From the dawn of civilization, cultivators have tried relentlessly to improve the yield of the plants and they have formulated and applied several techniques to get the desired effect. Agriculture biotechnology is the most recent methodology in this regard and it has proved to be much more effective than the traditional crossbreeding technique. It is the method of selecting genes with beneficial traits from plant/organism and to transfer them into the genome of other plants by either of the two methods – Agrobacterium or Biolistic transformation.
This ability to introduce genetic materials from other plants and organisms has opened up an all-new horizon of possibilities for food production. This can be a key to produce herbicide-tolerant crops or manufacture more food by using less land and can thus bridge the gap between demand and supply of food items. United States, where the agriculture biotechnology is mostly in use, is already reaping economic benefits in cultivation of food crops like corn, soybean, canola, cotton, papaya and squash, which have yielded an additional income of 1.9 billion, an increased production of 5.3 billion pounds and a reduced use of pesticides by 46.4 million pounds (2003).
The safety quotient of agriculture biotechnology products
Agriculture biotechnology has resulted from the progressively evolving breeding techniques of several centuries and hence the risks associated with crop plants using this biotechnology are the same as for those produced by employing traditional breeding methods (as per National Academy Of Sciences). Worldwide scientific evaluation has also confirmed that biotechnologically developed crops resulting from transfer of genes between unrelated organisms, yield no threat to human health and nor do the biotech plants pose any threat of environmental hazard.
In order to rule out the possibility of allergies resulting from biotechnically developed food products, all food enhanced through such technique are tested for allergenicity. Food allergies generally originate from the protein-enriched foods (milk, eggs, soybean, crustaceans, etc.) and therefore biotechnology companies avoid the use of genetic materials from these foods. In reality, biotechnology plants and food products count among the most-tested in history and even the stringent US regulatory system proclaims that they are safe for producers, consumers and the environment.
However, in spite of its flawless record in US and the safety tag, biotechnology food products have not yet become so popular in the international market. Several factors like orthodox approach, lack of knowledge/information or ostensible concern over biotechnology contribute towards the slow acceptance of these products in the overseas market.
Existing agriculture biotechnology products in the market
The first food item produced by application of agriculture biotechnology was Flavr Savr Tomato (1989), which had extended shelf life as its specialty. After that, several crops have been developed with enhanced traits with the help of agriculture biotechnology. Potato, squash, cucumber, watermelon and papaya are some of the commercial plants that have been modified to resist viral infection. Another significant development in this field is the “Golden rice” – a beta carotene-enriched rice that will help to combat Vitamin A deficiency in human body.
It’s now only a matter of time for the world to accept this well-developed science and reduce the pressure on land and wildlife.