“It seems implausible that a nation as technologically advanced as the United States could still struggle to feed itself. But it does, “writes BIO President and CEO Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath in Agri-Pulse.
The problem is not a shortage of accessible calories, she says. “Rather, it takes such form as in our obesity epidemic, our ‘food deserts’, and the scandalous nutrition gap between the rich and poor.”
Even though the goal seems simple—to make sure everyone has access to healthy food—the challenges are huge.
The American nutrition paradox
“Two-thirds of American adults are overweight, and more than half of those suffer from clinical obesity—as do roughly 17% of American children aged 2-19,” writes Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath.
At the same time, more than 38 million people in the U.S. are food insecure, according to the USDA.
“Less publicized but no less tragic is the inequity of this crisis. Nearly half of black adults are obese—the highest of any racial group, just ahead of Hispanics,” Dr. McMurry-Heath continues. “Black households are twice as likely as whites to face food insecurity. The impact of poor diet on mental and physical health is well-documented, as is the unequal access to nutritious foods in poor and minority communities. Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to live in one of America’s ‘food deserts’—neighborhoods without convenient access to enough healthy food to meet families’ dietary needs.”
How biotech can help solve America’s nutrition crisis
BIO’s Dr. McMurry-Heath says the task ahead is to produce more and healthier food in a more equitable and sustainable way, and “scientific innovation provides the key to achieving it.”
There are numerous examples, ranging from Acceligen’s use of precision breeding to raise healthier and more resilient livestock, to AquaBounty’s genetically engineered salmon that can grow more efficiently and sustainably, to plant-based protein and a wide range of crops that are being engineered to have higher nutritional value and resilience in the face of climate threats.
“In the 21st century, no American should suffer from food insecurity, malnutrition, or diet-related pain and diseases—least of all communities who have been on the wrong side of health, wealth, and opportunity inequities for too long,” concludes Dr. McMurry-Heath. “Biotechnology is poised to make good on that promise.”