CP Editorial: GMOs … Separating fact from fiction

Sitting in my class lecture, the professor announced to the class that today we would be watching a short video instead of taking notes. I was instantly delighted at the idea, always open to the opportunity not to sit in lecture. The movie was about genetically modified organisms within the food system. I watched picketers rioting through the streets yelling, “We deserve to know, GMO,” and instantly became outraged. The picketers interviewed were extremely negative toward GMOs and the farmers who grow them.

Upon hearing this, I immediately thought of my father. A sixth-generation farmer, he makes his living providing food for the world from the Oakford, Ill., river bottom, despite the controversy. I am from a rural community and a large percentage of our local economy is based upon agriculture. As grain prices are rising so are the yields farmers are able to achieve. Yes, this is profitable for the farmer; but who else benefits?

According to census.gov, the world population is projected to hit a record 9 billion by the year 2044, an increase of more than 50 percent in fewer than 50 years. With increased urbanization comes a decrease in land available for agricultural use. Such an explosion of population causes a significantly greater demand for food. To meet the needs of 9 billion people, something has to to be done differently than the practices of the past. The answer lies within GMOs.

Recently, a new controversy has been brought to the table with California’s Proposition 37. Proposition 37 would require all foods made from genetically modified crops to be labeled making it clear to the consumer that the food has been genetically modified. If passed, state annual costs to regulate the labeling would multiply to more than $1 million from the few hundred thousand dollars that currently lie in fiscal costs, according to voterguide.sos.ca.gov.

I understand the idea of giving consumers information to choose what to purchase, which Proposition 37 would rightfully allow. The problem I have with the proposition is that it would segregate these foods, which sheds a negative light on genetically modified foods. There is no scientific evidence they have any negative effects on human health, judging from the extensive testing that these foods must adhere to. A consumer uneducated about genetic modification would shy away from purchasing these products.

Proposition 37 was voted on by the citizens of California and failed to pass as a state law. The “Yes to 37” campaign was later discovered to be flawed in its execution according to Karl Haro von Mogel, co-executive editor at Biology Fortified, Inc., an independent nonprofit that educates and fosters discussion of biology, plant genetics and agriculture. Based off of a study by foodsafetynews.com, the campaign misrepresented scientific research of GMOs and lied to the citizens of California. Millions of dollars were poured into the campaign by organic food companies in an effort to increase their sales. Regardless, Proposition 37 has brought the issue of labeling genetically modified foods into the minds of American citizens.

The average consumer is uneducated as to the truth of GMOs. Critics believe these foods are not safe for consumption and expose the population to increased disease. In actuality, these foods have to undergo extensive testing to ensure their safety in order to make it onto supermarket shelves. According to the FDA, genetically engineered plants must adhere to the same safety requirements under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act that apply to food and food ingredients from traditionally bred plants. Critics also say these products have harmful effects to the environment, when actually there are benefits. Through the use of genetic engineering, these crops have greater resistance to disease, insects, or weeds in cases like BT Corn. This decreases the need for harmful insecticides and herbicides to be used on crops, and minimizes runoff.

So what exactly is a genetically modified organism? According to Brittanica, a genetically modified organism is defined as “an organism whose genome has been engineered in the laboratory in order to favor the expression of desired physiological traits or the production of desired biological products.” This simply means that in a laboratory setting, genes from one organism are spliced to another in order for the organism to perform at its maximum potential.

In the case of foods like corn or soybeans, these plants are able to achieve record yields nearly doubling those of the past, providing more food per acre for the population. As I mentioned previously, these plants have a greater resistance to foreign substances, adequately decreasing the need for insecticides or herbicides to be used on the environment. Many of the world’s hunger and malnutrition issues could be solved by the use of genetically modified organisms.

The population may be increasing, but land available for farm use is not. The use of GMOs is essential to the future survival of humankind. Changes must be made in the near future to better inform the public and diminish the unnecessarily negative light that exits for GMOs.

Betty Thomas

About the Author Betty Thomas

Agriculture began to influence my life at a young age. My father is a sixth-generation farmer, so it only seems right to pass on the tradition. I’m from a small, rural community where a large portion of the local economy is centered around agriculture. I was born and raised on a farm outside of Oakford, Ill., and wouldn’t have had it any other way. A friend took a college visit to the University of Missouri one weekend, and I decided to tag along. I immediately fell in love with the hospitality and beauty of the campus. With such a strong agricultural school and journalism school it seemed to be the perfect fit. Looking back there is no place I would rather call home.