Past Time for Genetically Enhanced Wheat
Americans and much of the rest of the world have been safely and healthfully eating foods made from ingredients derived from modern biotech corn and soybean varieties for more than a decade. An insightful op-ed in today's New York Times argues that it is way past time for researchers to develop and farmers to plant enhanced biotech wheat varieties. Like corn and soy, genetically enhanced wheat would resist insects and herbicides. As Oklahoma State University agricultural economist Jayson Lusk and physician Henry Miller of Stanford University's Hoover Institution point out:
Today, it's easy to see why corn and soybean farmers made the switch. Crop yields have increased and farmers have been able to reduce their use of chemical insecticides and shift to less toxic herbicides to control weeds. They've also made more money. Over the same period, the amount of land planted in wheat has dropped by about 20 percent, and although yields have increased, productivity growth has been lower than for the crops genetically engineered with molecular techniques….
The scientific consensus is that existing genetically engineered crops are as safe as the non-genetically engineered hybrid plants that are a mainstay of our diet. The government should be encouraging and promoting these technologies.
Besides endowing wheat with now-standard enhancements, researchers can also add drought resistance characteristics. For example, Egyptian researchers reported ten years ago that they had dramatically increased drought resistance in wheat by adding a specific gene from barley to wheat:
The researchers, at Cairo's Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute (AGERI), say their technique reduces the number of irrigations needed from eight to one, and that the wheat could be cultivated with rainfall alone in some desert areas.
The Times op-ed concludes:
Given the importance of wheat and the confluence of tightening water supplies, drought, a growing world population and competition from other crops, we need to regain the lost momentum. To do that, we need to acquire more technological ingenuity and to end unscientific, excessive and discriminatory government regulation.
For more background, see my article, "The Top 5 Lies About Biotech Crops."