A New Generation of Food Innovators with a Fresh Perspective
There are few things as personal as food to enhance our social experiences and most importantly our health, and there are few industries with as much impact on our natural resources as food production. A new community of food innovators is emerging for which these profound social and environmental impacts of food production serve as the core of their business. This community is committed to modernizing our food system with greater focus on the health of both people and our planet.
Greater diversification is key to a modern food system – both the crops and ingredients we use and the scope of companies using them. Just consider, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that while pre-agricultural societies used about 7,000 edible plant species, our food system today relies on only about 30, and two-thirds of the calories we eat come from just five crops. The genetic code of a plant is more diverse than that of a human, and that genetic potential has been almost completely untapped.
Harnessing the natural diversity of plants for a more healthy and sustainable food system
For the last 40 years, crop improvement has been largely limited to just a handful of large multinational corporations with the largest R&D budgets focused on a few high acre crops like corn and soybeans and almost exclusively on traits like yield that appeal to farmers. While that approach was successful in improving the efficiency of those select crops, there remains unacceptable tradeoffs around health and sustainability in food production that we simply can’t afford to continue in a modern food system.
Benson Hill is proud to be part of this emerging community of innovators committed to delivering direct benefits for both farmers and consumers: microbials to reduce pesticide use, urban farming systems for fresh produce, nutrient-dense specialty grains, and plant-based proteins like legumes, to name a few. The natural genetic diversity of plants can be an incredibly generous resource to our community.
Earning public trust in gene editing as a tool to help catalyze that vision
Gene editing is an advancement that is rapidly improving human health and disease management. Its application in plants is progressing the traditional breeding methods of Mendel that we have used for centuries, but gene editing does it faster, with more precision and significantly less cost. Food innovators can use this tool to tap the natural genetic diversity that exists within a plant species and develop products that consumers desire.
Realizing the potential benefits of gene editing requires a strong commitment of responsible industry, government, and academic stakeholders who value transparency and responsible use that aligns with consumer values. A diverse committee of stakeholders was recently established by the Center for Food Integrity to develop a framework for the responsible use of gene editing in plants and animals.
Earning public trust is a privilege that we take seriously. As a representative on this committee, Benson Hill will work with conservation and consumer advocacy organizations, academic scientists and industry representatives across the agri-food value chain to establish best practice principles that help guide the application of gene editing as a tool to help improve our food system.
There are few choices we make every day that better reflect our values than the foods we eat. Providing the nourishment our growing population needs while protecting our planet will require a community of innovators leveraging our scientific knowledge and collective commitment to honor those values and build a better food system.