The rise in food prices and feeding the growing global population is an issue that is growing day by day. This is one of the reasons to focus on the benefits of biotechnology. Biotech plants can produce more food on less land, by reducing the amount of crops lost to disease and pests. It can help in reducing CO2 emissions from the farming process, the amount of pesticides used to produce foods, and in the future, the amount of water needed to grow crops. Scientists have been looking at ways to enhance the nutritional value of foods continuously. Here is how biotechnology contributes to these benefits and what they mean for the environment, the consumer, and the farmer.
1. What is Food Biotechnology?
Modern food biotechnology focuses on improving the food traits and production practices. Farmers spent generations crossbreeding plants or animals to obtain the specific beneficial traits they were looking for and avoid the traits they did not want. This time-consuming process never guaranteed what the results would be. Today, biotechnology utilizes the knowledge of plant science and genetics to further this tradition and make it a lot easier. Using modern biotechnology, researchers can move genes for valuable traits from one plant to another. This process results in tangible environmental and economic benefits that are passed on to the farmer and the consumers.
2. Agricultural Biotechnology for the Benefit of the Environment
Researchers are using biotechnology to improve the process by which food is being produced in order to make it more environmentally friendly. There are certain biotech foods are designed to be resistant to pests and diseases. It allows farmers to use fewer chemicals, like pesticides and herbicides, while still maintaining a healthy, high-yielding crop. Using less chemical is beneficial for water and wildlife, as well as for those consumers who may worry about ingesting chemicals when they eat fruits and vegetables.
Biotech crops require less plowing and tiling, since many plants are modified to be inherently resistant to herbicides that can be used more selectively. Using conservation tillage helps to conserve water from rainfall and irrigation, increase water absorption, limit soil erosion and compaction, and creates healthier soil. All of these benefits aid in maximizing crop yields and minimizing water usage. They also release less carbon dioxide into the environment compared to conventional tillage and helps to sustain habitats beneficial for insects, birds, and other animals. In addition, researchers are working on modified growing traits, such as drought resistance, to aid in growing food in less growable areas.
3. Agricultural Biotechnology Benefits the Farmer
Crops that are designed to thrive under harsh conditions like heat, cold, drought, etc. will help to provide economic benefits to farmers. We are familiar with cases where farmers experienced a decreased rate of crop losses during situations, like a drought, which historically have taken huge financial tolls on farmers.
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 reduce fuel use and decrease greenhouse gas emissions significantly. Scientists show that biotech crops have saved farmers 441 million gallons of fuel through reduced fuel operations that resulted in eliminating nearly 10.2 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions since 1996. This is equivalent to removing four million cars from the road in one year. Agricultural Biotechnology has helped in the increase of productivity and higher quality crop that, in turn, translates into higher incomes. This cycle ultimately leads to a more consistent food supply, which helps to generate the local economy.
4. Food Biotechnology for People
The main aim of food biotech is to provide more food on less land and through new nutritionally enhanced foods. The availability of biotech foods or GMOs is growing, and many more are in the development phase. Most of the products 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 the main focus area of research and has already shown some promising products. Many products in development are being engineered to confer nutritional benefits, such as the new “golden rice,” which contains added beta-carotene and iron. Researchers have found out ways to make foods, like 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. These second-generation biotech foods promise to provide consumers with products that stay fresh longer, contain fewer 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? According to IFIC’s 2008 Food Biotechnology: A Study of US Consumer Trends, the majority (53 percent) of consumers have neutral impressions of plant biotechnology. 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).
5. Looking to the Future of Biotech Foods
People have started changing their opinion about biotech foods as people realize the environmental, economic, and nutritional benefits they can impart, and recognize the safety of these food products with respect to human health and the environment. Additionally, the rising food and bio-fuel demands worldwide are quickening the broader acceptance of biotech foods in the marketplace. As more and more products made through biotechnology are approved for sale, any stigmas related to biotechnology continue to lessen, as awareness increases, and consumers reap the rewards of these enhanced crops and foods.
SOURCE: food insight