I’d like to propose a simple task. Completely redefine the food labeling industry so that it is more adaptive and accepting of today’s genetically and technologically enhanced foods. We, as people, crave options. We crave truthfulness. We crave knowledge. Yet for some reason, supermarkets continue to display food in a very black and white fashion. You can choose organically labeled food, whose description can still be vague, or non-organically labeled food, which could be anything from fresh produce that just fell short of the “organic” standards or a box of pop-tarts. With the hundreds of breakthroughs in food technology, there is no reason that there aren’t more options between this left or right side standard we’ve come to condone. The adoption of these “new foods” that have been genetically and/or technologically enhanced not only accomplish this task, but positively affect the producer, consumer, and the environment too.
As stated above, one major category that advancements in food biotechnology affect are the producer, or in this case, the farmers and researchers. In many ways, these new inventions and methods for farming are dramatically changing the game, and for the better. With the adoption of such technologies, farmers’ jobs become less time consuming and more productive. Instead of having to weed through thousands upon thousands of crops, many fruits and vegetables are being genetically modified to build up resistance to soils with toxins or poor fertility, saving farmers time and money. In a piece by Purdue University, the paper explains how crops are being developed that “utilize nitrogen or water more efficiently, which allows them to produce food and fiber with less applied fertilizer and irrigation – an advance that could not only reduce production costs, but could also improve water quality.” These enhanced crops would not only save farmers funds by conserving fertilizer use, but also improve the environment and water purity as a result of the decreased fertilizer use. Speaking of saving farmers money, the paper continues with the statement,
“Abdalla et al. (2003) predict the full global adoption of biotech crops would result in income gains of $210 billion per year for farmers – and that some of the greatest gains are expected to occur in developing countries.”
This is a substantial amount of savings. We aren’t talking a few tens of millions, we’re estimating $210 billion dollars PER YEAR. If more of the world were to adopt these biologically enhanced crops, it would reduce costs dramatically, not only for its producers in our own country, but also developing nations who struggle with coming up with the funds to sustain a sufficient yield.
Endorsement of these biotech crops and technology certainly have a positive effect on the consumers as well. Many companies are utilizing 3-D printing to produce food like never before. One company, Modern Meadow, has already used a type of bioprinting to form leather from taking a small portion of the product in its final state, forming samples of collagen from the animal, and using technology to assist the collagen in growing into a state of hide. CEO of Modern Meadow, Andras Forgacs and his team were able to form “skin models” of fully functioning organs such as livers and kidneys through 3-D biotech printing. Forgacs is working towards using this technology to create produce, which could completely revolutionize the meat industry. Even NASA is utilizing printing technology to produce foods, such as pizza, for astronauts to make during space exploration. Food biotechnology is being used to reduce health risks among humans as well. Many plants and vegetables are being engineered to give its consumers greater nutritional value and decreased disease risks. As author Theresa Phillips explains in her article, “5 Ways Food Biotechnology Has Changed the World,” “…the (once lowly) soybean has been developed to produce more stearic acid, thus improving the heat stability of the oil, to match the properties of trans-hydrogenated fatty acids.” Reduction of these fatty acids prevent less risk in clogging the arteries. Or perhaps you’d prefer tomatoes that can be “bred to produce higher amounts of lycopene, a compound that has been linked to lower blood cholesterol levels and has been shown to lower the risk of breast cancer and prostate cancers.” In developing nations that struggle with sourcing fresh water, engineers are introducing technologies to test its purity. Philips explains this as well in her article as it states, “Cryptosporidium parvum (Crypto), is a water-borne pathogen that produces spores, making it difficult to remove by boiling or chemical treatments.” Fortunately, scientists are currently working to introduce certain antibodies that help to detect these impurities.
It doesn’t stop there. Food biotechnology has a great effect on our environment as well. With so much of our planet’s land being used up more and more each day, one farm in London formed a new solution by producing crops from a farm built in abandoned underground tunnels, called a hydroponic farm. These types of farms grow food without soil and instead use a water solution packed with nutrients. Additionally, Exxon Mobil recently engineered a strain of algae that is able to produce massive amounts of oil. What does this mean for the environment? A new and promising (and sustainable) source of biofuel. As the article from Exxon Mobil explains, “Algae has other advantages over traditional biofuels because it can grow in salt water and thrive in harsh environmental conditions, therefore limiting stress on food and fresh water supplies.” While many jump to assume genetically engineered food and food technologies are set to destroy the planet, it may just be one of the last approaches in saving it.
The world of food biotechnology isn’t here to hurt us. It isn’t here to shove hundreds of toxic chemicals into our produce. It’s here to transform the food industry as we know it for the better, and keep up with the ever-evolving and ever-growing demands of the world, and positively reshape the needs of its producers, consumers, and environment.
Gilpin, L. (2014, May 13). 10 ways technology is changing our food. Retrieved from https://www.techrepublic.com/article/10-ways-technology-is-changing-our-food/
Shontell, A. (2016, June 28). A Brooklyn startup that’s armed with $40 million is growing real leather in a lab without hurting a single animal. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/modern-meadow-lab-grown-leather-2016-6
Phillips, T. (2018, August 26). How Has Food Biotechnology Changed What We Eat? Retrieved from https://www.thebalance.com/food-biotechnology-375627
Chapter 4 Breakthroughs in Agricultural Biotechnology. (n.d.). Perdue University. doi:http://www.ctic.purdue.edu/media/users/lvollmer/pdf/biotech chapter 3.pdf
Breakthrough in algae biofuel research reported. (2017, June 20). Retrieved from https://phys.org/news/2017-06-breakthrough-algae-biofuel.html?xid=PS_smithsonian