Biotech Makes Strides in 2005

First generation of biotech benefited farmers and the environment. The next generation of plant biotech research is focused on providing consumer benefits. Compiled by staff 

Published on: Jan 4, 2006

After 10 years, biotechnology has reaped many benefits for farmers in the United States and the other 17 countries around the globe where it is planted. In May 2005, the one billionth acre of biotech crop was sown and many other important biotech developments with consumer benefits are on the horizon.

"While the first generation of plant biotech products directly benefited farmers and the environment, the next generation of plant biotech research is focused on providing consumer benefits, including the development of biotech plants that offer increased nutrition and health benefits," says Sean Darragh, executive vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

Here's a smorgasbord list of biotech developments in 2005:

  • Kellogg announced it will use low-linolenic soybean oil to reduce or eliminate trans fats in several of its products; though the soybeans were produced through conventional breeding techniques, they do contain biotech traits and are the first products in the next generation of biotech products with consumer benefits. 
  • Research into edible vaccines continued with the development of a biotech potato that carries the Hepatitis B vaccine, and a biotech tomato containing a SARS vaccine. Initial tests in human subjects have shown that the biotech potato confers immunity against Hepatitis B. Japanese scientists also announced the development of an edible vaccine in biotech rice that prevents the immune response that triggers allergies related to hay fever.
  • Japanese researchers developed a biotech soybean that contains a substance that promotes hair growth and helps prevent hair loss caused by chemotherapy. An antihypertensive substance derived from egg whites was incorporated into the soybean; the substance expands blood vessels and promotes circulation and hair growth.
  • USDA biotech researchers announced a breakthrough that will help cows be naturally resistant to mastitis, a bacterial infection of cows' milk glands that causes inflammation and swelling and a loss in milk production. The biotech cows produce the protein lysostaphin, which significantly decreases the likelihood of developing mastitis, which causes up to a $2 billion loss annually for dairy farmers in the United States.
  • Chickens, cows and pigs were improved through biotechnology as part of research to improve human health. In June, Scottish scientists developed a method of producing antibodies that treat malignant skin cancer in chicken egg whites improved through biotechnology. The new production technique could allow for the development of a wide range of cancer treatments in greater volume and in a more cost-efficient method than conventional manufacturing techniques.
  • In Argentina, cows were improved with biotechnology to produce human growth hormones in their milk. Scientists estimate that just 15 of these Jersey cows could produce enough human growth hormone to meet the current world demand for the hormone.
  • Work continued in South Korea on xenotransplantation, with piglets improved through biotechnology that contain an "HLA-G" gene, which give their organs an increased change of acceptance if transplanted into humans. Immuno-rejection is one of the major hurdles to xenotransplantation; the introduced gene in the cloned piglets may reduce the chance of organ rejection.

Many international organizations continued to add to the collection of scientific literature that highlights the benefits of agricultural biotechnology:

  • The World Health Organization reported that biotech foods can "contribute to enhancing human health and development." The study found that biotech foods can increase crop yield, food quality, and the diversity of foods which can be grown in a given area, and lead to better health and nutrition, and thereby raise health and living standards.
  • A report issued by USDA's Economic Research Service and Rutgers University also found that large farms and small-scale farmers in southern Africa can benefit from planting biotech corn. The report found that yields on large farmers increased about 11%, and yields for small farms increased anywhere from seven to 56%, when biotech corn was planted.
  • A National Center for Food and Agriculture Policy study found that the 118 million acres of biotech crops U.S. farmers planted in 2004 increased food production by 6.6 billion pounds, and provided $2.3 billion in additional net returns for U.S. growers. Biotech crops also reduced pesticide use by an additional 34%, or 15.6 million pounds.
  • The British research firm PG Economics Ltd. found that the global use of biotechnology-derived crops has added $27 billion to farm income and greatly reduced agriculture's negative impacts upon the environment.
  • An April, Science published a study by researchers at Rutgers University and the University of California, Davis who found that biotech rice in China could decrease farmer's production costs, increase harvest yields, reduce the use of pesticides by as much as 80%, and improve farmer health. The study also estimated that if "90% of the farmers plant [biotech] rice, the annual agricultural income of China will increase by $4 billion."
  • A study by the University of Connecticut and Japan's Kagoshima Prefectural Cattle Breeding Development Institute found that meat and milk products from cloned cattle are safe for consumption. The results reiterate those found by the National Academy of Science in 2001.