Monday, May 4, 2015

Good Food, Safe Food, Healthy Food, GMOs

Last week it was our turn to feed the Rock Creek High School junior varsity baseball team. If you have not had the opportunity to feed fifteen teenage boys, you should. I quite imagine it is somewhat like feeding piranhas in the Amazon. You toss the food out and get your hands and feet back as quickly as possible. In the period of about five minutes they made more than five and half feet of a six foot sub disappear.
We play double headers and at each game a parent is assigned to feed the team. It is usually sandwiches and fruit. Not wanting to go against the standards, I bought fruit to go along with the six feet of subs. From past experience I knew that bananas were always popular and to add variety I decided to add clementines. They have long been a favorite at our house because they are easy to peel and usually very good. For those of you who might not know, clementines are a hybrid between a mandarin and sweet orange.
I quickly set the box of subs down and backed away and watched the feeding frenzy. Soon I found myself at another picnic table keeping the clementines and bananas company. It is probably not a good idea to make eye contact with a teenager as they are feeding so I spent my time reading the bag the clementines came in.
It was all pretty routine until I got to the last line. The last line on the bag proclaimed that the clementines I had purchased were non-gmo. I supposed in the strictest of modern terminology the bag was correct, but I did find it a bit ironic that a hybrid, seedless fruit would make such a statement. It is true that it may not be genetically modified in the manner of much of our corn or soybeans but it is still genetically modified.
I know, I know, I am talking selective breeding versus transgenic but the fact of the matter is, we humans, have been genetically modifying the plants and animals we grow for food for centuries. My point is that most people do not really know what gmo means or the science behind it. This makes them easy prey for misinformation. I also admit that it is hard to read the scientific explanation of what a genetically modified organism is and much harder to understand the idea of transgenic. That makes gmo crops a fairly easy target for activists.
As farmers and members of the agriculture community we know there is an overwhelming amount of research and information that provides an undeniable assurance that gmo crops pose no risk to human health but that does little good in the court of public opinion. In the court of public opinion we are subject to hearsay, speculation, false information and flawed research. Often one of these rumors starts with a simple post on social media and takes off like wild fire. Living in the Flint Hills I do have some experience with wild fires and I know the best way to stop them is to be pro-active.
Like a fire-break, we need to get out in front of this issue. Proposed gmo bans in several states including Hawaii (which would have a devastating effect on gmo research and production) and gmo labeling laws would have a chilling effect on how we grow food and protect the environment. GMO crops have the potential now to help over 800 million malnourished people and I would suspect that number will grow exponentially in the future. The world needs the best in technology when it comes to producing food and gmo crops are one of the best technological advances we have.
However, the hysteria surrounding gmo crops and alleged, assumed (and we all know what happens when you assume) health risks will continue to make it a good marketing tactic for companies to put a non-gmo label on their food. The good news is that I think consumers are starting to pay attention and listen to some of the factual information available to them.
That is why we must be out in front assuring the consumer that gmo crops are safe and will continue to be safe. After all, safe, nutritious food is one thing we should all be able to agree on. Those of us who farm and ranch have a daunting task in front of us. We need to grow more food, with less land to feed a rapidly growing world population and I have trouble seeing how that will not include gmo crops.

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