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Agriculture needs to step up and deliver a stronger message on GMOs this holiday

Whether there’s a turkey or ham or some other dish serving as the centerpiece at your Thanksgiving table this year, chances are it was fed with GMO corn or soybeans. That fact bothers some people, but there’s no reason it should. Monsanto’s Robb Fraley talked about the role of GMOs and the need to spread the message of food safety in this interview that followed his presentation at the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers annual meeting in Reno, Nev.

Fraley’s speech was billed as a look ahead at the projects and technologies Monsanto is developing to meet its goal of doubling crop yields by the year 2020, a presentation Fraley has given numerous times in recent years. But it was clear the role of GMOs and the issue of food safety was very much on Fraley’s mind, in part because of the recent Norman Borlaug Symposium where Fraley and two other biotechnology pioneers received the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa.

As the interview following the ASFMRA presentation was winding down, Fraley asked for the opportunity to talk more about the food safety message. “We talked earlier about the inherent safety of the technology and the great track record it’s had in terms of use around the world in the last 20 years and the fact there have been lots (2,000, at latest count) of scientific studies done by companies, by governments and independent researchers. They really affirm the safety.

“But as I step back and think about this, I believe that our company and our industry have done a pretty good job of communicating this to farmers. But I think what we realize now – and you know we spend a lot of time talking to groups, environmental groups, food groups, consumer groups, millenials – is that while we historically have viewed ourselves as a company that provides seed to farmers, the outside world views us as the first step in the food chain. And that means we need to do a much better job of being transparent and extending the dialogue and the information to the broad public, something that we frankly haven’t done a good job of.”

The biotech industry recently put up a new website,, that received 30,000 page views in its first week, he noted. The food industry, led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, has just launched a new website,, that talks about the importance and safety of biotechnology crops.

“And I think, more importantly, we’re now engaging in social media so we can reach those folks who are interested in food and where their food comes from and how it made with the kind of information and the way they want to access it,” says Fraley. “What I’m finding is there’s a lot of interest out there, and, as people get this information they make the appropriate decisions in terms of the safety and their own assessments of the technology.

Fraley applauded the Grocery Manufacturers and their efforts to expand the dialogue around biotechnology crops. “I think what they clearly recognize is that, in the end, what everyone wants is safe, affordable food. You know new technologies in agriculture are going to be an important part of it. I know there’s a real desire, and a lot of consumers remember back to their grandfather’s farm or an experience in the past. Farming has changed with these new tools, and I think it has changed for the better. It has become more precise, and we’re able to produce more with less, which has been really critical. When you step back and think about 2050, which you know is 37 years from now, and needing to double that the food supply, it’s clear that we’re going to need to continue to evolve our agriculture, our food production systems so that we can ensure that our children in that next generation have that same access to safe and affordable food."

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TAGS: Agenda
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