The Montana Alliance for Biotechnology, created as a collaborative effort between the Montana Agriculture Business Association (MABA), Montana Farm Bureau Federation, and Montana Grain Growers Association proudly support biotechnology and responsible use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Montana. MABA’s efforts focus on ensuring Montana producers and consumers are knowledgeable about biotechnology so as to not be denied advancements in technology and science that could affect Montana’s agricultural industry. This webpage is dedicated to sharing information about biotechnology and GMOs to increase awareness of the benefits these agricultural advances have for Montana.
Video courtesy of GMO Answers
What is Biotechnology? What are GMOs?
Biotechnology is the use of organisms (or parts of organisms) to make or modify a product. It involves the process of copying a gene for a desired trait from one plant or organism and using it in another, resulting in “genetically modified organisms” (GMOs). Examples of biotechnology include both traditional applications, such as the making of bread, cheese, wine and beer, as well as more modern applications to grow or culture cells for research or to make genetically modified crops for food, feed, fuel or fiber. Even before the science of biotechnology was developed in the 1960s, humans had been improving plants to make them stronger, bigger, and more productive. Biotechnology, as we know it today, is just an extension of that process.
Putting Biotechnology to Work
Cells are the basic building blocks of all living things. All cells have the same basic design, are made of the same materials and operate using essentially the same processes. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) directs cell construction and operation, while proteins do all the work. The DNA of one cell can be read and implemented by cells from other living things because genetic instructions to make specific proteins are understood by many different types of cells. Technologies based on cells and biological molecules give us great flexibility when using nature’s diversity.
Farmers and plant breeders have relied on crossbreeding, hybridization and other modification techniques to improve the yield and quality of food and fiber for centuries. As our knowledge of plant genetics improved, we purposefully crossbred plants with desirable traits to produce offspring with the best traits of both parents. In today’s world, virtually every crop grown for food or fiber is a product of crossbreeding, hybridization or both. The tools of biotechnology allow plant breeders to select single genes that produce desired traits and move them from one plant to another. The process is far more precise and selective than traditional efforts.
Farmers in 28 countries are growing more than 448 million acres of crops improved through biotechnology. Biotech crops improve yields, cut costs and reduce pesticide applications.
The most common species in the U.S. that use biotechnology practices include apples, soybean, alfalfa, corn, papaya, canola, cotton, sugar beets, and summer squash.
In the United States, the percent of products genetically engineered is as follows:
- 90% of canola
- 90% of corn
- 93% of soybeans
- 85% of sugar beets
More than 70 percent of the processed foods purchased in a supermarket contain ingredients improved through biotechnology – oil and meal from soybeans, corn and cottonseeds. Many of the foods millions of people safely consume everyday, contain GMOs including oils, confections, honey, cereals, cheese and our beloved ice cream! All of these items are consumed without ill effects as there has not been one case of harm to human safety from biotech crops. Biotechnology is helping to create a new generation of healthier oils from soybeans, canola and sunflowers, free of trans fats that can raise cholesterol and contribute to heart disease.
In some cases, biotechnology can improve food by removing an allergen. Biotechnology scientists are working to isolate the specific proteins that trigger allergic reactions and modify the foods to eliminate the health risk. The food safety industry is also working diligently on the ability to use DNA probes to determine the presence of harmful bacteria that cause food poisoning and food spoilage. Once the bacteria can be identified, food poisoning can be prevented, saving millions from experiencing the effects of food poisoning.
The bipartisan food labeling law, which all members of the Montana Alliance for Biotechnology supported, has been passed by Congress and was signed into law by the President in July 2016.
Regulation and Safety
Since combining specific genes from donor and host plants does not alter the basic nature of the host plant; the result of genetic modification is predictable and can be carefully controlled. There are now almost 2,000 studies by independent researchers from across the world showing genetically modified foods are safe to eat and safe for the environment.
Independent scientific organizations such as the National Academies of Science, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Health Organization (WHO) have produced more than 600 scientific studies supporting the safety of biotech products and GMOs. Many groups such as WHO, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the American Medical Association all agree there is no difference in food safety between traditional bred food crops and food crops resulting from the use of GMOs.
The FDA approves the safety of all foods and new food ingredients. Additionally, the FDA also requires labeling of any food product produced through biotechnology, which significantly alters the plant’s nutritional value or uses material from a known allergen. The biotech industry is also regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the USDA. Biotech crops and the foods resulting from those crops meet, and in some cases exceed, all FDA, EPA and USDA regulatory requirements.
Video courtesy of GMO Answers
Reaping the Benefits
Biotechnology has helped producers worldwide develop crops that produce higher yields (helping to feed our growing population), resist pests and diseases, and generate more nutrition for both livestock and human consumption. We must acknowledge that the world is expected to increase by 10-12 billion people by the year 2050 while the amount of farmable land will decrease; to meet the projected future, farmers need higher yields (with increased nutritional value) on less land. One solution? Biotechnology.
Biotechnology can revitalize Montana’s rural economy and provide more revenue. Biotechnology brings stress tolerance, cold tolerance, salt tolerance, and drought tolerance to the crops. All of these advantages work alongside Montana farmers to generate higher yield using fewer inputs (i.e., chemicals). Herbicide tolerant crops resulting from GMOs allow for use of no-till agricultural practices, which decreases soil erosion and improves water quality by decreasing sedimentation and runoff of nitrogen and phosphorous. Since 1996, GMO crops have been estimated to reduce pesticide application by 8.8%, equating to 503 million kg. (554,43 U.S. tons).
The use of biotechnology allows Montana producers and consumers many benefits through increased yields, reduced use of insecticides and herbicides, improved weed control, more efficient use of available land, reduce runoff into surface waters, greater crop resistances, and improved economics for small farms. With agriculture responsible for one out of every twelve jobs in the U.S. and many jobs in Montana, biotechnology and the use of GMOs is an effort Montana growers and consumers need to support today for the future of Montana agriculture.