Engineering Food for All
The United Nations predicts that there will be 1 billion to 3 billion more people to feed by midcentury. Yet even as the Obama administration says it wants to stimulate innovation by eliminating unnecessary regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency wants to require even more data on genetically modified crops, says Nina V. Fedoroff, a professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University
- The process for approving these crops has become so costly and burdensome that it is choking off innovation.
- Civilization depends on our expanding ability to produce food efficiently, which has markedly accelerated thanks to science and technology.
The use of chemicals for fertilization and for pest and disease control, the induction of beneficial mutations in plants with chemicals or radiation to improve yields, and the mechanization of agriculture have all increased the amount of food that can be grown on each acre of land by as much as 10 times in the last 100 years.
- These extraordinary increases must be doubled by 2050 if we are to continue to feed an expanding population.
- As people around the world become more affluent, they are demanding diets richer in animal protein, which will require ever more robust feed crop yields to sustain.
- New molecular methods that add or modify genes can protect plants from diseases and pests and improve crops in ways that are both more environmentally benign and beyond the capability of older methods.
- This is because the gene modifications are crafted based on knowledge of what genes do, in contrast to the shotgun approach of traditional breeding or using chemicals or radiation to induce mutations.
Myths about the dire effects of genetically modified foods on health and the environment abound, but they have not held up to scientific scrutiny. These crop modification methods are not dangerous. It is time to relieve the regulatory burden slowing down the development of genetically modified crops, says Fedoroff.
Source: Nina V. Fedoroff, "Engineering Food for All," New York Times, August 18, 2011.
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