Promise of Biotechnology


Oct 23, 2013 (4 years and 7 months ago)


Promise of Biotechnology

Biotechnology has the potential to provide a wide range of benefits to consumers, the environment and
the developing world. Researchers are developing varieties of crops that have more essential nutrients,
resist harmful pests and
diseases, and that can flourish in harsh climate conditions.

Biotech varieties of crops like pest
resistant corn and herbicide
tolerant soybeans are planted widely
throughout the world. In 2003, American farmers alone planted over 96 million acres of biot
ech corn,
cotton and soybeans crops. Worldwide, biotech crops were grown on more than 145 million acres.

For Florence Wambugu, Kenyan researcher and former director of the
International Service for
Acquisition of Agri
biotech Applications
, biotech crops are "technology in the seed" allowing
farmers to grow better, more nutritious, and hardier crops with fewer inputs. And, in developing
countries, where hunger and malnutrition are ever
present threats, these crops offer new tools in the
fight against harsh climates and poor soil conditions.

Scientists are also investigating the viability of nutrient
enriched crops that provide direct benefits to
consumers. Continuing research focuses on

methods to increase the level of vitamin A in rice, a staple
food for much of the world and a critical nutrient in disease prevention. Researchers also hope to develop
nuts, wheat and other foods with reduced levels of allergens.

With the continued advanc
es in biotechnology, producers can provide consumers with a more nutritious,
abundant and higher quality food supply.

Biotechnology and the Developing World

World hunger and malnutrition are global problems that are not readily or easily solved. However, t
he use
of biotech plants and foods is increasingly seen as providing part of the solution. Agricultural
biotechnology has tremendous potential as a tool for producing more and better foods on existing
farmland. According to the
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri
biotech Applications
"Biotechnology … is no longer viewed as merely a desirable element but an essential one in a multiple
thrust global strategy for food security."

Did you know…


there are more than 826 million undernourished people in the
developing world.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture

estimates that 13 percent of the world's population lacks
access to adequate a
mounts of food.

World Health Organization

estimates that malnutrition causes
more than half of all childhood deaths in the developing world. Each
year, 10 percent of all children die fr
om starvation. Two out of five
children in the developing world experience stunted growth and one in
three is underweight.

According to the
Worldwatch Institute
, 60 percent of all newborns in
India woul
d be in intensive care if they had been born in California.

Biotechnology is already beginning to provide sustainable

and life

assistance to farmers in
developing countries. Through the use of biotechnology, researchers are providing highe
yielding strains
of staple crops, foods with enhanced nutritional traits, and plants and produce that last longer and are
resistant to devastating viruses. The following are new ways that food biotechnology may someday
improve our lives.

Nutritionally en
hanced foods

Biotech researchers have already developed and are field
testing rice enhanced with beta
carotene, a
precursor to vitamin A, which is important because rice is a primary diet staple in the developing world.
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization

recently stated: "The potential to create rice with
an enhanced micronutrient content illustrates one way in which genetic engineering can contribute to
reducing malnutrition. Vitamin A deficie
ncy, which is widespread in the developing world, can lead to
morbidity and blindness and contribute to child mortality." Similarly, researchers at the
Donald Danforth
Plant Science Center

are develo
ping high protein and vitamin enhanced cassava, the primary source of
food calories in tropical regions of the developing world.

resistant plants

Biotechnology is helping to make hardier strains of staple crops such as sweet potato, cassava, papay
rice and corn and better protect them against insects and diseases. Developing countries account for
nearly 98 percent of the world’s sweet potato crop, a key source of calories, vitamins and minerals in
African countries such as Kenya. In an effort to
improve yields, researchers at

developing sweet potatoes that are resistant to the sweet potato feathery mottle virus, which can destroy
between 20 to 80 percent of a sweet p
otato crop.

lasting produce

Biotech foods could one day reduce losses to spoilage, especially in areas with limited transportation and
refrigeration capability. According to a
joint rep

issued by the National Academy of Sciences of the
United States, United Kingdom, Brazil, China, India and other developing countries, "… it is possible that
farmers in developing countries could benefit considerably from crops with delayed ripening or

as this may allow them much greater flexibility in distribution than they have at present. In many cases
scale farmers suffer heavy losses due to excessive or uncontrolled ripening or softening of fruit or

Hardier crops


U.S. Department of Agriculture

estimates that most of the world's available farmland is already under
cultivation. At the same time, the USDA estimates suggest that nearly 70 countries in the developing
are likely to face a widening "food gap" in the next 10 years. Never has it been so important to
produce more food on the same amount of land. Food biotechnology is helping to address this problem,
with research on plants that can grow under tough conditio
ns. Biotech scientists are working to improve
farming in regions where food is difficult to grow by improving crops' abilities to withstand natural
environmental factors, such as heat, drought, soil toxicity, salinity and flooding.

Sustainable farming

otechnology is already providing farmers with the means to decrease soil erosion through farming

practices that protect the environment. For example, certain biotech varieties of cotton and soybeans
require less tilling, preserving precious topsoil and hel
ping to reduce sediment run
off into rivers and
streams. The impact of these benefits, suggests Dr. Florence Wambugu in her recent book,
, cannot be understated. Highlighting Kenya as

an example, Wambugu writes: "…our natural
resource base is under threat. Soils, water, forests, rangeland

all are declining in both quantity and
quality…With the forests disappears the biodiversity of flora and fauna that they contain." While no
d reduced till crops are now being used primarily in the United States, it is hoped that subsistence
farmers worldwide will also benefit from new varieties of crops with traits that similarly reduce the need
for tillage.

Environmental Benefits of Food Bio

Some biotech crops are already beginning to improve the environmental performance of agriculture, and
future crops may eventually make significant global contributions to the preservation of valuable
forestlands in the developing world. Followi
ng are anticipated environmental benefits from food

Conservation of natural resources

Hardier disease

and pest
resistant crops can allow greater conservation of resources by requiring less
fuel, labor, water and fertilizer. For example, int
ernational researchers in Georgia and Israel are exploring
ways to produce cotton that can survive in semi
arid conditions, a development that could one day lead
to a savings of some 12 billion gallons of water a year.

Less land use

Researchers around the
world are developing hardier strains of fruits, vegetables and grains that one day
may be able to thrive in extreme growing conditions

such as tomatoes that can flourish in high
soils. Other plant varieties that can protect themselves from pests

and diseases mean that growers will
be able to produce more food on the same amount of land, thereby reducing pressures to clear additional
acres for cultivation. According to the
National Council on Food and
Agricultural Policy
, improved farm
productivity could result in less impact on prairies, wetlands, forests and other fragile ecosystems that
might otherwise be converted for agricultural purposes.

Less pesticide use

Biotech crops can reduce the use of agr
icultural chemicals such as insecticides and fungicides. Scientists
have developed strains of corn and cotton that produce their own protection against specifically targeted
pests, thus reducing the amount of pesticides necessary to control them. In additi
on, herbicide tolerant
varieties of many crops have been developed. According to a study by the National Center for Food and
Agricultural Policy (NCFAP), U.S. pesticide use was 45.6 million pounds lower in 2001 than it would have
been without the use of bi
otech crops. The use of herbicide tolerant soybeans reduced pesticide levels by
28.7 million pounds, while herbicide tolerant cotton helped cut pesticide levels by 6.2 million pounds.
Another report by NCFAP notes several studies finding that growers are a
chieving higher yields and
attaining higher profits by planting Bt varieties of crops, due to the better pest control and decreased
pest control costs they provide.