Humans have been actively trying to improve plants for centuries to enhance their yield, disease resistance, physical appearance, and taste. This process, which often took long periods of time and a trial-and-error approach, is referred to as selective breeding.
Scientists still use selective breeding, but now they have access to modern technology that gives them a much better understanding of plant genetics. And with new tools and technologies, scientists can modify plants to get the desired characteristics in much more targeted and precise ways. This modern technique is called plant biotechnology.
Plant biotechnology is helping to develop new crops that can better resist disease, withstand extreme weather conditions, resist herbicides, use nutrients more efficiently and even contain improved nutritional value.
Through plant biotechnology, researchers have developed insect-resistant corn plants. Scientists were able to insert a natural protein into the corn which kills insects that try to eat the plant. The modified corn is not toxic to humans, animals, or beneficial insects. It kills only specific insects that threaten the crop.
Farmers who plant insect-resistant corn can reduce the insecticides they spray on their fields, which reduces the number of passes over the field they need to make with the tractor and reduces the amount of fuel used.
Plant biotechnology products are monitored by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to ensure that they are safe. In almost 20 years of assessment, Health Canada says it has never found any health risk associated with the consumption of biotechnology products. International groups like the World Health Organization (WHO) also say that all products currently on the market are safe.
Adding to those reports, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has stated that plant biotechnology is a key element in the future of sustainable agriculture.