Endless Opportunities With Biotech — Need Trade Partners To Agree

Tastier salad greens and heat-resistant cattle — these are examples of genetically engineered products. GE products can help the food system be more efficient and sustainable, according to the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.

BIO represents 1,000 members – private companies, state entities, and colleges — in biotechnology ranging from pharmaceuticals to agriculture. Beth Ellikidis is the vice president of BIO’s agriculture and environment section. She lists some examples of genetically engineered products that are making a difference:

  • Some examples of genetic engineering are seeds that require fewer pesticides.
  • Non-browning apples to prevent food waste and to maintain the quality of products.
  • Genetically engineered fish that need less inputs to grow, are disease resistant and have an improved flavor.
  • Kale or mustard greens, which are high in nutritional value, can also become tastier with genetic engineering so people are more willing to eat them.

Selective breeding for these traits could take generations. Genetic engineering is faster and more exact, Ellikidis explains.

However, not all U.S. trade partners are on board with genetic engineering, explains Lynne Finnerty, senior director of public affairs with BIO.

Currently, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is negotiating with Mexico on biotech corn. Biotech corn has been genetically modified with traits that make it resistant to drought or pests, for example.

Mexico announced it would stop buying certain genetically modified corn. USTR is disputing Mexico’s decree under the USMCA. USTR argues Mexico’s measures are not based on science and threaten to disrupt American exports of agricultural products to Mexico, including corn, and harm American farmers. Finnerty says she expects results from the dispute this fall.

Mexico is the No. 1 buyer of U.S. corn. Nearly 90 percent of U.S. corn is GE.

Finnerty adds that Mexico is facing its most severe drought in 70 years. This has livestock producers nervous about where their feed will come from if they can’t import U.S. corn.

Mexico has since specified that it doesn’t want biotech corn for human consumption. But Finnerty says any ban on biotech corn is an attack on technology that meets global food demand.