Biotech: Producing More Food for More People

THE CHALLENGE

Feeding 3 billion more people ...

Many estimate that the world population (currently fewer than 7 billion) will burst through the 10 billion mark by the end of the century. At the same time, people in developing nations are demanding the protein-rich diet that advanced nations take for granted.

Reducing malnutrition ...

Meanwhile, more than 1 billion people are currently malnourished.

Doubling food production ...

Experts agree that to meet these growing needs we must double agricultural production. But we must achieve this with the same amount of land and perhaps less water while protecting our environment. 

 

BIOTECH: WHAT PART CAN IT PLAY IN THE SOLUTION?

Refining age-old breeding techniques ...

A tool for achieving these goals is biotechnology - a refinement of breeding techniques used to improve plants for millennia, allowing scientists to isolate a specific gene to make exact changes to a crop (such as making a corn plant resistant to the corn borer insect and certain diseases.)

Used around the world ...

Introduced in 1996, biotech crops are now grown in 29 countries, encompassing 15.4 million farmers; 90 percent (14.4 million) are resource-poor farmers in developing countries.

American farmers choose genetically engineered (GE) crops ...

Farmers are making the value of GE crops clear. According to a USDA report, in 2010 adoption of GE soybeans climbed to 93 percent, GE cotton 93 percent, and biotech corn 86 percent.

Crop yields up ...

This widespread adaptation of biotech has helped increased U.S. crop yields. Since 1995, corn yields have increased 45 percent and soybean yields have gone up 20 percent.

Resource use down ...

Even as these yields have increased, resource inputs have been used more efficiently. The Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture found that between 1987-2007 (covering the period when biotechnology was introduced) dramatic efficiencies were achieved in the United States for corn, cotton, and soy - crops that have benefited from biotech.

Corn: Yield per acre increased 41%, land use per bushel decreased 37%, and energy use per bushel decreased 37%.

Cotton: Yield per acre increased 31%, land use per pound decreased 25%, soil loss decreased 34%, and energy use per pound decreased 66%.

Soybeans: Yield per acre increased 29%, land use efficiency per bushel increased by 26%, soil loss decreased 49%, and energy use decreased 65%.

 Producing more food on less land ...

A study at Stanford University found that without the improved yields resulting from biotech and other modern agriculture intensification technologies we would now have to cultivate 50 percent to 100 percent more land than we did in 1960,. That means as much as 6.8 million square miles have been spared from cultivation because of biotech and other modern farming technologies. That's an amount of land equal to almost 3 Amazon rain forests worth of natural habitat.    

 

MAKING A DIFFERENCE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

Eliminating billions of kg of CO2 ...

Biotech's efficiencies also help reduce CO2 emissions. The Keystone Alliance study found that between1987-2007, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per bushel decreased significantly for crops that have been prime beneficiaries of biotech - down 30% for corn and 38% for soybeans. Most recent improvements have resulted in a 33% average GHG decrease for cotton.

One of the reasons for reduced GHG emissions is the fact that biotech crops allow farmers to shift to no-till and reduced-till practices - improving carbon storage, and reducing fuel use.  In 2009, this was equal to removing 17.7 billion kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere - the equivalent of removing 7.8 million cars from the road for one year.

Contributing to Sustainability ...

The National Research Council has documented that biotech crops contribute positively to farm sustainability in the United States, due to their environmental and economic benefits.

Rigorous environmental testing ...

To ensure that a new plant is not harmful to the environment, extensive field-testing is conducted under USDA and EPA oversight. Extensive scientific evaluation worldwide has not found any examples of ecological damage from biotechnology crops.

 

EFFICIENT USE OF WATER

More crop per drop ...

The Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture has also found increases in water efficiency since biotech's introduction to farming. Water use per bushel of corn decreased an average of 27% from 1987-2007, irrigation water per incremental pound of cotton decreased 49%, irrigation water use improved 20% for soybeans.

More efficient use of moisture ...

Newly introduced biotech products enable corn and other plants to use available moisture more efficiently.

Improving plants' ability to optimize water use ...

Technologies like Syngenta's Agrisure ArtesianTM technology are already  better equipping crops, such as corn, to withstand decreases in water supply and better use available water to enhance yield.

 

BIOTECH FOODS: Supported by Science

A record of safety ...

For more than 15 years, while biotech crops have been contributing to these agricultural efficiencies, they have not generated a single documented health problem. Foods containing biotech ingredients have the same chemical composition and nutritional value as conventional and organic varieties.

Pose no more risk than traditional plant breeding ...

Scientific authorities - such as UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the National Academies of Science and the American Medical Association - say foods with biotech-derived ingredients pose no more risk than any other foods.

The most regulated agricultural products in history ...

Plant biotechnology products are regulated by up to 3 federal agencies: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, and Environmental Protection Agency.

 

LOOKING FORWARD

Biotech is on the verge of delivering plants with greatly improved nutrition, including higher protein content, more vitamins, minerals and healthy fibre, and decreased allergens. Such breakthroughs are essential to feeding the planet's growing population, while preserving the environment.  

 

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