Biotech’s health food

“Scientific studies have overwhelmingly demonstrated that foods obtained from GE (genetically engineered) crops are as safe and nutritious as foods obtained from conventional crops.”

The Society of Toxicologists, an international organization of more than 8,000 scientists, issued that statement in November.  

It is one more scientific organization that has joined others such as the American Medical Association in verifying the safety of biotech foods.

In the future we can trust scientists, regulators and farmers to help provide consumers with biotech foods that are not only as safe as other foods but healthier as well.

Golden Potatoes may become one of those healthier foods. A team of Italian and U.S. researchers recently developed the biotech potato that is rich in vitamins A and B. 
Like Golden Rice, Golden Potatoes could improve the health of people all over the globe, but especially those in developing countries where vitamin deficiency causes childhood blindness and death.  

The biotech methods used to develop Golden Rice and Golden Potatoes could lead to future development of other “golden” fruits and vegetables richer in vitamins.  

Scientists, with financial aid from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have developed a biotech Golden Banana for Uganda, a country where bananas are the main staple.

Other biotech foods with consumer health benefits are being developed for future markets. Those products will likely sell for premium prices. Researchers found that consumers are willing to pay 20% to 70% higher prices for biotech foods with health benefits.

Scientists are working on biotech fruits and vegetables that offer some protection against two big killers: cancer and heart disease. In research and development are biotech crops that have enhanced antioxidants to fight cancer and other chronic diseases. 

Traditional breeders could either not accomplish the same or not as fast or as well as biotech scientists.  

With a full toolbox of variety development techniques, the biotech industry will become the champions of making already healthy food even healthier. 

Concerns about the techniques will slowly fade as new biotech products in the produce industry emphasize consumer benefits.

Two recently approved fresh produce products — Arctic apples and Innate White Russet potatoes — show a shift toward consumer benefits. Consumers like them because they don’t become discolored when they are cut or bruised.  

Consumers happy about appearance could increase demand for all fresh produce. Adding health benefits to the traits provides another demand booster.

That boost could be bigger if pro-organic marketers who criticize biotech with no scientific support would shift tactics.  

Instead of relying on scare tactics, they should try a positive approach to raise consumption.

The results would be healthier consumers and higher produce sales.

Joe Guenthner is an emeritus professor of agricultural economics at the University of Idaho.