Pesticides and Biotechnology

The use of pesticides to control damage of food crops and enhance production has created a controversy related to potential hazards to consumers. While pesticides can be part of a safe food-protection program, they can be hazardous when handled or used inappropriately. High doses of pesticides applied to laboratory animals cause birth defects, sterility, tumors, organ

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Salmonella enteritidis bacteria annually infect between two and four million people in the United States. Most outbreaks of food-borne illness are due to improper food handling or storage. [USDA/Science Source/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.]

damage, and central nervous system impairment. As with antibiotics, the targeted insects become resistant and can survive exposure, emerging with increased vigor to again attack the crop. The same effects arise from herbicides and fungicides used on crops. New labeling laws introduced by the FDA in October 2002 have caused some organic producers to drop the term organic from their label, finding the requirements too restrictive.

Genetically modified foods have been a cause of concern in many parts of the world since their introduction, particularly in Europe. Campaigns have been launched by many groups opposing the practice of genetically altering enzymes, amino acids, and genes in foods for the purposes of increasing crop yields, nutritional quality, and profits while decreasing food waste. Whether it is about changing the degree of saturation in oils or adding amino acids to corn to make it a more complete protein source, food technologists are working hard to change the chemical make-up of food.

Organic farming groups and others will likely continue to fight against the use of pesticides and genetic modification in food production for years. When trying to feed the world, one must weigh the risks and benefits of both when establishing food-safety regulations.

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