Automatgenererad bild.

3 July 2012

New comprehensive approach in biotechnology and food research

Biotechnology can reduce the environmental impact of food production. Nevertheless, public scepticism is widespread. The Mistra Biotech research programme sets out to reconcile technological development with risk assessments and ethical considerations.

With its staff from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, KTH Royal Institute of Technology and other institutions, it is hoped that the Mistra Biotech programme will help to bring about greater acceptance for biotechnology-based products and solutions.

This view is expressed by Inger Andersson, Director General of Sweden’s National Food Agency and Chair of the Mistra Biotech programme board:
– I don’t think Mistra Biotech alone can change public opinion. But it’s vital for us to step back and analyse the underlying reasons why Sweden and the rest of Europe have rejected biotech and genetically modified products.

Biotechnology can lessen environmental impact, reduce animal and crop diseases, and even make it possible to grow crops in soils that are unproductive owing to drought, for example. Biotechnology can also resolve conflicts between the targets of improving health and minimising environmental influence.

– For instance, Andersson continues, we should consume less red meat generally, given the environmental loads caused by livestock farming. But our bodies still need iron and other essential nutrients. Biotech can show us ways of getting these from alternative crops.

Now that activities in Mistra Biotech have begun, the researchers will be studying such topics as how biotechnology can improve nitrogen absorption by barley and potatoes. The purpose is to permit a decrease in fertiliser use and to boost resistance to diseases.

In Sweden and Europe in general, however, opposition to genetically modified (GM) foods is entrenched and far-reaching. The Germany chemicals group BASF recently decided to end its research on GM crops in Europe.
Specialists in natural sciences, social sciences and arts subjects will be collaborating in the programme. Early on, ethical issues will be tackled and efforts made to get consumers and other users involved.