Biotechnology is a major sector in the agriculture industry with new technologies seeking to help farmers increase production. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that more than 17 million farmers are planting genetically modified crops in 29 countries.
Genetically Modified (GM) Crops, as defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) are, “Crops that have genes inserted from the same or unrelated organism using genetic engineering methods.”
Generating such crops brings many things into consideration such as environmental safety, food safety and feed safety. Agriculture experts are involved in the testing of these biotech products, their efficacy, and ultimately their success in the market.
Let’s discuss the promise or benefits of GM crops and the ethics involved in producing them.
Promise and Benefits
By 2050, the world population is expected to reach 9.7 billion with the FAO reporting a necessary 60 percent increase in food production to feed this growing population.
The FDA states benefits of GM crops such as higher yields, reduced pesticide use, and better management of weeds. These benefits are produced intentionally through the inserted genes that offer the useful traits like pest resistance, increased nutrient levels and the ability to grow in extreme conditions.
Soil health is an important topic of discussion among agribusinesses. GM crops allow farmers to reduce the need to till, which improves soil health, reduces soil erosion, lowers fuel use, and ultimately reduces the amount of carbon dioxide released.
A study from PG Economics states that the four top GM crops are canola, maize, cotton, and soybean, which account for 48 percent of these crops grown in 2016. This same study reports positive economic and environmental impacts from growing GM crops.
Another example of a GM crop and its benefits are non-browning apples. Through genetic modification, the activity of polyphenol oxidase, which causes browning, is reduced. Longer lasting apples limits waste as well as protects the flavor and nutritional value.
Some have ethical concerns about GM crops, despite the thorough safety testing of these products. Some of the ethical concerns include the effect on food, feed and the environment. Risk assessment and management are carefully considered before GM crops are marked safe.
This risk assessment and management is referred to as biosafety, or a “Set of measures and actions that address the safety of genetically modified organisms to human, animal and the environment.”
Risk management associated with food and feed compares nutrition, anti-nutrition, allergens and toxins of GM products with non-GM products to identify risks. Similarly, risk management and assessment are performed to test environmental safety and any risks these products may bring to the environment.
Biotech in agriculture will continue to be part of the technological advancements within the industry. In an effort to support biotechnology, congress has allotted $7.5 million in funding Agricultural Biotechnology Education and Outreach Initiative.
GM crops have transformed the industry and benefited farmers and consumers alike. Within the U.S., three organizations including the FDA, United Stated Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency all work to regulate GM crops. Agriculture experts are committed to seeing such technologies through to support our growing population.