We often hear the buzzword “GMO” used with little – if any – context as to what genetically modified means and how biotechnology benefits production agriculture. Instead the term is often used to instill fear in consumers through agenda-driven campaigns that spread misinformation about food and agriculture production in the U.S. Last week, the conversation about GMOs was propelled to the national stage as the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing about GMO labeling, examining a proposed federal bill that would ban states from requiring labels to flag food containing genetically modified organisms.
Our friends at National Association of Wheat Growers are in favor of the voluntary labeling of products by their producer, but are against mandated GMO labeling, as scientific evidence has conclusively found that GMO ingredients are nutritionally equivalent to those of conventional-grown ingredients.
But let’s take a step back to the wheat crop – before wheat is used as an ingredient in the breads, pastas and baked goods that consumers enjoy daily.
Did you know that biotechnology traits in wheat are not yet available for commercial production? That’s right. Genetically enhanced wheat crops are still in the research and development phase. What is not often known outside of a small sector of the agriculture industry is that wheat innovation lags behind the rest of modern agricultures technologies.
Wheat is the most planted commodity crop worldwide, but corn and rice have surpassed wheat in production (tonnage) in the last 20 years. Since 1994, corn yields have increased approximately 67 percent in the U.S. alone, while spring and winter wheat yields have increased half that amount, 35 percent, in the same time.
A decline in wheat production has obvious concerns down the food chain, too. Wheat farmers are not the only ones who will feel the effects of wheat getting pushed to marginal acres to make room for other crop commodities with greater investment returns. The milling, baking and food industries, for which wheat is an important ingredient, are well aware of the long-term implications of continued reduction in wheat production.
In 2008, the wheat industry made a unanimous decision to support biotechnology research in wheat, which has since led to multiple private technology providers increasing investments in wheat breeding research through public private partnerships. The wheat industry is excited about these developments and hopeful these efforts will lead to greater sustainability for the entire wheat chain.
However, to overcome the technological divide between wheat and other crops, it is important that regulatory and consumer audiences are in support of advancing wheat production through innovation and collaborative research.
We encourage you to reach out to wheat farmers, wheat advocates and the NWF team to learn more about biotechnology research in wheat. The more we know, the more we all can grow!