This week saw a new buzzword hit the media, Plastax. This word-idea would place a tax on plastic grocery bags as a method to deter use. In today’s society virtually everyone wants to be kind to the environment. But how do we maintain a good standard of living while protecting the environment? Environmental taxation policies are one suggestion. I think biotechnology is a better way to help the environment without adding to our tax burden.

Biotechnology is not new. It has been around since man first started fermenting wine, beer and cheese. Now engineered bacteria are helping product environmentally friendly building materials and clothing from corn and hemp. Everything from kitchen cupboards and countertops to clothing can be made with enzymes from engineered bacteria.

Researchers have been successful at engineering corn to product a starch derivative called polylactic acid (PLA) which can be made into everything from plastic grocery bags to carpets. These new nature-friendly plastics are strong, flexible and will do virtually everything petroleum based plastics will do except, under composting conditions, the biotechnology based plastics will degrade into non-toxic environmentally friendly compounds.

Ontario will soon mandate 5 percent ethanol content in gasoline. Inexpensive production of millions of litres of this clean burning biofuel is the direct result of biotechnology. Genetically engineered corn and fermenting bacteria together make increased ethanol content in gasoline a reality for today and tomorrow.

Biotechnology is contributing to the development of everything from transfat-free cooking oils to vitamin enriched rice to hypo-allergenic wheat and soy. The huge success of genetically engineered crops has allowed farmers to reduce insecticide use by hundreds of millions of pounds while maintaining yields. Definitely a win-win outcome of biotechnology research.

BC Place will host Eat Vancouver on the May 26-28th weekend and a booth called The Green Kitchen will showcase how biotechnology is helping to product healthier foods, environmentally friendly fuels, building materials and biodegradable plastics.

Robert Wager

Malaspina University College

Nanaimo BC

Vancouver Sun May 26 2006