Evolution is an indispensable condition for growth. Humans have evolved over time to accomplish their needs, contributing to our current form. For centuries, we have been keen enough to select, sow and harvest right for our sustenance. However, with the population explosion, demand for food has elevated rapidly overtime. There is a need for increased and improved production of crops despite the fact that dedicated land to agriculture is fixed. In this scenario, biotechnology plays a key role in fighting hunger and malnutrition.
On a simpler note, biotechnology is the use of living organisms or biological systems found in such organisms for the development of better products to enhance their values in sectors ranging from agriculture to medicine. It is being applied to every sphere of life today. Its application varies from the development of a hybrid plant to the production of vaccines. It has had a long history of food production. Fermentation, the process used to produce wine, bread, and beer along with selective breeding of animals and plants has existed for centuries.
Agricultural biotechnology or Agritech involves developing genetically modified plants or introducing traits which provides the advantage to grow in areas of rough environmental condition. In earlier times, plant breeding was limited to the same botanical family. The pollen from only a compatible parent could be used to fertilize the seed producing parent. Today, Genetically Modified (GM) foods are produced using a number of biotechnological techniques like genetic engineering. It involves using a foreign gene of the desired trait in another crop of entirely different species omitting the undesired trait. Nuclear DNA is modified and the resultant is known as recombinant DNA (rDNA). This facilitates the growth of crops with desired characteristics in a more controlled and predicted manner. This is also referred to as Modern biotechnology which is not confined within cross-breeding species but can rather cross genetic barriers. Along with this, tissue culture, the regeneration of plants in laboratories from disease-free plant parts allows for the reproduction of disease-free planting material of crops.
BENEFITS OF BIOTECH FOOD
Biotech crops have been cultivated for over two decades now and eaten by billions without major health problems. The cultivated land under GM technology is 185 million hectares as of 2016. There is scientific consensus that GM crops available today possess no risk to mankind, however, each lot is to be tested before consumption.
Biotechnology benefits the environment, consumers, farmers and everyone as a whole. Environment-friendly biotech foods that are pest resistant, disease resistant, herbicide-tolerant, and temperature tolerant have been produced. These reduce the loss of harvest and increase mineral usage. Bt (Bacillus Thuringiensis) Cotton is one such variant. It contains a microbe that produces a toxin that kills insects and protects the crop. It acts as a natural pesticide. The Bacillus gets activated only when it comes in contact with alkaline pH in the insect gut and therefore never gets killed by itself. The direct impact of the decrease in the usage of pesticides and herbicides is on crops, water, and wildlife. Further, biotechnology enhances the nutritional value of plants and animal foodstuffs in the animal health sectors. It allows larger food production with improved yield from crops in a more sustainable manner. This increased production reduces the cost for consumers and benefits farmers economically. It overall plays a pivotal role in the food processing sector as it enhances taste, quality and texture of food products.
POTENTIAL DANGERS ASSOCIATED
Regulation for GM foods varies by country, some permits their production while others have banned it. The potential risks of food biotechnology involve allergic reactions for consumers and those involved in laboratory work. Changing DNA has unexpected results, it can be useful as well as harmful. It might lead to health problems and horizontal gene transfer. When a transgenic organism gets exposed to the natural environment, it may transfer genes resulting in a massive spread of transgene. This might destroy the ecosystem and biodiversity which is the prime reason why naturalists and environmentalists are against food biotechnology. Further, it is believed that if Bt crops are grown on a large scale, insect pests could grow resistance to crops in the longer run. GM crops can potentially fail to germinate or kill organisms other than pests or reduce soil fertility.
In order to increase the consumption of biotech food, awareness of its advantages has to be increased. The fact that biotechnology is as safe as other plant breeding techniques and biotech foods are as safe as conventional crops need clarity. Potential risks associated should be researched and eradicated. Over time, people have been positive towards biotech foods as they now understand the nutritional, economic and environmental benefits of it. Production of Bt Cotton has skyrocketed in India resulting in a massive reduction of insecticide application. With increasing demands and the absence of any other alternative, biotech foods have witnessed acceptance even from the critical groups that opposed it. It can improve the edibility, consistency and shelf life of food by preventing the growth of unwanted toxic producing microorganisms. Genetically modified food technology might lead to a new era with no hunger and malnutrition if used wisely.