Biotechnology uses science and engineering to process materials with biological agents. Biological agents such as enzymes, plant cells and microorganisms are used to produce pharmaceuticals, foods and biochemicals used for warfare. Louis Pasteur used biotechnology to create vaccines in the late 19th century. Biotechnology is experiencing a second wave with rapid growth and advancement in the field; however, that doesn't come without some concern about the negative impact of biotechnological products.
Potential Health Risks
One of the greatest disadvantages of biotech products is the concern over health risks involved by introducing unwanted biological agents into the food supply. According to the Biotechnology Research and Education Initiative, approximately one-third of the U.S. milk supply is produced using synthetic bovine growth hormone. Scientific studies have not determined whether human consumption of the growth hormone is safe. Manufacturers are not required to disclose whether they use genetically modified organisms unless the product introduces potential food allergies or if the nutrient composition changes drastically.
Outcrossing -- the spread of genes from genetically modified plants to unaltered plants -- is considered a major disadvantage in producing biotech food products. New concerns about the stability of crop diversity arose after genes from genetically modified maize, produced for animal feed, were detected in the U.S. food supply as a result of cross-contamination.
Biotech pharmaceutical products are used to fight disease and illness such as cancer and the AIDS virus. However, the cost of biotech pharmaceuticals is prohibitive, with many of the drugs costing thousands of dollars per dose. Critics argue that the high prices reflect monopolization, which is outlawed by Section 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act. However, exorbitant profits are not illegal, and prices are expected to remain high until more competitors enter the market.
Biotech food crops experience high yields due to their resistance to pests and disease. While higher yields have advantages, the concern is regarding overproduction, which leads to market instability. For developing countries where development and production of genetically modified foods is cost-prohibitive, loss of export income from naturally raised food products is a major threat. Even when production is maintained in developing countries, mechanization threatens jobs, which negatively impacts local communities.
- California State Library; Bioindustry: A Description of California's Bioindustry...; Ethical Issues and Risk Assessment in Biotechnology; Gus A. Koehler, Ph.D.
- University of Kentucky; Food Biotechnology; J.L. Tietyen, et al.
- Chemical and Engineering News; Do-It-Yourself Chemical Weapons; James M. Tour
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