Cohesive biotech rules crucial

Published on: Sep 4, 2013

Cohesive biotech rules crucialMORE than 200 biotechnology regulators, government officials, farmers, international trade experts, industry companies and organizations gathered at the International Biotechnology Symposium to discuss ways to harmonize regulatory and trade approval for farmers' use of biotechnology to supply the rising world population.

"With China's current population at 1.3 billion, the world's farmers will be asked to feed an equivalent of two more Chinas," said Dr. Bob Thompson, senior fellow for The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

Speaking at the symposium in Champaign, Ill., Martin explained that population alone is not driving demand for food, however. Currently, more than 50% of the global population lives in cities, and that's expected to grow to 60% by 2030 and 70% by 2050. As more individuals move to urban areas, their dietary preferences change.

Furthermore, purchasing power will contribute to an increase in global food demand.

In the world today, 1.3 billion people live on $1.25 per day. In fact, one out of every eight people cannot afford to feed themselves 1,800 daily calories.

As income increases past $2 per capita per day, people are able to afford more meat, dairy products, fruits, vegetables and edible oils, which causes a rapid growth in demand for raw agricultural commodities. After $10 per day, consumers purchase more luxury forms of food but will not purchase additional raw agricultural products.

The biggest uncertainty when projecting the global demand for food is determining how many hundreds, millions or billions of people will successfully move to $2 per capita per day or higher. Virtually all growth in the middle class is going to happen in developing countries (Figure).

"Putting the net effect of all this together, world food demand is projected to grow at least two-thirds between now and 2050, with 35% growth coming from world population and comparable or little more amounts coming from broad-base economic growth and urbanization," Thompson noted.

Add in the demand for biofuels and feedstuffs to the projected increase in global food demand, and it is not at all hard to foresee a scenario in which the world's farmers will be asked to double production by 2050.

Since it is impossible to produce more land suitable for food production around the world without massive destruction of forests or loss of wildlife, the population will grow beyond the amount of land available for production.

In many low-income countries, food consumption will outstrip their production capacity, making them a large net importer and increasing the need to move a sizeable portion of global agricultural production through world trade to ensure food security.

Worldwide, it is estimated that, at most, only 10-12% more land is available for food production. When coupled with the loss of land due to urbanization, erosion and soil loss, there may not be any land available for future production.

"The only environmentally sustainable alternative is to double productivity on fertile, non-erodible soils already in crop production," Thompson concluded.

The most binding constraint may not be land but water. Farmers already use 70% of the world's fresh water, and with urbanization on the rise, farmers may not have access to additional fresh water.

In order to double productivity to meet global food demand by 2050, agriculture will need to make presently unusable soil productive, increase and optimize the genetic potential of crops and animals, prevent crop losses due to weeds or insects, efficiently use water and reduce post-harvest losses.

"Biotechnology gives us a powerful set of tools to help achieve these necessary objectives if we are going to feed the world's larger population better than today, at reasonable cost, without destroying the environment," Thompson said.

 

Global effort

More than ever before, the world will need to rely on international trade to ensure each country's food security every year. Still, trade barriers exist not only with tariffs and quantitative restrictions but also from lack of synchronization.

"Biotech crops mean food security for many countries around the world, yet today's biotechnology approval process is susceptible to international politics, making it volatile and inefficient," said Bill Wykes, Illinois soybean farmer and past chairman of the Illinois Soybean Assn.

While biotech advancements that increase yield and quality will be ready for registration by 2015, the lack of a synchronized, science-based system for securing approval in all countries will derail agriculture's ability to feed the growing world.

Looking at 150 years of U.S. data, Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes, economics and management director of the University of Missouri Agrobiotechnology Center, verified that until the 1930s, the only way for farmers to increase yields was to farm more acres. After 1930, innovation in agriculture enabled farmers to boost output while reducing labor and land use.

The investment in genetic advancements and innovation like biotechnology has had a positive impact on productivity over the years by eliminating the need to expand land for production while still returning approximately 100 million acres back to forests, wetlands and recreational uses.

Kalaitzandonakes concluded that the net increase to the food supply without requiring additional farmland is the closest thing the U.S. has to a "free lunch." A global biotech regulatory system that is unpredictable and built on uncertainty is depriving other countries from obtaining the same free lunch.

Gary Martin, president and chief executive officer of the North American Export Grain Assn., told biotech symposium participants that the challenges have never been greater for the global grain and oilseed market, but it comes with great opportunity.

"The role of international trade in agri-bulks is expanding and increasingly complex and in need of sound, responsible, predictable commercial and official measures (private and government)," Martin said.

From a trade perspective, a system that is transparent, predictable, reliable and consistent can allow grain systems to maximize the value of the grain product and minimize cost inefficiencies and supply chain handling costs while meeting plant protection needs.

The trade industry in the global market is the small slice between price and risk, with managing risk being the industry's main focus.

For crop biotechnology, there aren't many opportunities to manage risk with "zero-tolerance" markets.

Currently, the European Union has a strict policy of zero tolerance for unapproved and untested genetically modified organisms in food but allows 0.1% presence in animal feed. While it is self-sufficient in the production of corn, the EU is a net importer of other agricultural products, including being the top importer of meal and number two for oils and oilseeds.

"We do not have zero-tolerance policy for pesticide residues, mycotoxins, for certain quality characteristics in anything except crop biotechnology in moving grain across borders," Martin said. "Products and presences (biotech) have been determined safe, but we cannot agree to at least some low presences but, rather, zero presences."

At the end of the day, it will take international collaboration and regulatory coherence to facilitate trade. It is important to identify opportunities and pursue cooperation between commercial and government parties to simplify the global movement of agricultural products.

In addition, to enable the use of biotechnology, international regulatory systems need to be effective, enforceable and compatible, with uniform, transparent and practicable majors across the board.

Finally, it is critical that sampling and testing of all products are compatible and consistent and deploy sound science around the world in order to create a sustainable trade environment.

Volume:85 Issue:36