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If the bakers believe that biotech wheat will solve the problem of high commodity prices, they might want to consider the hundreds of millions of dollars that private life science companies plan to invest to develop certain traits, according to Charles Benbrook, chief scientist, The Organic Center, Troy, OR. Sooner or later, these seed companies will want to see a return on their investments from farmers and the baking industry.
“Bakers are being naïve if they think biotech wheat will be cheap wheat,” Mr. Benbrook said. “It’s very expensive to develop any new biotech variety, and according to the GE crop record to date, the only entity that will be better off financially in the end is the technology developer. Today’s GE corn, soybean and cotton crops have transferred about one-third of average net farm income to GE crop technology patent holders.”
Mr. Benbrook noted that biotech seed companies are moving away from the relatively crude, first-generation techniques used to add novel DNA into a crop toward less invasive and more predictable methods. Still, he suggested bakeries conduct the necessary research to ensure the GE crop transformation methods they are considering are safe. “The milling and baking community has mostly been hearing rosy scenario talk from the leading biotech seed companies about what they have in their pipelines,” he said. “I would strongly urge the industry to develop its own independent ability to evaluate the genetically engineered traits that are under development and likely to come on the scene. They should simply not take the word of the technology developers without a pretty large grain of salt.”
Although biotech corn and soybeans have been around for more than a decade, the long-term health and environmental impact of these crops might not come to fruition for several more years. “The general positive attitude toward genetically engineered corn and soybeans is going to take a hit,” Mr. Benbrook said. “Most Americans don’t even know most corn and soybeans are genetically engineered. They are certainly not aware of the inadequate safety studies that have been done to support today’s commercial GE crops.”
Time will tell whether biotech products are truly safe to eat, he added. “I’m here to tell you that it is absolutely wrong for anybody to say that any future crops made using biotechnology have already been proven safe,” Mr. Benbrook said.