Editorial: Science backs GMOs, but emotion rules the heart

Editorial: Science backs GMOs, but emotion rules the heart

Even though the body of scientific evidence backing GMOs is overwhelming, humans more easily relate to emotions, not facts. With the name “genetically modified organism” identifying the GMO moniker, all of agriculture must learn to do far better when describing its practices in a consumer-friendly manner. At the moment, it’s far easier for self-appointed food experts to paint an image of Frankenstein-type foods than it is for us to convey the environmentally friendly and insecticide-reducing attributes that GMOs bring to the table.

GMOs were first introduced to the U.S. in 1996. The science involves splicing DNA, such as the ability to withstand herbicides and insecticides or even producing natural insecticides, by extracting life-creating codes from other living organisms.

Science has long proven the technology works and American farmers are voting with their wallets. In the 2013 cropping season, 93 percent of all soybeans; 90 percent of corn; and 90 percent of alfalfa seed sold were GMO-based. However, the entire agricultural community from manufacturer to farmer has done a woeful job of relaying why these crops are beneficial. Countries in Europe that haven’t widely adopted GMOs, mainly because of ag production limits, don’t help the debate either. However, that tide is turning, as the European Commission recently approved its second GMO corn variety.

How safe are GMOs?
After an animal eats a GMO crop, the body digests the food all the same. There is no remaining GMO-based DNA in postdigested tissue or secreted milk. To date, an estimated 180 billion food animals raised in the U.S. and the EU have eaten GMOs with no documented negative effects. If that weren’t enough, humans have consumed 2 trillion meals containing GMO-based ingredients and not one published paper indicates a health concern.

While we can’t rewind the clock and give this remarkable scientific breakthrough a new name, scientists should learn that we must sell attributes, not document science, when naming future innovations.

In the meantime, all of agriculture must work together to communicate the benefits of GMOs. This includes the crops’ reduced environmental impact through fewer chemical applications and improved yields. While those concepts may carry little weight with consumers with full stomachs, hopefully, we will also be able to extol the virtues of varieties now being researched for drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition and other life-sustaining attributes that consumers can sink their teeth into.

This editorial appears on page 290 of the April 25, 2014 issue of Hoard's Dairyman.

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