Biotechnology in Food - Innovations and Controversies

June 17, 2023
David Sunnyside

Increasing the food production is of great concern for the world. Biotechnology can help reduce poverty and food insecurity by introducing high-yielding crops resistant to diseases.

Biotechnology has been a part of food production for over ten thousand years through fermentation to produce alcoholic beverages and bread, selective breeding of animals and plants and more recently, genetically modified foods.


Biotechnology is changing the way we farm and produce foods. It has also enabled the creation of life-saving drugs, and has helped improve nutritional content and flavor in our food supply. Purple tomatoes with more antioxidants, less pungent kale and mustard varieties with zero-erucic acid; disease and drought-resistant crops, leaner meat and enzymes that streamline commercial food processing all point to the power of this new science.

Low crop production is the major reason for global hunger and poverty, especially in rural aereas of developing countries. Biotechnology can help combat this problem by introducing high-yielding varieties that are resistant to natural calamities and diseases and by increasing the nutrient contents of staple crops such as cassava, a key food in Africa.

In addition, a number of biotechnology companies are working on creating nutritious and environmentally sustainable plant-based proteins. One company, Afineur, is using fungi to create a cholesterol-free and meatless protein called mycoprotein, which they believe will reduce the world’s dependence on resource-intensive livestock farming.


The use of genetically modified crops with genes from other plants has generated many questions about how these techniques could affect food safety. For instance, a gene from another species can cause proteins that are similar to known allergens. Therefore, the EPA and FDA must carefully examine any new traits before they can be used on food.

Agricultural biotechnology has been used to produce disease-resistant plants since the 1980s. However, it's not clear if this technology will give consumers more control over the foods they eat.

A major area of research in food biotechnology is nutritionally enhanced foods. For example, scientists have engineered a variety of crops to provide additional vitamins and minerals. The most famous is golden rice, which has two extra genes that enable it to make beta-carotene and iron. This product was designed to address nutrient deficiencies in some developing countries, particularly among children. Other nutritionally enhanced products being developed include cooking oils with specific fatty acid profiles, and soy and corn that are less likely to be allergenic.

Impact on Environment

Agricultural biotechnology is used to reduce environmental impacts on food production, water and soil. It is also being used to produce more disease-resistant crops that allow farmers to use fewer pesticides, which helps protect wildlife and prevent chemical residue in food and water supplies.

In addition, researchers are engineering plants to provide more nutritional benefits. These include cooking oils with unique fatty acid profiles and reduced trans fats, as well as fruits and vegetables with more vitamins and minerals. Scientists are also working to create foods that contain fewer allergens. They are creating proteins that are similar to those found in the foods that cause allergies in humans, but have been re-engineered so they cannot trigger allergic reactions.

Biotechnology is also helping to reduce hunger by increasing crop yields, using less land and water, and creating more nutritious foods. However, some people argue that addressing global hunger requires political solutions, rather than agro-technical ones. These political solutions must be geared towards women, who are the nutritional gatekeepers in many families.

Impact on Health

As a result of biotechnology, farmers can grow crops that are resistant to pests and diseases, thus cutting down on chemical usage. This reduces environmental pollution and contamination caused by chemical runoff, while protecting biodiversity.

Biotechnology is also being used to enhance the nutritional content of foods. For example, scientists have produced corn that is fortified with essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and proteins. It is hoped that this will help prevent health problems related to a lack of these nutrients.

Modern food biotechnology has increased the speed and precision with which scientists can improve foods and production practices. But these benefits do not necessarily translate into greater consumer control over what they eat and how their food is made.

David Sunnyside
Co-founder of Urban Splatter • Digital Marketer • Engineer • Meditator
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