The Biggest Hurdle Genetically Engineered Food Faces Isn’t Science – It’s Us

Today, virtually everything we eat is produced from seeds that have been genetically altered in some manner. If we’re going to feed the growing population without further destroying the environment, then we’re going to have to get comfortable with the idea of eating modified crops, Pamela Ronald, Director of the Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy at UC Davis, writes in Quartz:

By the year 2100, the Earth’s population is expected to increase to more than 11.2 billion from the current 7.6 billion. What is the best way to produce enough food to feed all these people? If we continue with current farming practices, vast amounts of wilderness will be lost, millions of birds and billions of insects will die, farm workers will be at increased risk for disease, and the public will spend billions of dollars as a consequence of environmental degradation. But there is a way we can resolve the need for increased food production with the desire to minimize its impact.

For 10,000 years, we have altered the genetic makeup of our crops, transforming their shape, texture, flavor and yield. The ancient ancestor of our familiar yellow carrot, for example, was likely a purple, bitter, and woody root. Early approaches were somewhat crude, resulting in new varieties through a combination of trial and error, and without knowledge of the precise function of the genes that were being transferred.

Modern genetic methods introduce more precise changes to genes. These include genetic engineering (soon to be labeled as “bioengineered”), which allows the introduction of genes from one species into another; marker-assisted breeding, which facilitates introduction of genes using molecular techniques; and genome editing, which allows for targeted insertions, deletions, or replacement of DNA sequences.

These approaches have led to the creation of rice plants that can withstand floods, insect-resistant crops that don’t have to be treated with chemical insecticides, and dairy cows without horns. Genetic engineering has also been used to create life-saving drugs (like insulin) and enzymes for cheeses. In fact, approximately 90 cheeses of U.S. cheeses are made with genetically engineered enzymes. If you like your cheeses, you’re already eating ingredients from bioengineered organisms.

The biggest hurdle that genetically engineered food faces isn’t science, but us. To advance sustainable agriculture, we must ask what most enhances local food security and can provide safe, abundant, and nutritious food to consumers.

Source: BIO Food & Ag Weekly Newsletter

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