“Globally, the carbon footprint of wasted food exceeds 3 billion tons annually, creating about 7% of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Bethany Shively, vice president of strategic communications for the American Seed Trade Association. In the U.S. alone, 133 billion pounds of food are wasted annually, contributing to 18% of total U.S. landfill methane (greenhouse gas) emissions.
“Plant breeding innovations such as new varieties of potatoes and mushrooms that don’t bruise and turn brown could go a long way in significantly reducing food waste,” Shively said. “That new potato alone could eliminate 1.5 billion pounds of wasted potatoes each year.”
Some 20 to 25% of crop yields in the U.S. are lost to pests, disease or post-harvest losses. That number is as high as 50% in the developing world. GMOs and other plant breeding innovations are key to reducing those losses and increasing the world’s food supply.
Plant breeding innovation could have a direct impact on many of the foods we all love, including these ingredients in a delicious banana split:
The Race to Save Bananas from Extinction
Nearly half of the 100 billion bananas eaten each year are the same variety—and that variety makes up 99% of the banana exports to the U.S. This makes those bananas highly susceptible to diseases, especially two new diseases that are rapidly killing banana plants around the world. By making tiny changes to a banana’s genetic code, scientists are using innovative breeding methods to develop disease-resistant varieties that will help save bananas from the very real threat of extinction.
Dark Days for Chocolate?
Chocolate comes from the delicate cacao tree, which is vulnerable to pests and fungal infections. Cacao trees in west and central Africa, where 60 to 70% of the world’s cacao beans are produced, are especially at risk. Scientists are using CRISPR gene editing tools to tweak the tree’s genomes to help the tree survive in environments affected by climate change, pests and diseases—and that means more chocolate for everyone.
Creating a Safer Peanut
Peanuts are one of the most common—and dangerous—food allergens. While there are no GMO peanuts on the market today, scientists are working on varieties that target the proteins that cause the allergy. That would allow huge numbers of people to enjoy this food without worrying about their personal health and safety.
Saving the Strawberries
Almost 90% of U.S. strawberries are grown in California, where growers are constantly fighting disease without using chemicals. Scientists are unraveling the strawberry genome to pinpoint specific genes that can protect the plants. Other research may lead to strawberries that are even sweeter, more firm and have longer shelf life.
The Complete List of Genetically Modified (GM) Foods
These are the ONLY approved genetically-modified/ genetically engineered foods on the market as of this publication.
Corn (field & sweet): The GM version of field corn protects the crop against corn rootworms and the Asian corn borer. Like GM field corn, GM sweet corn also protects the crop against destructive pests.
Soybeans: The GM soybean plant is resistant to pests and disease as well as being tolerant of herbicides that are most effective, allowing for less herbicide use overall.
Cotton: GM cotton requires fewer pesticides and protects against the cotton bollworm.
Canola: Canola has been modified through biotechnology to make it tolerant to some herbicides. This allows for a reduced amount of chemicals needed for weed control. The modified plant also has resistance to pests and fungus.
Alfalfa: The GM version of alfalfa is tolerant of some herbicides, allowing for a reduced amount of chemicals needed for weed control.
Sugar Beets: The GM sugar beet has increased tolerance to some herbicides, allowing for a reduced amount of chemicals needed for weed control. GM sugar beets also have virus and pest resistance traits.
Papaya: The GM version of papaya makes the plant resistant to the prevalent Papaya Ringspot Virus, which once threatened the very existence of the Hawaiian papaya industry.
Squash: GM squash has traits that improve the plant’s defense against viruses.
Arctic Apple: This new fruit was developed by turning off the enzyme in apples that cause them to brown when cut, bruised or bitten thereby reducing food waste.
Innate Potato: This new potato resists browning and has fewer unsightly bruises, thus reducing food waste. It has been approved by USDA for commercial planting.
Aquabounty Salmon: This new salmon is genetically engineered to reach market size more quickly than non-genetically engineered, farm-raised Atlantic salmon. It is available to consumers in Canada.