Possible Negative Impacts

Ethical concerns

Many ethical concerns have developed with the advent of widespread biotechnology applications. Nutrition professionals need to be aware of these concerns so they can understand their clients’ and patients’ viewpoints and concerns about biotechnology.

Some examples of these concerns include:

Threat to small farming operations

Concerns in this area center around the 'Terminator' and 'Traitor' gene technologies. The 'Terminator' gene contains inducible promoters that can disable critical functions in the seed or plant, such as reproduction, seed viability, and disease resistance (10). The 'Traitor' gene gives companies control over input or output traits. These traits can only be activated or inactivated by spraying a specific chemical on the plant (11). With these technologies, farmers cannot save and reuse seeds. This could be an even bigger concern in developing countries, where the practice of reusing seeds is common (up to 80% of third world crops) (4). Currently, the Terminator technology is only being used in the lab on tobacco and cotton crops.

Feeding the Developing World

Certainly no one disputes the need to feed the hungry and that the world’s population is growing. The controversy here lies in whether hunger is due to lack of food or poor distribution of food.

Religious opposition

There have been objections to biotechnology based on religious beliefs. Some of these objections include that transferring genes between species is not consistent with their beliefs. There are also some concerns in groups such as Jews, Muslims or Seventh Day Adventists. Would a pig gene in a plant still be kosher? (3). These issues definitely warrant thought and sensitivity to a wide variety of beliefs.

Question: What other ethical concerns do you have or have you heard about?

Allergen introduction

The potential for allergen introduction with biotechnology occurs because this method of trait addition in plants involves the addition of protein to the food. Proteins are the molecules that cause allergic reactions (1). Due to this possibility, companies must label a biotech product that contains a gene from a common allergen containing food (90% of allergic reactions are caused by cow’s milk, eggs, fish and shellfish, tree nuts, wheat and legumes), unless the company can prove that the transferred gene is not involved in the allergen production (1).

So far, only one known case of allergen introduction via biotechnology is known. The Brazil nut methionine (an essential amino acid) was transferred into soybeans. The transformation was successful in increasing the methionine content of soybeans, however the gene from the Brazil nut was also the one that encoded for the nut’s allergen (9). Development of the soybean did not continue after its potential allergenicity was discovered.