April 11, 2016

6 Min Read
<p>The GMO debate is stirring up plenty of talk, with little room for either side to move. (Image: JackyLeung/Thinkstock)</p>

Perhaps I'm jaded by the continuing funnel of commentary and news that drops on my head from presidential candidates Democrat and Republican alike, but these days complicated issues don't get the time they're due. Instead, we take our stance and move ahead no matter how complicated the issue, or potential solution.

Are we going to deport 11 million people back to their own countries? How will we fix Social Security or Medicare? And let's just not talk about the national debt. As an ag tech writer I try to watch a range of issues and GMO food is one of them; and here the debate is pretty difficult too. Yet the answers aren't so black and white as to take a stand, in fact this technology is still in its infancy and holds the potential for great promise in the future, provided it isn't killed on the way to progress.

Biotechnology saved the papaya crop several years ago when disease threatened to destroy the world's crop, and we happily eat the papaya today. Most of the corn and soybeans raised in the U.S. have biotech content in them to protect the in-bred yield of that crop from pests and allow for more effective weed control.

But my "infancy" comment comes from the fact that we're developed just a few traits for insect resistance and herbicide resistance because that's where the best money was to fund that kind of new product development. Of course, now opposition has arisen and that's going to slow development even in the face of a rising need for food.

Essentially, this is not a black and white issue. Sure glyphosate tolerance made weed control too easy and we all rested on our herbicide development laurels and now have more trouble killing weeds, but let's keep in mind MOST of our weed resistance problems are from products that are not in the GMO world and we're finding ways to overcome the problem for them too. Weed resistance is not a biotech issue, it's an impact of the use of the technology.

This week I wanted to share a few links that may help you better understand the positives of GMOs and the impact these have. In addition, it's just sometimes good to read other voices on a topic to better understand all the issues involved.

Next-generation biotech crops and other technologies are coming to market - a new potato from Simplot resists browning and has tech that prevents food from the potatoes from generating potentially carcinogenic acrylamides when fried. Right now it's on hold because two major fast food chains refuse to use it - even if it solves specific problems.

There's also the non-browning apple, and fast growing salmon too. In essence we're starting to get the output traits we always talked about and right now it feels like it may be too little too late. But in the interest of keeping you up to speed on the wide range of topics on GMOs, what follows is a collection of links that may be of interest to you.

First up is one where GMOs could be a hero - a GMO mosquito that can stop the breeding of those bugs that carry the Zika virus. And since the Centers for Disease Control is sounding a big warning on the disease this may have value. The report on the new mosquito ran in the Miami New Times recently and discusses the importance of that tech, and the concerns of those that may be afraid of its use.

The GMO mosquito is designed to breed with other mosquitos but terminate after that, ending the population. The report does explore some concerns.

We're talking more about GMOs lately in light of failed labeling law attempts in the Senate and the continuing march toward the July 1 deadline for the mandatory labeling in Vermont. The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press carried a story recently regarding the enforcement of the new label.

On another front, the leaders of Boulder County in Colorado want to stop farmers who rent land from the county from planting GMO crops. Boulder County, in its effort to stop urban sprawl has acquired more than 100,000 acres of land (you read that right) and they don't want GMO corn or soybeans grown there.

The Denver Post ran an insightful commentary on the county's move that offers some information all consumers should at least hear. The editorial board of the newspaper is against the anti-GMO move.

Much of the conversation around GMO labeling is about transparency - what is in your food. Pacific Standard magazine ran a story recently that shares that not everyone who wants GMO transparency is in favor of transparency for their own product. In this case it's the famous food writer Mark Bittman, who now has a company that does vegan meal kits and while they have fresh, wholesome food they're also a little higher in calories. So the company isn't providing nutrition labels - go figure.

The story offers a look at transparency from both sides of the issue.

One issue that is often hit on is that we don't study these new foods enough, and that longer time periods are needed. The argument wears thin after 20 years of GMO crop use, but it's still out there. This report from the Genetic Literacy Project looks at that very issue where long-term studies still don't show any negative impact on animals, or humans.

And I'll wrap up this column with an honest look at GMO tech - both its promise, and frankly, its failure to deliver in some areas. Essentially the story notes the tech hasn't caused the harm many predicted, but the developers haven't given us the crops they promised years ago. Of course, that's getting harder now if labeling things with GMO content will kill the market before it starts.

I'm not against labeling, though there are nuances to that too, which I'm pretty sure would be difficult to discuss in this climate. The challenge is that we need this technology - despite the arguments for vibrant local agroecologies in developing countries - to fill in dietary gaps in the future. Check out the links above to keep up on the debate and some background for your own debates. This argument definitely isn't going away.

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