It seems implausible that a nation as technologically advanced as the United States could still struggle to feed itself. But it does.
The problem is not a lack of available calories. Rather, it takes such form as in our obesity epidemic, our "food deserts," and the scandalous nutrition gap between rich and poor.
Fortunately, there's a solution to our nutrition problems. It lies in cutting-edge biosciences.
The goal sounds simple -- getting healthy foods to all. But the problems are daunting. Today, 75% of Americans describe their own diets as "good," "very good," or "excellent." Whether this belief constitutes denial or wishful thinking, it is mostly erroneous. Two-thirds of American adults are overweight, and more than half of those suffer from clinical obesity -- as do roughly 17% of American children aged 2-19. These health problems cause hundreds of thousands of preventable premature deaths per year and require hundreds of billions of dollars of health care.
Less publicized but no less tragic is the inequity of this crisis. Nearly half of Black adults are obese -- the highest of any racial group, just ahead of Hispanics. Black households are twice as likely as whites to face food insecurity. The impact of poor diet on mental and physical health is well-documented, as is the unequal access to nutritious foods in poor and minority communities. Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to live in one of America's "food deserts" -- neighborhoods without convenient access to enough healthy food to meet families' dietary needs.
The task before us, then, is to produce more and healthier food in a more equitable and sustainable way. That may seem like an unattainable goal. But scientific innovation provides the key to achieving it.
Consider "precision breeding." Minnesota-based Acceligen is using advances in science to refine and accelerate the process of genetic improvement, enabling farmers to more humanely raise healthier and more resilient livestock while reducing the environmental impact of their work.
Researchers at St. Louis-based Benson Hill are optimizing breeding for animals and plants, so that in each successive generation, multiple genetic advantages can be pursued simultaneously. Breeders will no longer have to trade factors like yield, taste, protein content, and climate resiliency off against one another, but instead can improve crops' most important traits all at once.
Innovations in vertical farming -- crops grown indoors, in vertically stacked layers -- could help solve two problems at once. Globally, it can make agriculture more financially and environmentally viable. And locally, it can make farming a viable business even in urban communities now home to most of America's food deserts.
New York City-based Bowery, for example, converts unused industrial spaces into vertical farms that stack crops to maximize output per ground-level acre. The controlled indoor environment prevents exposure to pollutants and pests and allows for optimal growing conditions over the life-cycle of the crop, from seed to harvest. A vertical farm could be coming soon to an abandoned building near you.
Biotech is revolutionizing surf as much as turf.
AquaBounty is an aquaculture firm that figured out how to genetically engineer Atlantic salmon to grow faster without altering their nutritional value or taste. Moreover, AquaAdvantage salmon are raised at inland farms untouched by the disease and toxins that attend traditional sea-cage farming. They also require no fishing fleet. Meanwhile, gene-editing research is making plant-based proteins more affordable, delicious, and available all the time. Here, soy-based Impossible Burger was a pioneer.
Long-term, closing America's nutrition gap is a matter of creating healthier foods and making them available in less advantaged communities. It's a challenge biotechnology firms have accepted with vigor at every point of the agricultural supply chain, from fertilizers and seeds to inner-city garden centers and inland fish farms.
In the 21st century, no American should suffer from food insecurity, malnutrition, or diet-related pain and diseases -- least of all communities who have been on the wrong side of health, wealth, and opportunity inequities for too long. Biotechnology is poised to make good on that promise.
Michelle McMurry-Heath, Ph.D., is a physician-scientist and president and CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.

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