ASTA, BIO promote gene editing as strategy against food waste
The Hagstrom Report
The American Seed Trade Association and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization have formed a joint venture, Innovature, to highlight the connections between agricultural innovation and wellness, and are promoting gene editing as part of a strategy to combat food waste.
At a July 23 breakfast briefing titled ”Saving Food, Fighting Food Waste,” Doug Cole, the senior manager of marketing and biotech affairs at Simplot Plant Sciences in Boise, Idaho, said. Simplot has developed a potato that will not brown and therefore won’t be thrown away by retailers, restaurants or consumers.
The Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have approved Simplot’s Innate technology, which was integrated into its “White Russet” potato sold in more than 40 states, becoming the world’s first commercialized biotech potato with consumer traits, Cole said.
“People eat with their eyes. Reducing browning can help to limit food waste,” he said.
But he added he still has a job to do in convincing growers, retailers and consumers to accept biotechnology so that biotech crops can be grown on a scale that would matter to food waste.
Simplot is using gene editing in its research, which scientists say should be regulated differently from genetic modification because editing refers to the removal of a gene rather than the addition of a gene from another organism.
The Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is in the process of figuring out the regulation of gene editing.
ASTA recently filed comments saying that the organization “is pleased that USDA’s proposal recognizes that some applications of gene editing result in plant varieties that are essentially equivalent to varieties developed through more traditional breeding methods and would thus treat these varieties in the same way from a policy standpoint.”
Cole said that 60% of Americans trust genetically modified organisms while 40% do not.
“We wrestle with what to do about that,” he said, noting that USDA has a $3 million budget for educating consumers about GMOs, but that that is only enough to buy a few ads.
“The government needs to take some responsibility,” Cole said, adding that it’s important to create acceptance of gene editing because so many other products are coming on line.
Cole also acknowledged that Simplot sells organic potatoes to restaurants that prefer them.
“I would never tell restaurants not to pay attention to their consumer demands,” he said.
Other panelists focused on very different approaches to fighting food waste.
Monica McBride, the manager of food loss and waste at the World Wildlife Fund, said she works with farmers and the restaurant industry to reduce food waste.
McBride said that every year, 1.4 billion hectares of land are used to grow food that’s ultimately lost or wasted, resulting in less land for forests and flowers to grow and fewer places for animals to live.
Food waste leads to loss of biodiversity and contributes to climate change, she said.
WWF has also partnered with the Kroger stores to conduct food waste audits in nine cities. The percentage of food left in fields varies dramatically from crop to crop, but finding ways to pick up what is left behind is difficult, she said.
McBride said, however, she declines “to deal with the consumer GMO issue.”
Danielle Vogel, the founder of Glen’s Garden Market in Washington, said she had worked as an environmental litigator in the Justice Department and as a policy adviser to both Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate.
When the effort to pass comprehensive climate legislation failed, she dedicated herself to finding a new, more incremental way to address global warming: engaging her community in the Good Food movement by opening a grocery store to sell food from the Chesapeake Bay area.
Coming from a line of grocers stretching back four generations, Vogel said she had some knowledge of the industry, but admitted she had a lot to learn.
Vogel noted that her father was the grocer who came up with the idea of the grocery store salad bar to absorb the economic loss of damaged food.
In her store, Vogel has a “no food waste or compost” mandate, which means the staff has to figure out what to do with all food.
In addition to the environmental considerations, Vogel said “it’s bonkers” to pay for food, stock it, then throw it out.
She also said much more can be done to improve packaging to reduce the garbage it creates.
One concept that hasn’t worked, Vogel said, is “ugly food” such as imperfect fruits and vegetables, because people won’t buy them.
Vogel said that at first she wanted to sell only products that were grown in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, but that when people could not buy out-of-season fruit and bananas at her store, they went elsewhere.
Products from the Chesapeake Bay do not have to be organic to be sold in her store, but the products from far away are, she said.
Tim Ma, the owner and executive chef of American Son, the flagship restaurant of the Eaton Hotel, said he instructs his chefs to be “creative” with ingredients to avoid food waste.
But he believes a key for restaurants to fight food waste is portion control, so that customers do not want to take food home.
“Taking food in a box creates more waste,” Ma said. ❖
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