What is food biotechnology? Definition and examples
Food biotechnology is the use of technology to modify the genes of our food sources. Our food sources are animals, plants, and microorganisms. With food biotechnology, we create new species of animals and plants, for example, specifically animals and plants that we eat. These new species have desired nutritional, production, and marketing properties.
With food biotechnology, we use what we know about science and genetics to improve the food we eat. We also use it to improve how we produce food.
By improvement, we mean either making the food cheaper to produce, longer lasting, more disease resistant, or more nutritional.
Regarding using biotechnology to help produce the food we need, the International Food Information Council Foundation writes:
“The tools of food biotechnology include both traditional breeding techniques, such as cross-breeding and more modern methods, which involve using what we know about genes, or instructions for specific traits, to improve the quantity and quality of plant species.”
With scientific techniques, we can move desirable traits from one plant or animal to another.
Food biotechnology – brief history
Humans have been using biotechnology for thousands of years in the production and processing of food.
We have been practicing fermentation, for example, which is a form of biotechnology, for tens of thousands of years. We have been using fermentation to produce bread, beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages.
According to the Center for Consumer Research at the University of California, Davis:
“Selective breeding of animals such as horses and dogs has been going on for centuries. Selective breeding of essential foods such as rice, corn, and wheat have created thousands of local varieties with improved yield compared to their wild ancestors.”
Why is the wheat that is best for pasta different from the wheat that is best for bread? It is different because of many years of conventional breeding.
The problems with conventional breeding methods were twofold:
1. They took a very long time to give us the results we wanted.
2. They were often inefficient as well as unpredictable. In fact, they would often pass along undesirable traits with the desirable ones.
Food biotechnology today
Modern biotechnology and genetic engineering techniques, such as rDNA, allow us to do things much faster. rDNA stands for Recombinant DNA.
Genetic engineering refers to the direct manipulation of an organism’s DNA, i.e., its genes.
With rDNA, we can move a gene from one organism to another, but without the undesirable traits.
With modern scientific techniques, we can obtain crop and animal improvements in a much more predictable, controlled, and precise manner.
Benefits of food biotechnology
Food biotechnology offers many benefits for farmers, food companies, consumers, and the environment. Below are some of these benefits.
Researchers have made some foods, such as potatoes and papayas, more disease resistant.
If a crop is more resistant to disease, that means it needs less chemical spray to protect it. Less spray subsequently means less air, land, and water pollution. Water pollution is a serious global problem.
This is good for animals, plants, etc., i.e., the environment.
Thanks to biotechnology, plants can ward off insects and have a better tolerance to herbicides. Put simply; science can help plants survive better so that we subsequently get better crop yields.
In this article, the word ‘yield’ refers to agricultural output, i.e., tons of a crop per acre.
Thanks to food biotechnology, many vegetables and fruits today take longer to ripen. This means that distributors and retailers have more time to get their produce onto shelves when they are ‘just right.’
More food with less land
By the middle of this century, there will be about nine billion people on Earth. Thanks to biotechnology, we will be able to produce more food using the land we are already using.
Regarding getting more food from our land, the authors of a University of Arizona article – ‘Biotechnology and Food‘ – write:
“This way, countries do not have to devote more land to farming. In turn, developing countries can benefit most, since they will have the largest population growth.”
Scientists are getting better at accurately detecting undesirable bacteria and viruses in our food. Thanks to their technology, there will be a lower risk of food-borne illnesses. A foodborne illness is an illness we get because of something we ate.
We call foods that scientists have altered genetically GM foods. GM stands for genetically modified.
Video – Food Biotechnology
This Food Insight video talks about how safe food biotechnology is.