Protestors against the use of milk from cows injected with the bovine growth hormone in Chicago public schools (Neighborhood News, September 23) may be humming the love theme from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, but we should no more fear the advent of biotechnology than we should have feared the introduction of pasteurization, refrigeration or microwave ovens in food storage and preparation.
Many people assume that the power to change living organisms is something new, complex and inherently dangerous. But mankind has been altering species for centuries, both accidentally and purposefully. The nectarine, the mule, and modern strains of corn and wheat are all examples of this kind of alteration.
Bovine somatotrophin (BST) is a protein hormone that helps cows produce more milk. When injected into dairy cows in small amounts, it supplements the BST already found naturally in cows and can boost milk production 10 to 40 percent without harming the cows or the milk. This naturally occurring hormone in cows isn't a foreign substance bubbling up in some mad scientist's laboratory.
Its safe use has been amply documented in studies produced by the Food and Drug Administration, the American Medical Association, the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, and the regulatory agencies in more than 30 countries that have all concluded milk from BST-treated cows is safe to drink.
BST can increase milk production by nine pounds per cow per day. It is the first major product of agricultural biotechnology. And if it proves successful, it will open the door to a whole new generation of technologies capable of providing vast quantities of safer and more affordable food to a growing and hungry world.
During the last three decades, agricultural productivity has tripled, far outstripping population growth. During the last decade alone, Third World food output rose more than twice the rate of population growth.
And now we are faced with such "dangers" as BST-milk, a highly productive corn that grows without fertilizer, a marsh grass that desalinates seawater, a wheat plant that is pest and drought resistant, etc.
If we are genuinely concerned about consumer safety, we should press for the approval of even more technology, such as food irradiation, a process approved by most industrialized countries, and a safe way to almost completely decontaminate food.
I would suspect the real reason the antiscience zealots oppose biotechnology is because it threatens to upset their doomsday scenarios of famine, pollution, poverty and ecological disaster. And, worse yet, some will make a profit at it.
I think I'm going to have a bacon, lettuce, and bioengineered tomato sandwich and a glass of BST-milk.
Daniel John Sobieski