In Search of Ag Solutions

Telling Your Story

Danforth Center focusing on food, fiber, medicine and energy

Published on: October 31, 2013

Sometimes when there is talk around biotechnology, there is an image of mad scientists performing crazy experiments.  I only wish the general population could see how the research is done and what the possibilities are for improving lives around the world. 

Last week, I had the opportunity to tour the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis.  If you are involved in agriculture, you'll be interested in what is being studied at the Danforth Center.  It is the world's largest independent nonprofit research institute dedicated to plant research.  The Danforth Center's research is focused on creating more abundant supplies of food, fiber, medicine and energy without adversely affecting the environment. 

A lot of the research at the Danforth Center uses biotechnology or genetic modification.  Traditional breeding typically takes 7-8 generations to get what you want, so biotechnology is much quicker.  Looking at the problems of feeding a growing population, there is urgency to finding solutions. 

As one of the scientists said, biotechnology is part of sustainability, not opposite.  One of the greatest challenges highlighted was acceptance of biotechnology, and countering fear and misinformation.  There is a real need to produce more crops sustainability versus the hypothetical risk that is being portrayed and fed into people's fears of the unknown. 

Biotechnology must go through lots of hurdles prior to approval. The regulatory agencies are:  EPA to monitor safety of plant incorporated pesticides; FDA to monitor food and feed safety; and USDA and APHIS to monitor the safe release into the environment. 

Slow process

The regulatory process is slow.  Under the old process, it took about 31 months before a final decision for approval.  There has been an improved process which should cut the timeline, but at this time, the process is still very time-consuming and cumbersome.  

There is an international conversation happening about whether or not biotechnology is acceptable, and many people have questions about its safety.  When you are asked about this subject, speak from your experience – how has biotechnology helped your farm?  How do you think it will help you or others in the future?  If you're talking with someone who has concerns about biotechnology, ask them to clarify their primary concerns.  It's okay to not have the answer to a concern, find out the answer and get back to them later.    

The scientific community is working hard on solutions to producing enough food to feed the world's growing population.  Biotechnology is not the only solution, but it is one important tool.