Aug. 29, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Langer: Agriculture’s Future Is Steeped in Science

As you stroll down the aisle of the supermarket in the coming days, take a moment to think about the products around you and ask yourself, what makes them safe to eat? What makes them healthy? And how is there enough food for everyone at affordable prices?

Quite often, the answer is science. Farmers, developers and manufacturers have spent millions of dollars in improving the products we eat each day, to ensure they are as safe as possible while making them more accessible and affordable on our grocery shelves.

Pasteurization has been keeping milk and dairy products safe for more than a century. Other products have small traces of preservatives to keep them on store shelves longer and some food is even irradiated to destroy microorganisms and bacteria.

Scientific advances in agriculture have also proven essential for increasing food and crop production. By 2050, there will be more than 9 billion people to feed worldwide. To meet this demand, food production will need to double. In 1930, the average farmer was able to feed 10 people. Today, through the development of agricultural technology, the average farmer feeds 155 people.

Genetically modified crops are the economically sound and environmentally safe answer to increasing food production — specifically herbicide-resistant crops. Farmers who plant herbicide-resistant crops are able to achieve higher crop yields while lowering their input costs. They are able to conserve fuel because herbicide-resistant crops need little to no tilling. Less tilling means fewer till-damaged crops, which equals more product for market.

The Department of Agriculture is currently reviewing the case of Roundup Ready alfalfa, an alfalfa plant resistant to Roundup herbicide, which was introduced to the market in 2005 and is used largely as hay for farm animals, including the cattle that provide the dairy and meat we eat each day. Fighting weeds is vitally important, especially in an alfalfa plant’s first year of growth, when the seedlings are easily outmaneuvered for water, nutrients and space by weeds that grow stronger and faster. By planting RRA, farmers can generate higher quality hay, which enables dairies to produce more milk per ton of alfalfa feed.

But some people who oppose this technology are trying to stop the seeding of RRA, based on the misinformed argument that genetically modified organisms will contaminate organic crops and end organic agriculture. It is an argument that ignores the scientific conclusion, reached after years of recorded use without incident — confirming that RRA and organic alfalfa can coexist without the threat of cross-contamination.

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