Food Waste Prevention Week: How can gene-edited crops reduce food waste?

gene-edited crops

Food Waste Prevention Week (FWPW) is being celebrated nationwide for the first time this year. Started in 2020 in California, this year’s is being celebrated from April 10-16. The event gained traction in Florida after a school administrator was horrified by the amount of cafeteria food waste she saw. She did a waste audit with students, showing them how much unopened food had been discarded. From there, FWPW began to take off around the country. Each year has seen increased interest in promoting food waste prevention methods through events and contests.

Many foods are discarded before reaching the consumer. Estimates show that 7% of postharvest losses occur on the farm, meaning that imperfect foods are thrown away before ever reaching a grocery store. From those that do, more than double that number (17-18%) are wasted by consumer-facing businesses such as restaurants, cafeterias, and households. The biotech industry is seeking to rectify the food waste problem by editing the genes of produce to make them last longer and look better. Such improvements could significantly reduce food waste.

Increased shelf life and reduced greenhouse gas emissions

Gene-edited crops aim to reduce food waste. In 2015, the J.R Simplot Company developed the Innate Potato, a breed of potato that does not bruise and emits less acrylamide, a toxin released when cooking potatoes that can be deadly at high levels. The company’s scientists used CRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit the potato genes, taking favorable traits from various breeds to achieve a product less susceptible to spoilage. The company estimates that $1.7B worth of fresh potatoes are wasted each year due to poor storage and shelf life and believes that its potato can prevent food waste. In 2015, the Innate Potato received FDA approval. Simplot has also partnered with Plant Sciences, Inc. to edit the genes of strawberries to increase shelf life.

In 2016, a researcher at Penn State edited the genes of a white button mushroom to resist browning. It was able to sidestep FDA regulation because it did not qualify for oversight. However, a voluntary review may be requested to ensure consumers feel comfortable eating the product and show that the company did its due diligence.

Food waste contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. There are a variety of programs aimed at tackling food waste by educating consumers and food waste professionals about sell by and expiration dates, encouraging excess food donations, and launching composting programs. However, biotech solutions like gene-edited crops are another key component as food that lasts longer offers a solution at the source of the problem. 

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