Following the February 12th AgCast Event, BIO produced a video recapping the key take-away from the panel discussion about feeding a growing population– specifically, the need for biotech crop adoption. Check out the video featuring Dr. Nina Fedoroff and Mark Cantley discussing why we need to move forward with agricultural biotechnology now.
Last Friday Pat Hill from DTN blogged about this year’s USDA Agriculture Outlook Forum, an annual event since 1923 that is meant to provide farmers and ranchers, government, and agribusinesses with sound information for decision-making. This year, the theme for the forum was “Sustainable Agriculture: the Key to Health and Prosperity.”
Pat Hill reported on the panel “Sustainability, Stakeholders and Customers: Achieving a Healthier 21st Century.” The panel featured speakers with very different backgrounds, from Dr. Nina Fedoroff, science and technology advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State, to Richard Schniedres, retired CEO of Sysco Corp, and Walter Robb, CEO of Whole Foods. Dr. Fedoroff discussed the potential effects a changing climate will have on agriculture and food supply, and stressed the need for crops that can withstand a lack of water or increased salinity. According to Dr. Fedoroff, these steps will promote sustainable agriculture and feed the world.
Walter Robb came in with a different perspective, arguing that the popularity of his store Whole Foods, known for its commitment to organic foods, signals a “food revolution.” According to Robb, his customers want labeling on GM food and equate sustainability with organic foods.
Roger Beachy keynoted the forum, and used his role to emphasize that the future of agriculture needs a unified approach that draws on many different methods to achieve sustainability.
Andrew Revkin, science reporter from the New York Times Dot Earth Blog shared in his blog post “A Menu feeding 9 Billion” that Science Magazine, the premier national academic science journal, removed the pay wall from the report “Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People.” According to Revkin, the paper discusses the difficulty of feeding a growing population with current agricultural practices, but “expresses optimism that a sustained focus on efficiency, technology and policy innovations can do the trick.”
The authors of the report prepared a chart with examples of possible strategic traits that could be engineered in specific crops, helping farmers produce significant crop yields even in marginal circumstances. Examples of traits include: salinity tolerance and increased nitrogen-use efficiency.
The paper stresses “that technology alone is far from sufficient if policies are not shifted to advance the appropriate use of the right agricultural strategy or tool in the right place.” Therefore, the authors also point to areas such as aquaculture and food waste management as tools that can increase sustainable production limits.
Additionally, Revkin reports that this special February issue of Science about Food Security includes an analysis by Dr. Nina Fedoroff, Science and Technology Advisor at the U.S. Department of State and 14 other authors, including CBI Expert Dr. Pamela Ronald. This analysis, “Radically Rethinking Agriculture for the 21st Century” also underlines the importance of revising our agriculture policies to fit the needs of the 21st century, and focuses on the promise of agricultural technology that can greatly increase crop yields and support a growing population.
The authors of this analysis believe that the complex regulatory structure for GM crops needs to be simplified so more resources are allocated towards GM crop development. They believe that these efforts, along with improved aquaculture practices, will help us improve food security worldwide and combat the effects of a changing climate. The authors of this report conclude by saying, “But if we are to resume progress towards eliminating hunger, we must scale up and further build on the innovative approaches already under development, and we must do so immediately.”
SEED Magazine turned to a panel of experts to explore why “[m]ost Europeans don’t consider themselves to be anti-science…but shrink in horror at the scientist who offers up a Bt corn plant (even though numerous studies indicate that Bt crops—by dramatically curbing pesticide use—conserve biodiversity on farms and reduce chemical-related sickness among farmers).”
So why the disconnect? Why do many environmentalists trust science when it comes to climate change but not when it comes to genetic engineering? Is the fear really about the technology itself or is it a mistrust of big agribusiness?
The panelists included three proponents of ag biotech crops: Pamela Ronald, a plant geneticist and professor; Nina Federoff, science and technology adviser to the US Secretary of State; and Noel Kingsbury, a horticulturalist and writer. They argue that ag biotech crops are a safe solution for meeting a growing world’s food needs. READ MORE »
Special CBI guest blogger, Dr. Nina Fedoroff - Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State and to the Administrator of the US Agency for International Development
Over the past year, the world has experienced a succession of shocks: a global food crisis, spiraling energy costs, accelerating climate change and most recently, a financial meltdown. But even as each crisis sweeps the previous one out of awareness, it is important to recognize that the food crisis is neither sudden nor quickly fixed. It has developed gradually as a result of relentless increases in demand in the context of a finite natural resource base and decreasing global investment in agricultural research and development. At the present rate of growth in population and affluence, we will need to double the food supply by mid-century. Yet the amount of land farmed hasn’t changed appreciably in more than half century, nor is it likely to change substantially over the next half century. And climate change is expected to decrease yields, even on today’s most productive farm land. Where will the food come from?
Contemporary genetic modification of crop plants is embedded in a history of plant domestication that transformed plants profoundly from their wild origins. No crop better illustrates both the genetic plasticity of plants and the inventiveness of humans better than the maize (corn) plant. Thousands of years before science formally entered agriculture in the late 18th century, early peoples had transformed the hard-seeded teosinte rachis into the soft-kernelled early maize ear through the accumulation of a handful of genetic changes that completely altered the architecture of the plant.
Scientific advances in the understanding of plants’ chemical requirements throughout the 19th century culminated in the invention of the Haber-Bosch process for synthesis of fertilizer from atmospheric nitrogen in the early 20th century, removing a major limitation on the productivity of agriculture. The rediscovery of Mendel’s genetic experiments in the early 20th century led serendipitously to the development of today’s highly productive maize hybrids, one of humanity’s handful of major cereal grains. The identification of mutant dwarf varieties of wheat and rice that are highly responsive to fertilization belied renewed Malthusian predictions at mid-20th century, giving rise to the Green Revolution.
The late 20th century witnessed a second genetic revolution with the invention of recombinant DNA technology, the explosion of genome sequencing, and the development of techniques for the introduction of individual genes into microorganisms, plants, and animals. Today, it is possible to modify organisms, including crop plants, in extremely precise ways, adding just one or a few genes at a time. Curiously, these latest genetic modifications, much less profound than those that gave us our crops to begin with, have come to be viewed as unprecedented and possibly even dangerous by a largely urban public unfamiliar with farms and farming, plants and plant breeding.
While contemporary genetic modification (only this kind is called GM) was readily accepted both in medicine and in the food and beverage industry, GM crop plants have remained controversial for more than 25 years. Nonetheless, despite the controversies, several important crop plants modified to resist insects and tolerate herbicides have steadily gained acceptance throughout the world. Today, genetically modified cotton, corn, soybeans and canola are grown in 25 countries by more than 13 million farmers, 90% of whom are resource-poor farmers with small holdings. To date, there is no evidence of adverse effects on either human or animal health, while substantial environmental benefits have been realized, including decreased use of pesticides and increased adoption of no-till farming. Although some countries remain adamantly opposed to the use of contemporary genetic modification, there is increasing awareness that these are important tools in the success of global efforts to lift the last billion out of hunger and poverty through agricultural intensification and decreased crop loss. Moreover, molecular modification will be an indispensable tool in the adaptation of crop plants to changing climatic conditions. Let’s get on with it!