NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Biotechnology Advances Medicine and Agriculture

June 13, 2000

One reason that so many nations suffer from hunger is that their climates are often inhospitable for efficiently producing agricultural products.

  • Of the 42 highly indebted poor countries of the world, 39 are located in tropical or desert regions where growing conditions are less than optimal.
  • Plant viruses, soil erosion, costly fertilizers and pesticides and inadequate storage are endemic problems for developing world farmers.
  • In 1999, for example, the mosaic plant virus destroyed 60 percent of Africa's cassava crop and 30 - 40 percent of the worldwide papaya harvest is lost each year to viral infection.

Agricultural biotechnology can help end this human suffering by significantly improving the nutritional content of various foods.

  • Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, for instance, have developed a new breed of rice that has a higher iron content to help the 3.7 billion iron deficienct people worldwide.
  • The rice also contains enough Vitamin A to satisfy daily requirements in just a 300-gram serving while the same amount of standard rice contains little or no Vitamin A.
  • There is also a newly developed genetically engineered tomato with three times the normal level of beta-carotene, which the human body processes into Vitamin A.

Researchers have also developed a vaccine for the hepatitis virus that can be taken via banana consumption, negating the need for injection vaccines that require extensive storage and sterilization. Through the simple act of eating a banana, a patient could receive a hepatitis vaccination for a mere $.02 per dose instead of the current rate of $125 per dose.

Source: Michael J. Centrone, "Biotechnology: Putting an End to World Hunger," National Policy Analysis No. 290, June 2000, National Center for Public Policy Research, 777 N. Capitol Street, N.E., Suite 803, Washington, D.C. 20002, (202) 371-1400.


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