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Stand up for agriculture in the GMO foods debate

Stand up for agriculture in the GMO foods debate
Take every opportunity to correct misinformation about food and technology.

Two women were judging foods at the state fair this summer. During a break, the elderly lady who has judged foods for years asked the other judge if she noticed anything different about flour these days.

“No, why?” the younger judge replied. This judge had grown up on a farm and still has strong ties to agriculture.

“It just doesn’t seem like it works the same as it used to work,” the older judge replied. “I believe it’s because of all the HMOs in our food today. It’s a real problem.”

The younger judge wasn’t sure she was hearing correctly. She wondered, What are HMOs? Isn’t that some sort of health-care plan?

“You mean GMOs?” she asked.

TAKE A STAND: Environmentalists and researchers have taken stands for decades — some on one side, like Rachel Carson, and some on the other, like Norman Borlaug.

“Whatever they are — they’re in our food today and food just isn’t the same,” the older judge said.

That’s all the younger judge needed to hear. She later acknowledged that she got on her soapbox for about five minutes, but she didn’t care. This was her chance to defend agriculture to someone who obviously had misinformation, not facts. It was her chance to take a stand for agriculture, and she was up to the challenge.

“Let me clear up some things,” she began. “First, GMO stands for genetically modified organism. They aren’t just ‘something’ in your food. It’s a trait, part of the genetic makeup of a plant that produces food.

Those traits include ones that help farmers better control insects and weeds that would otherwise require spraying more chemicals. If a corn plant has a trait inside itself that produces a substance toxic to a certain insect, then the insect will eat a small bite and die from the toxin. Without these traits in corn, the farmer might have to spray insecticides to control the same insects.

“We’re going to have to feed more people on less land as time goes along,” she continued. The older judge was just listening, likely beginning to realize she had just fired up someone who is very passionate about agriculture, and very knowledgeable, too.  

“They’re turning more land into developments all the time, and they aren’t making any more land,” the younger judge pointed out. “It’s important that farmers have all the tools they need to grow as much food as efficiently and safely as they can.

“Second, companies have invested years of testing and millions of dollars before any of these products with GMO traits ever come to market. Government agencies make them jump through all kinds of hoops. If a new GMO trait is labeled and comes onto the market, odds are that it’s very safe or it never would have been approved in the first place.”

The younger judge had made her point. But as she looked down at the food product in front of her, made with flour, she couldn’t help but add one more bit of clarification for her fellow judge.

“And if the flour really is different today than in the past, it’s not because of GMOs,” she noted. “Wheat is one crop where current commercial varieties don’t contain any GMOs.”

I would love to meet that younger judge. She saw an opportunity and took a clear stand for agriculture.  As a matter of fact, I have met her. She is my wife, Carla!

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