Biotechnology and Food for Canadians

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Biotechnology is simply using living systems to give society more or better foods, drugs and other products. In this sense, we have been applying biotechnology since the dawn of civilization. In recent times, our understanding of science, especially genetics, has advanced to the point where we can optimize specific genes and traits to provide even greater benefits while reducing or eliminating undesirable features. Biotechnology, based on recombinant DNA (rDNA), is often called Gene Splicing, Genetic Engineering (GE) or Genetic Modification (GM), giving rise to a genetically modified organism (GMO).

The precision attained by such molecular plant breeding can provide, for example, greatly increased crop production and nutritional enhancements at little or no additional cost. Fruits and vegetables can be picked and delivered at the height of flavor and ripeness thanks to carefully tailored improvements that reduce softening and bruising. For health-conscious consumers, cooking oils from GM corn, soy or canola will provide lower saturated fat content. Any interest in French fries with fewer calories? GM potatoes with enhanced starch content absorb less fat during frying. Leaner meats will be available from cattle and pigs improved both directly and through improved feeds. Sensitive new testing kits can detect tiny amounts of potentially harmful toxic contaminants in foods.

New plant varieties that are biologically protected against insects and diseases are now on the market, just in time to help farmers hard pressed to maintain efficient production with fewer chemical control agents. As our knowledge of molecular genetics increases, our ability to improve our foods and farming will increasingly benefit consumers at home and around the world. Among the benefits to consumers is more nutritious food, more diverse foods, less expensive food and, in regions of most crucial need, more abundant food.

Unfortunately, there is much misinformation, misunderstanding and confusion about this technology. These circumstances give rise to needless anxiety and, at the same time, obscure any real hazards that might exist as well as possible means of controlling them. A basic understanding of the techniques and goals of biotechnology research is important for deciding the merits of concerns and proposed solutions. Biotechnology & Food for Canadians provides an overview of what is now available through modern biotechnology, what is in the pipeline, what is on the drawing board and how products of biotechnology are regulated by various government agencies. This publication is not intended to cover all issues and concerns in depth but to discuss briefly various salient points. References to sources for further reading are presented as a guide for those wishing to delve deeper into particular areas.

Real informed choice requires real information. This booklet explains the facts behind GM and explores some of the issues surrounding the increasingly contentious issues. Armed with facts, we can identify and discuss the actual benefits as well as methods for managing or avoiding any potential risks.

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