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Food Biotechnology Overview

Modern biotechnology provides farmers and food producers with the latest tools in the search for better, more healthful foods, as well as foods that are resistant to certain pests and tolerant to environmental stresses such as drought. With biotechnology, producers can provide a more abundant, better quality and more nutritious food supply to consumers.

Food biotechnology is based on age-old principles of selective breeding. Farmers have used these processes for centuries to provide variety, improve taste and produce new or more healthful foods. Modern biotechnology allows food producers to do the same thing today, but with greater understanding and selectivity.

Traditionally, when breeding plants to achieve hardier or healthier produce, farmers had to breed thousands of plants to obtain a desired trait. Modern biotechnology now allows us to focus on particular genes in plants, rather than the entire plant, and to identify and transfer the specific gene that governs a desired trait. This offers farmers a more precise way to produce plants and foods that possess certain beneficial characteristics.

After a decade of research and development, the first whole food produced through modern biotechnology was introduced in 1994, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that a tomato developed through biotechnology was as safe as those bred by conventional means. Unlike conventional tomatoes, which are harvested when they are still green and ripen during the trip to market, the tomato – Flav Savr™ – stays on the vine longer to ripen to full flavor before it is harvested. Other food biotechnology products available, or soon to be available, in the U.S. include:

Grains, fruits and vegetables with pesticide-resistant and environmentally friendly herbicide-tolerant characteristics;
Grains and fruit that resist viruses that cause loss of yield and crop quality;
Tomatoes that ripen more slowly, giving them more flavor, color and texture;
Grains, fruits and vegetables that contain more nutrients, such as proteins, vitamins and minerals, and have reduced fatty acid profiles;
Modified potatoes that contain less starch and water, making for a healthier french fry or potato chip; and
Allergen-free peanuts.

Several federal agencies have been involved in determining the safety of biotechnology in food production, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The safety of biotechnology has been supported by numerous national and international health organizations, including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the National Research Council, the American Medical Association and the American Dietetic Association.

Biotechnology is an important element of today’s food supply

Biotechnology is already a part of everyday life in the United States. Since 1996, growers have increasingly used biotech seed stock. According to USDA Secretary Dan Glickman, approximately 44 percent of soybeans and 36 percent of all corn grown in the United States in the last year was grown from biotechnology-enhanced seeds.

According to Thomas Hoban, a professor at North Carolina State University, "Regardless of how we measure consumer perceptions, between two-thirds and three-quarters of American respondents are positive about plant biotechnology." A 1999 survey commissioned by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) found that three out of four Americans believe biotechnology will provide benefits for their family in the next five years.

Through the use of biotechnology, foods already have been developed that are better tasting, stay fresh longer and are more disease and insect resistant. Food biotechnology can improve the quality, taste and nutritional benefits of food – providing a healthier diet to consumers and a greater availability of foods in all seasons.

Food biotechnology also helps protect the global environment. Biotechnology-enhanced crops have been developed that are herbicide tolerant, or are more resistant to insect or virus damage, thus requiring fewer chemical applications and reducing strain on the environment. Biotechnology-enhanced crops also require less land and other natural resources, and can be grown in less than ideal climate conditions. This is particularly important in developing countries where valuable temperate and tropical forests are routinely cut down for farmland.

Food biotechnology can help increase the world’s food supply. World population has reached the 6-billion mark, an increase of 1 billion people in the last 12 years alone. The United Nations estimates that figure could reach up to 10.7 billion by the year 2050 – with 95 percent of that growth in some of the world’s poorest regions. Through food biotechnology, researchers are developing crops that require less farmland, as well as hardier strains that can withstand adverse climate conditions such as heat and drought. The 1997 World Bank and Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) determined that biotechnology could be expected to help increase food productivity by up to 25 percent in the developing world.

Several federal agencies have been involved in determining the safety of biotechnology in food production, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The safety of biotechnology has been supported by numerous national and international health organizations, including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the National Research Council, the American Medical Association and the American Dietetic Association.

U.S. Food and Drug AdministrationIFICEatright.OrgU.S. Department of Agriculture

Grocery Manufacturers of AmericaFarm Bureau U.S. State DepartmentFMINIH

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