and the USA Rice Federation.)
Five key message points to always communicate with policy makers and media:
Biotechnology will produce foods that are healthier, more nutritious, and even
taste and look better. Because of biotechnology, more food can be produced using fewer
pesticides, less land and less water. As a result, food biotechnology is the best hope to
help reduce world hunger while putting less stress on the world's environment.
The promise of biotechnology is only beginning to be realized. It offers a
multitude of benefits now, but there is much more to come in the future. The nutritional,
medical and environmental gains to be achieved through advances in food biotechnology will
Through years of research and testing, the Federal Government and a broad
consensus of the medical and scientific communities have concluded that foods produced
through biotechnology are safe.
Biotechnology brings modern scientific techniques to age-old agricultural
processes. Farmers have used these processes for centuries to provide variety, improve
taste, and produce new or more foods. Modern food biotechnology allows today's farmers to
do the same thing today, but with greater understanding and selectivity.
Foods developed through biotechnology are already part of our daily diet, and
consumer research shows that people largely accept and enjoy foods produced through
The Food & Drug Administration (USA) already requires labeling of biotech
products if the food's composition has been substantially changed, its nutritional content
has been substantially changed, or it contains a component that might cause an allergic
reaction in people. If none of these conditions exist, government regulators and
scientists have said biotech food is equivalent to conventionally produced food and
therefore does not need to be labeled. Labeling biotech foods that are substantially
equivalent to other products on supermarket shelves would have the unintended and
unfortunate consequence of misleading consumers into thinking that the products had
different health or nutritional effects. This would create the kind of consumer confusion
that labels are designed to avoid.
Additional message points and supporting arguments:
- Food biotechnology can improve the quality, taste and nutritional benefits of foods
- providing a healthier diet to consumers, and a greater availability of foods in all
- Through the use of biotechnology, foods have already been developed that are better
tasting, stay fresh longer, are more disease and insect resistant, and are more flavorful.
- Food biotechnology is based on age-old principles of selective breeding. Farmers
have used these processes for centuries to provide variety, improve taste and produce more
healthful foods. Modern biotechnology allows food producers to do the same thing today,
but with greater understanding and selectivity. Health/Nutrition
- Researchers have begun developing fruits and vegetables that contain more beta
carotene and vitamins C and E. They also are working on developing a banana that can be
used to deliver vital oral vaccines for diseases such as hepatitis B. Biotechnology could
make crops with extra high vitamin content or tomatoes with even more naturally occurring
- Other benefits that can be expected in the near future include nutrient-enhanced
strawberries, single-serving melons, sweeter peas and healthier oils, margarines and
shortenings, as well as plants that can resist drought and flood, heat and cold, and are
more tolerant to salt and metals that might be present in the soil, enhancing a crop's
ability to withstand adverse growing conditions and helping to reduce environmental
- Biotechnology is being used to increase the world's food supply. The United Nations
estimates that the world's population could more than double in the next 50 years. Much of
that population growth will be in some of the world's poorest regions. Nobel laureate
Norman Borlaug, cited recently in Science magazine [Science, vol. 285, 16 July 1999],
estimates that global cereal yield will have to increase by 80% over 1990 yields in order
to feed the burgeoning world population.
- The 1997 World Bank and Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research
(CGIAR) estimates that biotechnology is expected to help increase world food productivity
by up to 25 percent in the developing world. Few other technologies will be able to
approach biotechnology's potential to help address global hunger in the next century.
- According to Science magazine, up to 250 million children globally are at risk of
vitamin A deficiency, which can cause blindness and learning disabilities. Nearly 2
billion people, many of them women and children, do not receive enough iron in their diet
[Science, vol. 285, 16 July 1999]. Researchers are working to develop methods of
delivering more of these essential nutrients through such staple crops as corn, rice,
wheat and cassava. Environment · Food biotechnology will not only help feed the world's
people, it will help the world's environment.
- Crops enhanced through biotechnology are being developed that are
herbicide-tolerant, or are more resistant to insect or virus damage, thus requiring fewer
chemical applications and reducing the strain on the environment.
- Some plants produced with modern biotechnology also will require less land and
other natural resources. This is particularly important in developing countries where
valuable temperate and tropical forests are routinely cut down for farmland. Plants
enhanced through biotechnology can grow in less than ideal climate conditions, reducing
the need for irrigation. Safety · The U.S. Government plays a critical role in ensuring
that the system works and consumers are protected. The current food safety system for all
foods - including those produced with biotechnology - is regulated by three U.S.
Government agencies: the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration
and the Environmental Protection Agency. Collectively, these agencies provide strong,
- Since 1992 the FDA has determined that plant foods produced through biotechnology
are safe and should be regulated like any other food entering the market.
- Biotech foods are among the most thoroughly studied and researched foods on the
market today. The safety of biotech foods has been affirmed by leading national and
international health organizations, including the American Medical Association, the
American Dietetic Association, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Food and
Agriculture Organization, and the National Research Council.
- Because the results of biotechnology are controlled and predictable, modern food
biotechnology is actually more precise and safe than traditional breeding practices.
- Instead of mixing hundreds of thousands of genes to improve a crop plant, which may
produce unintended results, through genetic enhancement researchers can identify a
specific gene that governs a desired trait and insert only that gene into a new and
different plant. Therefore, the odds of something being transferred unintentionally are
far less likely using genetic transfer techniques than in conventional breeding.
- Consumers have been safely eating foods derived from biotechnology for several
- More than 60 million acres of biotechnology-derived crops have been planted in the
United States. These include corn, cotton, soybeans, tomatoes, potatoes and canola.
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications
(ISAAA), some 75 million acres of biotech crops were planted worldwide last year.
[Krattiger, Anatole F. 1998. The Importance of Ag-biotech to Global Prosperity. Keynote
address, ABIC '98 Conference. No.6-1998.]
- The U.S. has approved 50 biotechnology-enhanced crops. Many more biotech products
are used in food processing. According to Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman,
approximately 44 percent of soybeans and 36 percent of all corn grown in the United States
in 1998 was grown from biotechnology-enhanced seeds.
- American consumers have responded favorably to biotechnology because it is backed
by sound science and a credible regulatory system.
- Mandatory labeling exists already for biotech foods that differ from conventionally
developed products in significant ways. But the government has sensibly concluded that
where biotech foods are substantially equivalent, there is no need to label them.
- Labels have historically been required to describe food's characteristics and
ingredients, not the manner in which food is produced. Since the safety of biotech foods
is widely accepted, there is no reason to change this policy.
- The food industry supports the existing Federal policy, which includes mandatory
labeling of biotech foods that are significantly different from other food products.
This document was received by Ifgene on 3rd November 1999. The source,
www.betterfoods.org, was found to have disappeared from the Internet by 23 April 2005.
To Ifgene home page