Agriculture is a source not only of food, but also of many other valuable goods: cotton, wool, hemp, industrial oils, starches and biomass for energy generation, to list just a few. As we move towards a greater use of renewable raw materials for industry and look to increasingly efficient production processes, there will be a greater emphasis on non-food crops. Biotechnology has much to offer for their development.

Already the current generation of GM crops could be used for biofuel production. Herbicide-tolerant sugar beet could be used for ethanol production that would have a significant positive effect on the economics of biofuel production and its competitiveness with fossil fuels. Although present varieties of oilseed crops can be used for the production of biodiesel fuel, the next generation of GM oilseed crops will see the development of varieties with considerably enhanced oil content which will further reduce the costs of biodiesel production.

Many of the plastics that we see as litter in our countryside could be made from starch rather than oil-based raw materials, as is currently the case. The starch-based plastics could then be manufactured so as to be biodegradable, making their eventual disposal as waste both simpler and cheaper and also removing what has been an eyesore in our environment for many years. Starch-based plastics can be made from crops already in use, but with GM technologies the starch qualities of these crops could be modified to make additional plastics with enhanced qualities.


  questions & answers

19. What impact will GM crops have on alternative uses of crops e.g. GM oilseed rape for biofuels?