The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity describes biotechnology as “Any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use.”1 This definition extends to many aspects of animal agriculture used over the past century, including selective animal breeding, artificial insemination, and the use of vaccines. More recently, genomics has enabled the comparison of genomes of organisms that are either resistant or susceptible to a disease to identify genetic markers that can be used to select for genotypes that favor animal health. During the past 30 years, the term “modern biotechnology” has been used to describe “techniques that use recombinant, synthesized, or amplified nucleic acids to modify or create a genome.” This can include traditional genetic engineering where a transgene is introduced into the genome of an animal (e.g., the fast-growing AquAdvantage salmon),2 or genome editing, where the genome is altered at a targeted location and which can be used to inactivate a naturally occurring gene [e.g., porcine reproductive respiratory syndrome (PRRS)–resistant pigs].3 The world population will increase from 7.7 billion to 9.7 billion by 2050.4 World meat production is projected to double by 2050, most of which is expected in developing countries.5 The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that 70% of these gains in production must come from the use of new technologies. The FAO suggests that potential policy measures toward low-carbon livestock production systems and zero hunger include “Enabling policies and incentives for biotechnological innovation for more sustainable food products as part of an expanding agrifood system.”6 Modern biotechnology offers solutions to challenges for environmentally sustainable animal production that are not achievable using older technologies. However, the use of biotechnology in food production remains a contentious issue for some consumers.
FASS considers that the adoption of modern biotechnology will be critical to meet the growing demands for sustainable food production in the next 25 to 50 years. The USDA National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard requires labeling of “food that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro rDNA techniques and for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature”; effective January 1, 2022.7 The FDA also allows voluntary product labeling, so long as it is truthful and not misleading, and provides those consumers who object to the use of all modern biotechnologies in food production systems a choice in the marketplace.
- FASS endorses the importance of continuing to do research and, where appropriate, adopt modern biotechnologies to safely improve the sustainability attributes of agricultural production systems, and the plants and animal products used and consumed by the world’s human population.
- FASS supports a risk-based, proportionate, and product-focused regulatory approach for research and commercialization of agricultural biotechnologies, including the production, marketing, and global trade of plant and animal products derived from the use of modern biotechnologies.
- FASS encourages funding for research and education necessary to provide the fundamental biological knowledge of organisms, including genomes, that will lead to strategies for global solutions that address the grand challenges for production of abundant, safe, and affordable foods for the 21st century and beyond.
Reviewed and revised by FASS SPC on February 23, 2021
Adopted by the FASS Board of Directors on November 16, 2021
For more information, please contact FASSPolicyStatements@assochq.org
1 United Nations. 1992. The Convention on Biological Diversity: Article 2. Use of Terms. https://www.cbd.int/kb/record/article/6872?RecordType=article. Retrieved February 1, 2021.
2 Du SJ, Gong ZY, Fletcher GL, Shears MA, King MJ, et al. 1992. Growth enhancement in transgenic Atlantic salmon by the use of an “all fish” chimeric growth-hormone gene construct. Bio/Technology 10:176–181.
3 Whitworth KM, Rowland RR, Ewen CL, Trible BR, Kerrigan MA, et al. 2016. Gene-edited pigs are protected from porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus. Nat. Biotechnol. 34:20–22.
4 United Nations. https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-population-prospects-2019.html. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
5 FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). 2019. http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/themes/en/meat/home.html. Retrieved February 1, 2021.
6 FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). 2019. Five practical actions towards low-carbon livestock. http://www.fao.org/3/ca7089en/ca7089en.pdf. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
7 National Bioengineered Disclosure Standard. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/12/21/2018-27283/national-bioengineered-food-disclosure-standard. Retrieved February 8, 2021.