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The Ag Agenda

June 2008

Biotech Could Provide Relief with Food Shortages


Bob Stallman
President
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

With growing worldwide food demand and tight supplies caused mainly by poor growing conditions in some key nations, it's time to have a frank international discussion about the best way to put more food on the tables of our global citizens. It is a moral imperative that we, as a planet, put forth the best tools we have to grow higher yielding and nutritionally improved crops.

Agricultural products enhanced through biotechnology can significantly help with the food shortages we face. We must intensify our efforts toward approval and acceptance of modern biotechnology. Referred to as the wave of the future, I instead argue that biotechnology is very much a part of the present and should play even a larger role as food insecurities continue. Just as the "Green Revolution" of agronomic advances fueled huge productivity improvements in the 20th Century, an agricultural "Gene Revolution" will feed citizens of the 21st Century.

Global Acceptance

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit China to promote biotechnology. As its population continues to grow, China is depending more and more on biotechnology to feed its people. The country is constantly striving to educate its citizens about the importance of growing and importing biotech crops.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for other Asian and European countries. Heavy restrictions remain in place against growing biotech crops – crops that could save lives. Unfortunately, many governments refuse to recognize biotech foods as safe and wholesome. Instead, they keep on their blinders while their food supplies dwindle and cannot keep pace with their population growth.

In the U.S., biotech food stocks about half of your grocery store’s shelves. It is strictly regulated by three U.S. government agencies, including the Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. Unbiased scientific evaluation shows that biotechnology is inherently safe for human consumption and the environment.

Endless Possibilities

Many biotech applications that could help with food demand are either already on the market or in the pipeline and close to commercialization. Biotech varieties that are resistant to both drought and pests are already widely used by U.S. farmers.

Salt-tolerant wheat currently being studied in Australia could significantly improve wheat yields in salt-affected farmland around the world, including many developing nations. Further, using genetic mapping techniques, scientists from the International Rice Research Institute and the University of California have identified a gene that enables rice to survive complete water submergence for up to 12 days. Normal rice can only survive for 4 days under water.

The possibilities are endless with biotechnology. Biotech crops, if embraced and planted by nations struggling to feed their people, could provide relief for the food shortfalls that parts of the developing world are currently facing.

American farmers will continue to carry out our mission of feeding the world. By taking a renewed look at crops enhanced through biotechnology, many other nations also may do a better job of feeding themselves.