Each week in February, GMO Answers highlighted a different commodity crop, its role in agricultural production and its relationship to biotechnology and GMOs. Weeks 1, 2 and 3 looked at corn, soybean and cotton. Week 4 explored a few commodity crops that are non-GM, including cassava, peanuts and rice, and the potential for GM varieties of these crops.
Cassava is the third largest source of food carbohydrates in the tropics after rice and maize, provides basic sustenance for over half a billion people…According to a study from Agriculture Food Security, “more than 800 million people suffer from micronutrient malnutrition in developing countries with Africa accounting for almost 50 percent of the children who are clinically or sub-clinically deficient in vitamin A, particularly under five years of age.” The study found that “an overwhelming majority of scientists agree that GM biofortified cassava will benefit the health of millions in Africa, and that GM cassava conferred with disease and pest resistance will increase cassava production as it is currently plagued by cassava mosaic diseases (CMD).”
According to the National Peanut Board, about 7,500 farmers, primarily in the southeastern and southwestern states, grow peanuts, and their crops supply peanuts to the rest of the United States and for export to countries, such as Canada, Mexico, some EU countries and Japan. Peanuts grown in the United States are grown for human consumption and used in value added products, such as peanut butter, peanut oil, peanut flour, biodiesel and other uses including peanut hay or cover crops.
The potential for GM peanuts includes consumer benefits, such as reducing allergens. For example, genetic engineering could be used to develop virtually allergen-free peanuts. Food allergies overall are estimated to affect up to 15 million Americans, and “the economic cost of food allergies in children is roughly $25 billion per year,” according to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE).
Rice is a primary food for more than half of the world’s population…According to the International Plant Nutrition Institute, “Rice cultivation in China began 5,000 years ago, rice culture in the U.S. began in the Carolinas and Georgia about 300 years ago and is one of the nation’s oldest agri-businesses.”In the U.S., about half of the rice crop, which includes rough or unmilled rice, parboiled rice, brown rice and fully milled rice, is exported to Mexico, Central America and Northeast Asia.
While there is no GM-rice commercially available, Golden Rice – a genetically modified rice strain – holds tremendous potential to provide nutrients to people around the world who suffer from vitamin A deficiency. In this post, Cecilia Chi-Ham, Director Science & Technology at PIPRA provides background information on why and how Golden Rice has been created. “Rice is a staple crop in China, India, Indonesia—it can offer as much as 80 percent of the caloric intake. However, rice does not naturally produce vitamin A, iron and other micronutrients. As a result of the micronutrient deficiency, children that rely on a rice-based diet suffer from impaired immune system, blindness, and even death in children. Since there are no rice varieties that naturally produce pro-vitamin A, the owners of patented biotechnologies from both universities and companies have donated their patent rights so Golden Rice can be developed (http://www.goldenrice.org/).”
We hope you’ve enjoyed our Commodity Crop Series! If you have additional questions about these crops, or about GMOs and biotechnology in agriculture, ask us on GMO Answers or Twitter and Facebook! To view a full list of commodity crops in the United States, including GM and non-GM, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture site here.