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What is agricultural biotechnology?

The USDA defines agricultural biotechnology as a range of tools, including traditional breeding techniques, that alter living organisms, or parts of organisms, to make or modify products; improve plants or animals; or develop microorganisms for specific agricultural uses. Scientists use many plant-breeding techniques to create new varieties of crops with the traits or characteristics that are useful to farmers, such as resistance to insects, diseases, drought, or traits attractive to consumers, like increased levels of nutrients. This results in benefits for the environment, farmers and consumers


What are GMOs?


When most people mention genetically modified organisms (GMOs), they are referring to crops that have been developed through the transfer of genes from other species that contribute to pest and disease resistance, tolerance to pesticides/herbicides, and high nutrient content. Thusly, a GMO crop is one that has been created using biotechnology techniques which allows scientists to select a trait or characteristic that exists in nature and insert the associated gene(s) into the target plant. Sometimes a GMO crop is created by making changes to a plant without any insertions whatsoever, for example, by silencing (“turning off”) existing genes.


What are the benefits of GMO crops and their global impact?

In a constantly growing global population there are many social concerns such as food security, poor nutrition and environmental imbalance. GMO crops are an important tool for enhancing sustainability and food production, benefitting not only farmers, but also societies, by:

  • Creating plants that are more resistant to pests, diseases and weeds

  • Maximizing land use to produce higher yields for farmers and reducing production costs by decreasing the use of pesticides, fuel and labor

  • Producing foods with better texture, flavor and nutritional value

  • Producing foods with a longer shelf life for easier shipping and distribution

In 2015, biotechnology crops were farmed by 18 million farmers in 28 countries around the world, taking up an area of 444 million acres. Studies show that agricultural biotechnology will be fundamental in future food production; by 2050, the world population will reach the nine-billion mark and they will require 70% more food than what is currently produced.

What is genetic engineering?

Genetic engineering is the process of adding new DNA to an organism through laboratory techniques with the goal of adding one or more traits that are not already found in that organism. Examples of genetically engineered (transgenic) organisms currently in the market include plants with resistance to certain insects, plants that can tolerate herbicides, and crops with modified oil content.


What is the difference between a conventional seed and a GMO seed?

Traditionally, breeders try to exchange genes between two plants to produce offspring that have that have the desired traits. This is done by transferring pollen from one plant that possesses the desired trait, to the female organ of another plant that does not possess the desired trait. However, this type of cross breeding is limited to exchanges between the same or very closely related plant species. It can also take a long time to achieve desired results and frequently, the desired traits do not exist in any related species.


GM technology allows plant breeders to combine genes not just from within the same crop species, but also from other nonrelated species. This powerful tool allows breeders accelerate what they have been doing for years, create superior plant varieties, although it also expands the possibilities beyond the limits imposed by conventional plant breeding. (Source:

Are GMOs safe for consumption?

We certainly understand the concerns some people may have about the safety of GMO foods, and that is why it is important to look at the facts. Recently, on May 18, 2016, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded that there are no differences between GMO and conventionally bred foods in terms of human and environmental risk. The report, “Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects,” was based on results obtained from an extensive study conducted by more than 50 scientists over the period of two years. The study includes data from 900 research projects in GMO crops, since the first time they were put to market in 1996. For more details click here, a site that was created for the benefit of the general public.


Previously, other organizations such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have poured over hundreds of scientific studies and concluded that GMO crops do not represent a risk to human health or the environment.


Do GMOs cause an increase in food-borne allergies?

Food allergy is another safety concern the people have about foods derived from GMOs. It is important to note, it undergoes numerous studies to determine its potential for allergens, following procedures established by the FDA, and those suggested by the Codex Alimentarius Commission and European Food Safety Authority. These procedures are designed to detect new proteins for potential allergenicity. To date, no food derived from GMOs has been found to cause new allergies.


Are GMOs increasing the use of pesticides?

According to a study published in the journal PloS ONE, researchers analyzed 147 studies related to pesticide applications on biotech crops and concluded that the use of pesticides was reduced by 37%. Overall, since 1996, the use of GMO crops has led to a reduction in the use of pesticides by 1.2 billion pounds, therefore benefiting human health and the environment.


Does livestock in Puerto Rico consume GMO feed?

All of the seeds produced in Puerto Rico by PRABIA member companies are used solely for research purposes and are not marketed on the island. In the U.S. and in other parts of the world, animals raised for human consumption are fed with products derived from GMO and/or conventional crops. As of today the evidence strongly suggests that there is no difference in regards to nutrient composition, digestibility, and nutritional value.


How long have GMOs been used?

The development of this technology bloomed after the scientific discovery of DNA in 1953. As the scientific understanding of how genes work evolved, genetic engineering was first described in the early 1970s as a way to create desired traits using recombinant DNA technology. The genetic engineering of crops is something that has been going on for decades. The first transgenic crops were planted in 1996. However, humans have been conducting agricultural selective breeding for more than 10,000 years.


How does the AgBio industry use pesticides?

The local industry adheres to strict regulations set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture. It is important to note that before a crop protection product can be approved for use, it must be confirmed, through a series of tests and evaluations, that there is “reasonable certainty of no harm” to humans, animals and the environment when used in compliance with the manufacturer’s specifications. To minimize the dangers of agrochemicals, the EPA sets limits on how a product may be used, how often it may be used, what protective clothing or equipment must be used, along with other restrictions.


Why do farmers use pesticides?


Farmers use pesticides to mitigate or reduce crop damage and/or loss caused by pests and diseases, and rid the growing area of the presence of weeds that compete for nutrients in the soil. A pest is any biological organism, weed, pathogen, and arthropod that interferes with the production of crops, affecting quality or yield. Pests can have large and irreversible effects on crops and yields, which can impact consumers since it can produce food shortage by way of food scarcity and therefore, higher prices. Regardless of whether the crops are GMO, organic or conventional, they all face the challenge of pests and diseases at some point in the lifecycle of the crop.

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