New molecular methods that add or modify genes can protect plants from diseases and pests and improve crops in ways that are both more environmentally benign and beyond the capability of older methods.
Myths about the dire effects of genetically modified foods on health and the environment abound, but they have not held up to scientific scrutiny. And, although many concerns have been expressed about the potential for unexpected consequences, the unexpected effects that have been observed so far have been benign.
There's almost no food that isn't genetically modified. Genetic modification is the basis of all evolution. Things change because our planet is subjected to a lot of radiation, which causes DNA damage, which gets repaired, but results in mutations, which create a ready mixture of plants that people can choose from to improve agriculture.
Jumping genes are fundamental because they're agents of change. Everybody knows that organisms evolve. What makes them evolve is that their genes are dynamic and in motion. A familiar example is the stripe-y corn - called Indian corn - that you buy in the fall.
One of the really remarkably beneficial aspects of genetic engineering is that much of the previous methodology for controlling pests and so forth is through chemicals that affect a very broad spectrum of insects, for example, or fungicides that control fungi.
We have six-and-a-half-billion people on the planet, going rapidly towards seven. We're going to need a lot of inventiveness about how we use water and grow crops.
Even as the population doubled from three to six billion, we managed to race ahead with all kinds of technological and scientific events in agriculture - from using more fertilizers to mechanization to advanced plant breeding.
We are sliding back into a dark era, and there seems little we can do about it. I am profoundly depressed at just how difficult it has become merely to get a realistic conversation started on issues such as climate change or genetically modified organisms.
In agriculture, people have taken wild plants that can't be eaten by people - and turned them into wonderful food sources. And that's because genomes can change, and people working with plants have picked mutations. Mutations are nothing more than genetic changes.
We wouldn't think of going to our doctor and saying 'Treat me the way doctors treated people in the 19th Century,' and yet that's what we're demanding in food production.
We have domesticated crops over a very long period of time, like tens of thousands of years. And crops get - seeds get carried. Sometimes, if they're very small seeds, they get scattered off trucks. Pollen travels.
As people around the world become more affluent, they are demanding diets richer in animal protein, which will require ever more robust feed crop yields to sustain.
In many places in the developed world, we eat or waste probably twice as many food calories as we really need. We're wasteful of food. We ship all over the world. We're now realizing that generating the energy to ship the food around the world is also ruining our climate.
We've gotten so good at growing food that we've gone, in a few generations, from nearly half of Americans living on farms to 2 percent. We no longer think about how the wonderful things in the grocery store got there, and we'd like to go back to what we think is a more natural way.