As this issue goes to press, the U.S. is experiencing its worst drought in more than half a century, causing serious damage to the domestic corn crop, impacting yield prospects and even starting to factor in the prospects for soybean production. Food prices have begun to climb; fuel prices are inching higher, as well; and a consumer market hard hit by several years of economic turmoil is bracing for an added food-cost burden. In the wake of these coalescing factors is a prime opportunity for GMO proponents to, pardon the play on words, “make hay while the sun shines.” While sales of organic foods and beverages grew almost 10% last year (according to the Organic Trade Association, which pegged the organic market at just over $31 billion in sales), consumers had better brace for a distinctly reduced availability of organic options, as the drought takes its toll on the small organic farms—precisely those institutions least suited to withstand a traumatic drought. Reduced availability will lead to an increase in prices, and the simple fact is that many consumers who may well want to buy organics and sustainable foods will be priced out of the market.

During a session at IFT 2012 in June, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) released the results of an industry-funded survey. While 56% of the 750 respondents had heard of or read something about sustainability, only 33% said they would be willing to pay more for food produced in a sustainable manner.

The same survey found 38% of consumers have a “somewhat” or “very favorable” opinion of plant biotechnology, well ahead of the 32% sharing that opinion in 2010. Some 26% regarded the plant biotech as neither favorable nor unfavorable, while 20% were “somewhat” or “very unfavorable.” Furthermore, the survey found consumers are largely content with the labeling of foods produced with biotechnology. Of those who were “not favorable” toward biotechnology, the most commonly cited reason was “lack of information and understanding of [its] benefits.”

Of those in support of biotechnology, the chiefly cited reasons included a reduced need for pesticides; improved nutritional qualities of foods; or increased production capacity to feed a greater number of people.

A need to feed a greater number of people on a severely reduced amount of land unaffected by drought? This could well be an opportunity for biotechnology. pf