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IFIC Foundation’s Food Biotechnology Primer

IFIC Foundation’s Food Biotechnology Primer

In the News

June 23, 2013

The topic of food biotechnology can be a complex and emotional issue. Foods produced through biotechnology have been consumed for more than 15 years, and today, they remain a controversial issue worldwide. Ongoing questions about their safety, environmental impact and regulation continue to plague consumers and food producers alike. Therefore, clear communication in this area is key – especially for leaders in the food, agricultural, nutrition and health communities.

The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation has provided a comprehensive resource, Food Biotechnology: A Communicator’s Guide to Improving Understanding, 3rd edition, to help those, both in the food industry and out, to demystify the myriad of issues surrounding food biotechnology. 

One of the major concerns of both consumers and food industry members today when it comes to food biotechnology is food safety. Foods developed through biotechnology are studied extensively and judged by a broad range of regulatory agencies, experts and scientists across the globe. In the U.S. specifically, the USDA and the FDA coordinate regulation and safety testing of crops and animals produced through biotech. At the international level, scientific organizations like the World Health Organization and the Agriculture Organization evaluate the safety and benefits of food biotechnology and support its responsible use.

The foods produced using biotechnology currently available are not only safe for people and for the planet, but in some cases, the technology surrounding the food item may be used to improve safety as well. For example, scientists have developed a potato, currently under review, that produces less acrylamide (a carcinogen found in cooked starchy foods) when heated or cooked. Down the line, scientists may even be able to remove the allergen-causing properties of foods like soy, milk and peanuts.

There are other benefits for consumers, too. In addition to enhancing food safety, food biotechnology is also being used to improve nutrition and protect crops and animals from diseases that would harm our food supply. On the nutrition front, modern food production has been used to develop canola, soybean and sunflower oils that do not produce trans fats. For crops, biotechnology has helped to increase yields and make plants hardier. 

Sustainability is another key factor in how biotechnology can benefit our food system. By improving the safe and effective use of pesticides, reducing the amount of insecticide used, preserving and improving soil quality and reducing crop losses, biotech is contributing to the overall environmental health of agriculture. The adoption of both no-till and conservation tillage, supported by biotechnology, has prevented 46.5 billion pounds of carbon dioxide from being released from the soil into the atmosphere.

Perhaps most crucial, however, is the application of precision agricultural technologies, which help to increase the amount of food that can be harvested per acre of land per animal. This results in reducing the need to use more land to feed our growing population, as well as reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint. To feed the world’s population, which is expected to increase to 9 billion people by 2050, global food production needs to increase by 70%. Biotechnology allows farmers to increase yields of staple food crops on available farmland, and under increasingly difficult growing conditions in developing nations as a result of shifting temperatures, drought and poor soil conditions.

It’s interesting to note that while about half (53%) of consumers are avoiding certain foods or ingredients, says IFIC, none report avoiding foods produced through biotechnology. Foods produced through biotechnology are real foods that are grown in the ground, just like other foods. They’ve just been enhanced to provide additional benefits to both farmers and consumers. And more and more consumers are growing to understand that.

IFIC Foundation President and CEO David Schmidt adds, “As with most things, once we understand and can visualize how something works and how it directly benefits us, it is easier to get on board. The benefits of food biotechnology were originally mostly about the farmer, but it is becoming increasingly common for biotech foods to have a direct consumer benefit, which is exciting.”

To view the full primer click here.