About the Author: Jack Bobo serves as Senior Advisor for Biotechnology in the Bureau of Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization announced this week that the number of chronically malnourished people around the world dropped slightly to less than one billion. However, with more than 900 million people still going to bed hungry every night and with a global population expected to reach nine billion by 2050, the challenge of ensuring that everyone has access to affordable, safe and nutritious food, produced in a more sustainable manner, has never been greater.
The Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs is working to feed a hungry and growing world in a variety of ways. We reduce barriers to trade, increase agricultural investments, and develop and adopt new agricultural technologies. The United States is a leader in agricultural production and technology, creating jobs and raising rural incomes. The value of U.S. agricultural exports doubled between 2000 and 2010, so maintaining and expanding these exports requires transparent, predictable, and science-based regulations overseas in order to access international markets. Such regulations would also benefit the host country by creating opportunities for agricultural investment and technology transfer between U.S. businesses and companies abroad.
Agricultural biotech -- aka "ag biotech" -- is one of many new technologies that offer the promise of increasing productivity and farmer incomes, while reducing the negative impact of agriculture on the environment. American farmers have benefited greatly by the adoption of this technology, and now foreign farmers are also seeking access to this technology. For example, in the short span of seven years, 2002 to 2008, Bt cotton in India has generated economic benefits for farmers valued at $5.1 billion and contributed to the doubling of yield, transforming India from a cotton importer to a major exporter. Over the next five years the global acreage of biotech crops will continue to expand, including drought tolerant varieties that require less water to thrive. As the number of biotech products grows, countries will need regulations in place in order to make use of the technology. How a country regulates these products will determine whether outside companies will invest in that country's markets and impact the cost of agricultural trade.
I will travel to Thailand and Indonesia this week to participate in workshops organized by the International Life Sciences Institute to examine international standards for biotechnology regulation. We are working toward standards that will ensure the safety of products and the environment, while at the same time promoting safe and fair trade and access to the technology for all farmers.