With rising incomes, associated food demands, the global population increasing rapidly and the vast majority of arable land already in production, the future of humankind depends on increasing agricultural yields. Agricultural biotechnology helps provide enough food to meet global demands by increasing crop yields, productivity and improving animal health and quality.
Increasing Crop Yields
Since 1997, biotechnology has helped lead to a 30 percent increase in U.S. corn yields. Similar improvements have unlocked dramatic productivity increases in cotton, soybeans and canola – all staple crops that feed and clothe millions in the U.S. The expanding ability to improve crops by introducing multiple traits tells us that biotech will likely produce even higher crop yields in the future.
Diseases and pests currently reduce global food production by more than 35 percent, at a cost of more than $200 billion a year. Corn and cotton seeds enhanced with Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacteria used widely in conventional and organic agriculture, have a built-in defense against the most threatening insects, reducing the need for pesticides. These new corn and cotton strains save farmers time and money, while also lessening the impact of agriculture on the environment. By adding genetic traits to common crops like cotton, corn, soybeans and canola, biotechnology experts have made crops immune to destructive herbicides. Herbicide tolerant (HT) crops are more abundant and cost less, allowing farmers to plant more often and earn more for their crops.
In 1992, an outbreak of Papaya ringspot virus (PRSV) virtually wiped out the nutritious fruit in Hawaii. Only biotechnology was able to save the Hawaiian papaya industry. “Rainbow” and “Sun-up,” ringspot virus-resistant papaya varieties, were approved for growing in 1998. Since then, these varieties have replaced infected Hawaiian groves, restoring production to pre-virus outbreak levels.
Biotechnologists have worked to enhance the production of meat and dairy. Newly created metabolic modifiers aid animal growth, while biotech livestock reproduction techniques, such as embryo transfers, in vitro fertilization, cloning and sex determination of embryos, have increased livestock yields. Genetic tools and biomarkers can identify genetic traits associated with good animal health. Using these tools, experts diagnose, treat and prevent animal diseases in both livestock and companion animals, improving animal health and well-being. These tools aid producers in raising livestock and provide optimized production characteristics, such as leaner and more flavorful meat.