Technology allows ag to safely feed growing planet

Fraley notes that some of the greatest advancements in food technology are related to breeding improvements.

Is it possible to feed a world population that's projected to exceed 10 billion people by 2050? The challenges food producers face to meet this increasing demand are numerous, Dr. Robert Fraley, Monsanto executive vice president and chief technology officer, said at the 23rd annual Cattlemen's College, sponsored by Zoetis, in San Diego, Cal.

With less land, less water and growing concerns about global warming, Fraley said it will take collaboration to sustainably intensify agriculture on arable land, take pressure off of marginal land and reduce food waste to accomplish the task of feeding a growing planet.

By 2050, the world population will exceed 10 billion people who are going to need to eat. “It's not about us; it's about our kids and grandkids when it comes to food security around the world,” Fraley said.

“In order to meet increased demand for U.S. beef, we will need the (corn) production capacity of another Illinois,” he said. “In 2015, we produced 2.0 billion bu. of corn, but by 2050, we'll need 2.8 billion bu. of corn to raise enough beef to meet the growing demand.”

According to Fraley, some of the greatest advancements in food technology are related to how dramatically breeding has improved. Agriculture can now improve plants and animals gene by gene.

“Today, there are 30 countries around the world raising GMO (genetically modified organism) crops, which has helped raise yields by reducing weed and insect pressure,” he said. “We've probably grown 4.4 billion acres of GMO crops since 1996. What's more, GMO crops are grown on one-quarter of the world's farmland.”

Fraley said GMOs are the most thoroughly studied food products ever. Despite public outcry about the dangers of GMOs, he said “they offer huge benefits with improved yields, reducing the needs for pesticides and insecticides. And, it's important to note that there hasn't been a single incident of a food safety issue from GMOs.”

For folks who think GMOs aren't natural, think about this: “The human genome has been carefully studied by scientists, and all people contain between 100 and 200 genes from other species,” he said. “Everything we eat today was adapted and modified from foods around the world to grow in the U.S."

About 37% of the public think GMOs are safe, but almost 97% of scientists with the American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS) believe GMOs are safe. Meanwhile, 28% of consumers believe foods grown with pesticides are safe to eat, while 68% of AAAS scientists believe they are safe.

“We need to work to bridge the gap between science and society," Fraley said.

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