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How Innovation in Biotechnology Can Feed the World

April 19, 2016

By: Robert Burns, Ph.D., Vice President Health and Nutrition Policy

In the next 35 years, the world will add another 2.4 billion people.  As demand for food, feed, fiber, and fuel increases, so does our need to deliver greater productivity in agriculture (i.e. producing more with less) while conserving increasingly scarce natural resources.

Today at the GMA Science Forum, Margaret M. Zeigler, Ph.D., Executive Director, Global Harvest Initiative, spoke about strategies to improve global food security, nutrition, and to build resilience to climate challenges.

Her presentation talked about how innovation in agricultural biotechnology, combined with sustainable farming practices, can meet the challenge of increasing productivity in food while conserving resources.

Biotechnology is a broad term for harnessing natural biological processes to develop products that improve our lives.  To date, biotechnology has been used to produce the medicines, fuels, and food many of us use every day.  In its simplest form, humans have used microorganisms such as yeast for thousands of years to make products many enjoy including bread, cheese, wine, and beer.

In more recent decades, a wide range of biotechnologies have been used to breed plants resistant to pests or disease, improve the nutritional value of staple crops on which many in developing countries depend, reduce waste by extending the shelf life of agricultural products, and reduce green-house gas emissions from livestock.

Ziegler took part in the meeting in February where the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) led a conversation to explore how agricultural biotechnology could be combined with sustainable agriculture methods to increase productivity and improve nutrition in a sustainable way.  The FAO focused particularly on smallholder farmers in developing countries, who face disproportionate challenges related to climate change.

Farmers, scientists, policymakers, and other stakeholders looked at a wide range of both high-tech agricultural biotechnologies that selectively modify DNA (e.g. GMOs) and low-tech approaches such as artificial insemination and bio-fertilizers (e.g. blue green algae).  These bio-fertilizers help the plant’s root system more effectively utilize nutrients from soil.

The combination of agricultural biotechnology with sustainable agricultural practices can improve conditions for smallholder farmers, even in countries where climate change and extreme weather events (floods, droughts), pests, and disease present constant threats.

You may know GMA for our efforts to enact a uniform, national approach to informing consumers about the presence of ingredients sourced from genetically engineered (GE) crops, commonly known as GMOs.  However, our engagement in agricultural biotechnology goes beyond just labeling.

There is no single policy or technology that alone will address the challenges we face.  Rather, all forms of technology are necessary to bring continual improvement to the entire food value chain, from farm to fork.  Our support of agricultural biotechnology as one of many tools available reflects our broader commitment to apply proven, safe technologies and provide the nutritious choices that consumers’ desire.

Many of our member companies operate on a global scale and recognize the critical role smallholders play in feeding the world.  Our members also recognize they have a part to play providing food for an ever expanding population with minimal impact or natural resources such as land, air, water, and energy.

We believe that agricultural biotechnology is one of many diverse techniques that will help us bring the future products that consumers will demand in a sustainable way.

 

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