BURLEY, Idaho — Technology is accepted in every aspect of people’s lives, and biotechnology has been widely used and accepted in science and medicine for years.
But when it comes to biotechnology in agriculture, the public — due to its growing disconnect from agriculture — is frightened that food is being altered, said Nancy Vosnidue, Monsanto’s scientific communications manager, during the 2014 Idaho Hay and Forage conference in Burley on Friday, Feb. 28.
But food from genetically modified crops is exactly the same as food from conventional crops, she said.
Biotechnology isn’t new to agriculture. It has been researched for 30 years, and genetically modified crops have been grown commercially for 18 years, with zero food-safety issues, she said.
“Everything we eat today (is) the product of some sort of mutation,” she said.
Resin for cheese making and yeast to make bread and beer are produced using biotechnology, which is simply putting one organism into another, she said.
Biotechnology is the same tool used to create insulin for diabetics. Human DNA sequence is inserted into a particular strain of E. coli bacteria to produce the synthetic insulin, she said.
Crop biotechnology is an extension of plant breeding, which has been taking place in some fashion for centuries. In the 1700s, farmers and scientists were cross breeding plants for new traits. In the 1940s, researchers used mutagenesis through chemicals and radiation to alter the makeup of seeds. In the 1990s, the first GMO crops were introduced to the marketplace, she said.
Biotechnology is just a faster, more precise process of plant breeding and is one of the only ways the world is going to produce more food, feed and fiber for a growing middle class and a growing population, she said.
Genetic modification is a well thought-out process, thoroughly researched and tested. It’s safe and healthy and provides a reliable food supply. It takes about 13 years, $125 million and extensive studies by USDA, the Environmental Protection Agency and academia to bring a GMO seed to market, she said.
Consumers aren’t asking how biotechnology works; they’re asking if it is safe, she said.
Thousands of academic studies on food from GMO crops support the safety of those foods, which is the most regulated and tested thing in society, she said.
Today, GMO crops are grown on about 4 billion acres worldwide since 1996 and are approved for planting or importing in 63 countries. Biotechnology has improved yields and, in some cases, nutrition, she said.
Increase in yields for GMO corn, cotton and soybeans has been phenomenal. Between 1996 and 2011, corn production increased 195 million metric tons, soybeans increased 110 million metric tons, and cotton lint increased 15.9 million metric tons in the U.S. alone, she said.
Maintaining those yields with non-GMO seed would require almost 40 million additional acres, the amount of total farmland planted to major crops in Illinois and Indiana combined, she said.
With more people to feed and less arable land per capita, biotechnology is crucial to agriculture. Climate change, bringing pests and weeds to new areas and water shortages and excesses, will also add to the need for farmland to become more productive.
At the same time, environmental concerns are growing, and biotechnology reduces the use of herbicides and pesticides and agriculture’s carbon footprint, she said.
At the end of the day, Monsanto and other biotech ag companies are enabling agriculture with safe, affordable, sustainable production of food, she said.