BIO International Convention attendees filled the Food & Agriculture Pavilion on the Show Floor Wednesday to hear Dr. Neal Carter of Okanagan Specialty Fruits give a presentation he delivered at a TEDx event last October in Penticton, BC on the value of biotechnology in agriculture.
Okanagan Specialty Fruits has developed a non-browning apple known as the Arctic Apple - just one of the many examples of ways biotechnology is improving agriculture. After spending many years as a farmer in the orchards and also in small, rural farming communities, Neal has seen firsthand how important biotechnology is in helping feed our hungry world.
Many consumers however have a negative perception of ag biotech. The problem, he said, lies in the fact that many people are very far removed from agriculture now, so it ’ s necessary to reach out and educate them about the food on their plates.
900 million people out there face a daily hardship of being underfed, so how can we not afford to have biotech crops when they give us tools to address the problems these people face. Neal relayed to the audience a powerful sentiment that he once heard in an emerging country, “ You in developed worlds have ability to debate the merits of GE food, but could we please eat first? ”
Biotech crops can help reduce food waste, increase yields and reduce water use. Farmers are rapidly adopting them and have seen the benefits for years. Since their introduction, $80 billion has flown to families growing biotech crops – half of that money has been in emerging countries.
Despite the unprecedented acceptance by the farming community, many consumers remain skeptical. Neal believes too many of their concerns have not been addressed so they just proliferate out there. He’s doing what he can to address concerns by getting out and doing more educating.
We are already on to the second wave of biotech crops, so it ’ s time for opponents to stop referring to it as a science experiment, he said. These crops have been around for a long time. They are well tested. It ’ s not an experiment anymore.
There are too many benefits currently and in the pipeline to ignore this technology. Golden rice, for one, addresses vitamin A deficiency. This single trait has the opportunity to save thousands of lives and improve millions more. It ’ s hard to be against that. The word just has to get out there, he believes. Too many people don ’ t realize how much good is happening because of this technology.
A little education goes a long way and is necessary because a lot of misinformation is out there. The most reputable scientific, food and health organizations in the world speak to the safety and value of biotech crops. There have been no safety issues involving biotech food to date. Yet people are still passionately against the technology. That needs to change.
Neal stressed that modern crops have been created by humans not nature. The term natural is generally used to infer that it ’ s better for you, which he believes is a short-sighted use of the term. The cell phone in your pocket isn’t natural, yet we don’t question that. Innovation in agriculture has been going on for the last 10,000 years. Nothing we eat today is natural. It’s what has allowed us to thrive. It ’ s what will allow us to continue to feed ourselves and sustain our planet. The technology of agriculture is what has changed during that time – it’s gotten better.