Agricultural Biotechnology Provides Benefits for Consumers Now and In the Future Food biotechnology can benefit the consumer in two main ways: by aiding in growing more food on less land and through new nutritionally enhanced foods. As of July , over twenty different food biotech products were on the market and numerous more were in development. The majority of the products presently available have modified growing traits, like pest and disease resistance, which can help prevent crop loss and therefore help grow more food. Nutritionally enhanced biotech food is currently a major area of research that has already produced a few promising products.
Examples include cooking oils with unique fatty acid profiles and less then one percent trans fats and corn with higher concentrations of amino acids, certain oils and minerals ideal for animal feed.
Scientists are conducting research on ways to make foods, such as soy and peanuts, with fewer allergens by removing the offending proteins which cause the majority of allergic reactions in people. Also in development are fruits and vegetables with higher levels of nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and protein 4. These second generation biotech foods promise to provide consumers with products that stay fresh longer, contain less allergens, and have higher levels of healthy fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, while still having the first generation growing traits, which give rise to hardy, high-yield crops.
Would consumers be likely to eat biotech foods? A majority would purchase foods produced through biotechnology for specific benefits including providing more healthful fats 78 percent , like Omega-3, reducing trans 76 percent and saturated fat 75 percent ; and making foods taste better or fresher 67 percent. Biotech crops enable farmers to benefit economically, and at the same time, allow farmers to grow crops in a more sustainable manner.
Feeding the World: A Look at Biotechnology and World Hunger(2)
With rising food prices and a burgeoning global population, increased crop yields provided through agricultural biotechnology provide important economic, social and environmental benefits. A study released in by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy found that biotech plants improved to resist herbicides and insects helped U.
In developing nations, the World Bank estimates that over one-half of the labor force is employed in the agricultural sector 6. Higher crop yields can boost incomes for poor farmers and feed more people in these countries.
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Biotech seeds enable farmers to increase their agricultural productivity and provide a higher quality crop, which, in turn, translates into higher incomes. This cycle ultimately leads to a more consistent food supply which helps to stimulate local economies. The ability to grow more biotech crops on less acreage also aids farmers in being good stewards of the land. The reduction in plowing made possible through biotechnology enables farmers to significantly reduce fuel use and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
Studies show that biotech crops have saved farmers million gallons of fuel through reduced fuel operations — which in turn resulted in eliminating nearly He described a relatively simple method that he suggested could be used to identify policy and institutional factors e. I would never be prescriptive as what will be most appropriate in what circumstances, but the more options on offer the better surely? Firstly, food supply exceeds demand so prices fall and access to food by the poor is increased as the food is cheaper. Secondly, however, as prices are lower and farmers in developing countries are not subsidized, they are forced to absorb costs that are higher than the prices they can get for their commodities on the international market, which leads to them producing only for their limited domestic markets or for subsistence use.
The end result is that small and poor farmers leave the land while farms become bigger and concentrated in the hands of fewer individuals. Some of the discussion was general, regarding the potential environmental impact of GM crops and the effect it might have on hunger and food security. It is a public health problem in countries, especially in Africa and South-East Asia, which affects young children and pregnant women in low-income countries hardest.
An estimated to vitamin A deficient children become blind each year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight these figures are taken from the World Health Organization website www. However, it is a poor source of many essential micronutrients and vitamins. The endosperm, the starchy portion of the grain left after milling, does not contain provitamin A also known as beta-carotene , from which humans can make vitamin A. The Golden Rice variety, however, contains three new genes two from the daffodil and one from a bacteria so that the rice plants produce provitamin A.
The plant variety was produced by researchers collaborating in Germany and Switzerland and their work was reported in the journal Science on 14 January There is large interest in making the variety available to farmers in developing countries but it is currently in the testing phase and so may not be released publicly until a few years time.
An Unsustainable Trend
As mentioned earlier, discussions on the potential value of biotechnology for food security and hunger in developing countries can be quite polarized. Golden Rice, which has also been the subject of much public and media interest, has allowed this polarization of viewpoints to become far more specific, as it is a specific biotechnology product directed towards a specific nutritional problem in developing countries. The issue of how Golden Rice was presented to the public was raised by participants.
For some, the approach was that the variety exists and so why not try it e. For others instead, the approach was that hunger and nutrition problems exist and why should Golden Rice be used compared to other potential solutions to the problems e. The first concern was that if only a limited number of varieties were genetically modified and they were widely cultivated, then this would have a negative impact on crop biodiversity.
In this conference, however, it was considered only in respect of its potential effect on hunger and food security.
These include i potential failures of GM crops; ii potential negative impacts of Bt-crops i. GM crops producing toxins of the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis , such as increased resistance to Bt toxins by the pests; crop losses due to killing non-target biocontrol organisms and reductions in soil fertility due to Bt toxins remaining in the soil; and iii potential transfer of insecticidal properties or virus resistance to wild relatives of the crop species.
There seemed to be agreement that developing countries should not be used as inappropriate testing grounds by scientists and companies promoting GM organisms e. By and large, the investors and shareholders themselves are also large institutions with their own shareholders. The private industry was also seen to have an impact on food security and hunger by its influence on the biotechnology research agenda. In his opinion, the private companies had too much power and weight in determining the research agenda. Some participants e. He argued that biotechnology scientists, due to the nature of their work, are often highly specialized and technique-focused and thus are not competent on the complex question of hunger in developing countries.
Barbados Ashton, Glenn.
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South Africa Benbrook, Charles. United States Bharathan, Geeta. United States Boesen, Jannik. Denmark Carvalho, Luiz. Brazil Donkin, Ned. South Africa Fakir, Saliem. South Africa Fenning, Trevor. Germany Ferry, Michel.
Spain Freed, Russ. United States. Even livestock can be raised less expensively, using feed made from GM crops as evidenced by the recent change in EU policy to help struggling farmers. Also, faster growth rates resulting in cheaper fish production is the main benefit touted for the AquaBounty salmon that may become the first GM animal approved to be sold as food.
It's clear genetically engineered traits that make plants and animals more resistant to disease, stay ripe longer, and grow more robustly in a variety of conditions are effective in reducing costs and providing economic benefits to food producers. Since they are cheaper to grow, increase yields, and extend the time food remains edible, it seems reasonable that GM plants should provide more food to a hungry world.
However, it is not clear this is panning out as may have been naively anticipated several years ago.
The countries that could benefit most from genetic engineering have benefited the least. Much of the inability of GM technology to provide relief for the poorest nations seems to have less to do with the technology and more with social and political issues. Many of the poorest countries most strongly affected by famine, such as many African nations, have set up onerous regulations that prevent the growth and import of GM food and crops.
Also, and partially as a result of the political and social situation, groups, such as HarvestPlus, that focus on research and development crops and farming techniques to address third world hunger specifically avoid genetic engineering as a method to improve plants. Anti-GM sentiment, though, is not the only reason it has failed to benefit the poorest nations. From the commercial side, major crop development companies use genetic engineering primarily to improve large cash crops with the most potential for profits, such as corn, cotton, soy, and wheat with.