Column: The truth about GMOs

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Commentary by Megan Provost

In public communication, facts matter. Ward Degler’s opinion piece in the February 24th issue of The Current provided some grossly inaccurate information on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. As the granddaughter and niece of Boone County farmers, please let me set the record straight.

Biotechnology in plant agriculture is the process of intentionally making a copy of a gene for a desired trait from one plant or organism and using it in another plant. The result is a genetically engineered plant, also called a GMO. This technology is not new; it has been around for decades.

Today, 70-80% of the foods we eat in the United States contain ingredients that have been genetically modified.

Contrary to Mr. Degler’s unsubstantiated claim, seeds from GMO plants do germinate. However, most farmers choose not to save seed because they can be assured that newly purchased seed is free of disease and pathogens, and in the case of hybrids, demonstrates hybrid vigor that provide higher yields, with consistent, uniform characteristics.

GMOs do not cause cancer or any other health problems. Every credible U.S. and international food safety authority that has studied GMOs, including the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Health Canada, and the European Food Safety Authority, has found that GMOs are safe and that there are no health effects associated with their use. In fact, Italian scientists recently analyzed nearly 1,800 scientific studies on GMOs and found overwhelming scientific consensus that there are no harmful effects from GMO consumption.

The one study Mr. Degler managed to unearth to support his claim – the infamous 20-year-old Pusztai study – has been roundly denounced. The Royal Society has stated that the study “is flawed in many aspects of design, execution and analysis” and that “no conclusions should be drawn from it.”

Today’s GM products are the most researched and tested agricultural products in history. Before they reach the market, crops from GM seeds are studied extensively to make sure they are safe for people, animals, and the environment. GMOs are regulated in the United States by the Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration.

Mr. Degler did get one thing correct in his rant – Foods stamped with the USDA Organic Seal do not contain GMOs. So, if consumers want to purchase GMO-free foods, they have that option.

But, before making any decision as personal as those surrounding food, consumers should educate themselves on the facts of both GMO and organic crop production. They should not allow unsourced, unscientific opinion pieces like Mr. Degler’s to sway them.

The most pressing health problems of our world today are starvation and malnutrition. GM crops allow the world’s farmers to feed a growing global population on shrinking global farmland. So, let’s give this topic the serious discussion it deserves. Talk to a farmer, or at least visit GMOAnswers.com, to learn about biotechnology.

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