Abstract

Recent advances in agricultural biotechnology have highlighted the need for experimental evidence and sound scientific judgment to assess the benefits and risks to society. Nutrition scientists and other animal biologists need a balanced understanding of the issues to participate in this assessment. To date most modifications to crop plants have benefited producers. Crops have been engineered to decrease pesticide and herbicide usage, protect against stressors, enhance yields and extend shelf life. Beyond the environmental benefits of decreased pesticide and herbicide application, consumers stand to benefit by development of food crops with increased nutritional value, medicinal properties, enhanced taste and esthetic appeal. There remains concern that these benefits come with a cost to the environment or increased risk to the consumer. Most U.S. consumers are not aware of the extent that genetically modified foods have entered the marketplace. Consumer awareness of biotechnology seems to have increased over the last decade, yet most consumers remain confused over the science. Concern over the impact on the safety of the food supply remains low in the United States, but is substantially elevated in Europe. Before a genetically engineered crop is introduced into commerce it must pass regulatory scrutiny by as many as four different federal regulatory bodies to ensure a safe food supply and minimize the risk to the environment. Key areas for more research are evaluation of the nutritional benefits of new crops, further investigation of the environmental impact, and development of better techniques to identify and track genetically engineered products.

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