- President Joe Biden signed an executive order to advance U.S. biotechnology and biomanufacturing by making it a priority for research and innovation in a variety of fields, including food. White House officials said federal investments will be made into the space, according to a transcript of a call with media.
- The initiative is framed as a way to help the U.S. be dominant in the space, but also to be more competitive on a global scale, enhance national security and grow the economy. According to the executive order, it will improve and expand biomanufacturing production capacity and process, train a biotech workforce, expand market opportunities for these products and streamline regulation.
- While biotech in general is often associated with medicine, pharmaceuticals and energy, it plays a significant role in the food business. Genetically modified food is made through bioengineering, and biotech powers precision fermentation.
The food industry only gets a passing mention in the executive order and background information about this new initiative. However, biotechnology is a busy area of food tech, and many companies with their eyes on the future may be able to benefit from the new government attention to the area.
Food that is made through bioengineering has received the federal government’s stamp of approval for years. In the food industry, “bioengineered” and “biotechnology” refer to food that was produced through modifications of an organism’s DNA. The federal law that mandates some GMO food and drink items to be labeled calls them “bioengineered.” The FDA approved the first genetically engineered crops nearly 30 years ago with the Rainbow papaya — created with an immunity to a virus that threatened to decimate the crop — and Flavr Savr tomato.
Today, according to the USDA, more than 90% of U.S. corn and soybeans are produced using genetically modified varieties. There are also three genetically modified food animals that have been approved for human consumption: AquAdvantage salmon, GalSafe pork and slick coat cattle.
Biotechnology is also taking on new forms in food. Some companies are using precision fermentation to create things like dairy and egg protein without animals. In precision fermentation, the genes of yeasts or other simple organisms are modified so that they produce something else when fermented. Perfect Day uses precision fermentation to make animal-free whey protein, which has been used in ice cream, cream cheese, chocolate and milk.
The Every Company uses precision fermentation to make egg proteins, which have been used as a nutrition enhancer in smoothies and for functional egg white uses in macarons. Precision fermentation is also being used to create more accessible versions of rare natural sweeteners, better fats and animal-free heme protein to enhance plant-based meat.
Using biotechnology in food has always been controversial. Advocacy groups and concerned consumers have called attention to genetically modified food for years, even though many scientists agree the products are safe to consume. The Non-GMO Project created a seal for products that meet stringent requirements avoiding anything genetically modified in their supply chain, and the group has recently been calling attention to the precision-fermentation-enabled animal-free dairy products available to consumers.
But many experts have said that using bioengineering for food is necessary to create a sustainable food supply for the future. This executive order applies to many useful facets of biotechnology, and it means that for now, the federal government is also endorsing the use of biotech to help feed the world.