What is ag biotech?
Agricultural biotechnological advancements enable farmers to grow more food, as well as reducing cost and labor of food production. Our ability to bioengineer insect and viral resistance, biofortify crops for enriched nutrition, create edible vaccines and enhance photosynthesis for greater yield, is being hindered by one controversial application of bioengineering: herbicide tolerance.
We need to produce hardier crops that will flourish in even the harshest environments, as well as adapt to climate change. To produce food with less labor, fertilizer, and water, decrease the pressures on land and wildlife habitats. Bioengineered plants are also being developed to detoxify pollutants in the soil.
What are the benefits of bioengineering crops?
Applications of biotechnology in agriculture have helped to make both insect pest control and weed management safer and easier.
It can make farming more profitable by increasing crop quality and may in some cases increase yields. Biotech crops may provide enhanced quality traits such as increased levels of beta-carotene in golden rice and golden banana, to improved oil compositions in canola, soybean, and corn.
Agricultural biotechnology has been used to protect crops from devastating diseases.
The papaya Ringspot virus threatened to end the Hawaiian papaya industry until papayas resistant to the disease were developed through bioengineering. Research on potatoes, squash, tomatoes, and other crops continues in a similar manner to provide resistance to diseases.
What are the safety considerations?
Plant breeders evaluate new crops for centuries. Currently, many organizations in the world regulate and deregulate plants derived from bioengineering.
In America, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ensure that crops produced through bioengineering for commercial use are tested and studied to make sure that “they pose no significant risk to consumers or the environment.”
With respect to food safety, when new traits are introduced, the plants and new proteins produced undergo allergenicity and toxicity studies, for their potential toxic or allergic response.
Basic traits, like insect and disease resistance, have allowed plants to survive and evolve over time.
How widely used are these new crops in America?
According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), conducts surveys every year. Bioengineered plantings as a percentage of total crop plantings in the U.S. in 2012 were about 88 % for corn, 94 % for cotton, and 93 % for soybeans.