Many days during my commute to the office, I have followed a car with stickers in the rear window – as well as a small, slogan-bearing hula dancer statue, with statements in opposition to GMOs (genetically modified organisms), such as “Genetically Modified Food is Legal Corporate Homicide” and “GMOs Kill!”
Each time I have seen this car, I have also noted that the driver had the window down, chain-smoking cigarettes. Seems a bit of hypocrisy, don’t you think?
Today’s column is not about being pro- or anti-GMO, but to encourage us to think about the choices we make and base those choices on fact, rather than public opinion, marketing strategies, catch phrases, etc. How could this driver be truly concerned about the potential, yet unproven health risks of foods grown from agricultural products made with GMOs while, at the same time, engaging in an activity that has been proven over and over to cause cancer? In the case of cigarette smoking, we all know that compounds in tobacco smoke are carcinogenic and a leading cause of cancer-related deaths. The Centers for Disease Control indicates that “cigarette smoking kills 480,000 Americans each year.” And yet, not one death has ever been caused by food grown or produced with GMO products.
GMOs are “organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination,” GM foods are produced because there is a benefit to the producer (farmer) which can also be passed on to the consumer.
The farmer can eliminate the cost of tillage and reduce the amount of pesticides used to grow the crop, which then translates to lower costs to the consumer.
Several agricultural commodities — corn and soybeans, for example — have been grown for nearly 20 years, using seed that has been genetically modified to be resistant to glyphosate, a non-selective contact herbicide. Instead of using a variety of herbicides in combination to try to eliminate weeds in the field, the farmer can plant the seed, and then use glyphosate over the top of the growing crop to eliminate all weeds. With today’s advanced technology and equipment, the sprayer can be calibrated to only spray where the weed pressure exists. The amount of herbicides used to grow a crop has been greatly reduced in the past 20-30 years. With reduced tillage and less herbicides, the potential for improved water quality is great.
Genetic modification has been in use for decades and has helped to increase crop production, which translates into increased food supplies worldwide. Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug has been called the “Father of the Green Revolution” and acclaimed as “The Man Who Saved a Billion Lives” for his work in the 1940s, developing wheat varieties that were resistant to diseases through genetic modification.
Before you decide to tar and feather me for being pro-GMO, let me say that I agree “the jury is still out” on the long-term effects of certain GMO activities. Fifteen or 20 years, or even 30-40 years, is a relatively short time to fully understand the overall effects of these types of science, as it relates to human health. But until research proves otherwise, GM processed foods have been proven safe for human consumption and approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Please don’t judge a product based on emotion or unethical marketing. One unnamed fast food company has been unethically marketing the “ill effects” of GMOs, and casting the American farmers that use them as “corporate farms” that put greed ahead of safe food. Does the word “hypocrisy” come to mind again?
Don’t take my word for it. There are several organizations that have articles on their websites discussing this issue in a very non-biased manner, such as the World Health Organization, Consumer Reports, The New York Times and more. Before you pass judgment, get the facts. Thanks for letting me vent a little.
Brad Ross is communications specialist at the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.