BIOTECH SOLUTION FOR FEEDING THE POPULATION BOMB
AS the world population swells past nine billion, we’ll need more food. The trick is growing it without suffocating the environment, according to a visiting US biotechnology specialist.
“There’s nothing we do that has more negative impact on the planet than agriculture, but there’s nothing more critical for our survival,” Jack Bobo says.
Mr Bobo is a former US State Department food adviser who now works at biotechnology outfit Intrexon — which also looks at developing food. He was in Queensland for a symposium on agriculture innovation.
He argues that with the world population tipped to exceed nine billion by 2050, that productivity needs to increase. After that, the number of people will continue to grow but at a far slower pace.
“The challenge for us is to get to 2050 without screwing up the planet,” he says, citing advances in growing food with less water or fertiliser.
Given his background and current employer, it’s no surprise Mr Bobo favours biological developments for food. His company, for instance, recently acquired an apple that, via a process called gene silencing, is designed to not go brown after being cut.
Such developments raise concern about people opposed to biotechnology getting involved in agriculture. The Greens in Australia want a moratorium on release of “genetically manipulated organisms” (GMOs) into the environment until better long-term understanding of impact is known, while an Australian Facebook group opposes GMOs.
Mr Bobo, speaking generally, argues it is important to acknowledge concerns about changes to food. “I think that there will be a convergence of views between organic agriculture and biotech, or conventional agriculture, because I think there has to be,” he told the symposium, organised by Life Sciences Queensland.
“Organic agriculture depends on science as much as biotech, and I think once we begin to realise that, we realise we are all using the same techniques and technology.”