Biofortified foods – the natural alternative to GMO ‘frankenfoods’.

Biofortified foods – the natural alternative to GMO ‘frankenfoods’. | Mr Vitamins
Biofortified: Agricultural scientists in Brazil have spent the last decade developing a healthy, natural alternative to ‘frankenfoods’ (genetically modified foods that are grown all around the world).  This will alleviate malnutrition for one-third of the world’s starving population.  In less than ten years, scientists aim to have eight biofortified foods widely available to consumers throughout Brazil.

What is Biofortification?

Biofortification is the development of micronutrient-dense staple crops, using the best traditional breeding practices and modern biotechnology.  This has several advantages:
  1. It capitalizes on the regular daily intake of a large amount of staple food by all family members. Because staple foods predominate in the diets of the poor, this strategy targets low-income households.
  2. After a one-time investment to develop seeds that fortify themselves, recurrent costs are low, and germplasm can be shared internationally.
  3. Once established, the biofortified crop system is highly sustainable. Nutritionally improved varieties will continue to be grown and consumed year after year, even if government attention and international funding for micronutrient issues cease.

Why Biofortification?

Biofortification feeds undernourished populations in remote rural areas, thereby combatting micronutrient deficiencies, which can cause severe health problems such as anemia, blindness, impaired immune response and development delays. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, micronutrient malnutrition affects 2 billion people globally.

Taking on 'hidden hunger'

Efforts to create biofortified superfoods began a decade ago, when Embrapa, the government's agricultural research agency, began the project to develop crops that have a high concentration of necessary vitamins and minerals.  Eight staple foods in the Brazilian diet were chosen: beans, black-eyed peas, rice, sweet potatoes, corn, wheat, cassava and squash. The focus was on increasing the iron, zinc and provitamin A content, the nutrients most lacking in the world’s diet, which cause “hidden hunger" (people who may consume enough calories to survive, but lack certain nutrients).   Biofortification attacks the root of the problem, it is not transgenics (transgenics is the study and practice of introducing foreign genetic material into an organism's DNA).

So far so good

So far it is successful. The iron content of beans has nearly doubled, cassava, which normally has almost no beta-carotene, now has nine milligrams of vitamin A source per gram.  The beta-carotene level in sweet potatoes has grown from 10 micrograms per gram to an astounding 115 per gram. Zinc content of rice has jumped from 12 to 18 milligrams per kilogram. Already 8,000 pre-school children in Rio de Janeiro’s industrial municipality of Itaguai are benefiting from these foods.  They are growing sweet potatoes, squash, beans and cassava on a 1 hectare (2.47 acres) plot, also used to train the family farmers who supply the schools.  The goal is to offer biofortified foods in all of its schools, shops and city markets within two years. Most importantly, children are eager to try the new foods, and are attracted by the deeper colours!