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How Biotech is Helping the World Salvage Food

Cornelia Poku
Cornelia Poku
September 28, 2020

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) declared September 29th as the inaugural International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste (FLWDay). The FAO cited this day as a time to “make a clear call to action for both the public (national or local authorities) and the private (businesses and individuals) sectors to bolster efforts to reduce food loss and waste toward ensuring food security for all and particularly the most vulnerable, impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

This past year laid bare the many cracks in our global food system. People went hungry as mass layoffs and furloughs swept the world and yet food went to waste as restaurants and public spaces were swiftly emptied. All this food garbage doesn’t just hurt the poor, it contributes to increased greenhouse gasses which hurts everybody. 

This important day is the time to shine a light on how biotechnology can be a powerful tool in solving for wasted food through times like the pandemic and beyond, all along the supply chain.

Food Loss

As defined by Think.Eat.Save, a partnership between FAO and the United Nation’s Environment Programme, “[f]ood loss typically takes place at production, post-harvest, processing, and distribution stages in the food supply chain.” This can refer to anything from a bad crop season to spillage or spoilage after harvest.

Due to climate change, farmers face less predictable weather patterns that can ruin an entire harvest season or even lead to an increased number of pests, beetles, and disease that ravage crops. Less food on the farm means less to sell domestically and share with the world. Biotech companies have developed plants and foods that are more resilient and resistant in the face of growing uncertainty.

In the last several years sweet corn and soybeans have been genetically modified to be insect resistant. Summer squash and rainbow papaya have also been genetically modified to be disease resistant, and field corn (typically found in food products like flour and cereal) have been genetically modified to better withstand bad climate conditions.  

All of these innovations help prevent lower crop yields which hurts farmers economically, but also the many organizations like food pantries and soup kitchens that rely on surplus to feed the needy. Additionally, there is less inedible food emitting greenhouse gasses.

Unfortunately, food loss due to environmental circumstances is not the only way in which food becomes refuse.

Food Waste

Think.Eat.Save defined food waste as food of “good quality and fit for consumption, but still doesn't get consumed because it is discarded, whether or not after it is left to spoil or expire.”

A huge reason consumers discard good food is for cosmetic reasons; browning, bruising, denting, discoloration. Other foods are notorious for having short shelf lives and consumers struggle with learning the best storage methods.

Companies like Okanagen and Simplot are thinking ahead of the average shopper. “A whopping 40% of apples never get eaten,” due to superficial reasons Okanagen’s Arctic Apple website says. Their Arctic Apple doesn’t brown when bitten, sliced, or bruised but still makes it easy to tell when an apple is actually spoiled and not just reacting to oxygen. Simplot has developed a potato that is less likely to brown. Known as the Innate Potato, this innovation could make a dent in the nearly 1.4 billion pounds of potatoes that are wasted annually. Non-browning mushrooms are also in the works too.

Even with all this innovation, there is still more work to be done. Biotech scientists across the globe are expeditiously working on how to genetically modify or gene edit foods so that we’re throwing away less and distributing healthy food more to the people who need it most.

In honor of FLWday, think twice before tossing that produce in the back of your fridge and to learn more about genetically modified foods visit gmoanswers.com or learn more about gene-edited foods at innovature.com.