Will We Ever Find Common Ground on GMOs?

 

Thanksgiving Cornucopia
Lawrence OP / Foter

GMO. These days, most people will have a visceral, negative reaction to that acronym. Genetically modified organisms or GMOs, have become a dirty word and something to avoid, even though the FDA, EPA and World Health Organization (WHO) have declared them safe for human consumption. So, is there really something in our food to worry about?

An all-volunteer group of farming women want to help answer questions like these, for consumers like us. Together, they have formed the non-profit organization, CommonGround, with representatives in 14 states and growing.

I first met these women at the kick-off dinner for CommonGround Colorado in May. I was so impressed with them and their zeal to help moms like me become better educated about where our food comes from, that we decided it would be worth getting together more local bloggers to get in on the conversation. Thus, the first Colorado CommonGround luncheon forum was born.

CommonGround Colorado blogger forum luncheonGuests were encouraged to ask questions of Common Ground Colorado’s volunteers, rancher Cindy Frasier, farmer Danell Kalcevic and dairy farmer Jennifer Koolstra. GMOs were just one of the topics.

We don’t all have the time to read and decipher the massive amounts of information and opinions on the topic of GMOs out there, so many people decide “better safe than sorry,” and simply buy organic. But, what if you can’t afford the extra cost of buying organic? Are you putting your family’s health at risk by buying conventionally grown food?

The process of creating GM foods is much like what farmers have been doing for centuries: cross-hybridization. But, advances in biotechnology have made it possible to speed up this process and create plants more resilient to disease, pests and harsh drought conditions.

 

The benefits of food biotechnology are huge:

  • Growing food with GMOs can result in better-tasting fruits and vegetables that stay fresh longer and are naturally resistant to insects. Plant breeding also results in crops better able to withstand the environmental challenges of drought, disease and insect infestations.
  • By developing special traits in plants, biotechnology allows for more food to be grown in more places using fewer chemicals and fewer natural resources.
  • This increased availability of crops provides significant economic gains to farmers in developing countries.
  • An Iowa State University study shows that without biotechnology, global prices would be nearly 10 percent higher for soybeans and 6 percent higher for corn.
  • Biotechnology also benefits the environment. A Center for Applied Special Technology report says biotech soy, corn and cotton have decreased soil erosion by 90 percent, preserving 37 million tons of topsoil. Biotech crops also provide a 70 percent reduction in herbicide runoff and an 85 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • According to USDA, biotech crops may provide enhanced quality traits such as increased levels of beta-carotene in rice to aid in reducing vitamin A deficiencies and improved oil compositions in canola, soybeans and corn. Crops with the ability to grow in salty soils or to better withstand drought conditions are also in the works.
  • USDA also says research on potatoes, squash, tomatoes and other crops continues in a similar manner to provide resistance to diseases that otherwise are very difficult to control.

Source: FindOurCommonGround.com

 

But, the risks may be:

  • Introducing allergens and toxins to food.
  • Accidental contamination between genetically modified and non-genetically modified foods.
  • Antibiotic resistance.
  • Adversely changing the nutrient content of a crop.
  • Creation of “super” weeds and other environmental risks.

Source: WebMD.com

 

Despite differing opinions on the safety of GMOs, most experts do agree on this: the regulation system overseen by the FDA is flawed. Large biotech companies, like Monsanto who dominate 90% of the market, are allowed to self-police and don’t always voluntarily comply with federal requirements. But, Monsanto maintains that their testing is the most stringent of any food on the market and even the American Medical Association supports their technology.

In California, there will be a vote on November 6th, as to whether GMO foods should be labeled or not (Prop 37). While 60% to 70% of processed foods on U.S. grocery shelves contain genetically modified ingredients, most people aren’t even aware that the cereal they eat or the soda they drink contains GMOs.

Considering the amount of misinformation about GMOs out there, it’s no surprise farmers are nervous about how Prop 37 passing might effect their livelihood before consumers are fully educated on the pros and cons of the process. One common misconception is that biotech foods are only grown by large, corporate-owned farms, when in fact 96% of the farms in America – large and small – are multi-generational family-owned and operated. In 2010, less than 1% of farms in America were organic.

In the end, people have a right to know what they’re eating. But, it is also incumbent upon the consumer to become better educated on their choices, whether organic or conventionally grown. So, where do you start? How about by talking with the people who actually grow the food that you and they themselves eat and feed their families?

CommonGround’s goal is to help consumers understand that their food is not grown by a factory, it’s grown by people. Second, they want us to understand and trust the process. Visit them online at FindYourCommonGround.com and CommonGround on Facebook.

For a full recap of all the topics covered at the CommonGround lunch forum, visit DenverParent.net: Finding Common Ground in the Foods We Eat.

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Comments

  1. 1

    says

    I’m feeling like we’re in a huge tug-of-war about all of this. It’s becoming so political, you don’t feel like you can trust anything anyone is saying. It’s kinda sad. Though at the same time I realize that some evolution has to take place to feed the world’s population – is this the answer? Or do we start mandating that everyone have a garden?? I feel like I could go round and round about this whole topic and just confuse myself even more.

    Thanks for writing this Chris!
    jenny – sugar loco recently posted..Above Parr Truffles {Denver}

    • 2

      says

      Ditto to everything you just said, Jenny. It took me awhile to write this post just because I wanted to be sure I had my facts absolutely straight on both sides. And yet, I know I couldn’t absolutely know all the facts because there is just so much information out there. And no matter how I present it, someone will think I did their cause a disservice.

      My fear is that we will never really reach common ground on this issue. Because, even if the FDA does start implementing its own pre-market testing (as it should) of all these GMO foods, there are people who just don’t trust our government and their relationship with corporations like Monsanto. It will always be up to the consumer to get educated and come to their own conclusions.

      Can I just add, I hope to God we don’t all have to start our own gardens. I can’t even keep a simple houseplant alive!

  2. 3

    says

    It will take me some time to go through your links, and I appreciate your gathering them all in balanced coverage of this complex issue. The more I know, the more I see that this is about trade-offs, not about a clear win or lose.

    I saw that Dr Oz addressed GMO foods earlier this week. I haven’t watched it yet, but here are some links:

    http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/genetically-modified-foods-pt-1
    http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/genetically-modified-foods-pt-2
    Lori Lavender Luz recently posted..Homecoming

  3. 4

    says

    I agree that evolution of food has happened for as long as man has been a part of the food chain. crossbreeding seeds and plants to grow a better crop is a major part of how farming has worked forever. I’m not sure that adding insecticides into the genetic makeup of a seed or changing a plants DNA so it can withstand having chemicals sprayed on it is the answer. At least not until it is tested in long-term studies.
    Catherine recently posted..Cute Candy Corn Footprint Cards

    • 5

      says

      Catherine, I don’t know if this completely addresses your concerns, but I found it interesting coming from Mother Jones:

      “Seven independent experts in genetically modified crops I spoke to all confirmed that the science shows Bt crops to be safer than their alternative: noxious chemical insecticides. In Europe—where suspicions over GM crops run even deeper than in the United States—the European Food Safety Authority just rejected a French ban on Bt corn, saying “there is no specific scientific evidence, in terms of risk to human and animal health or the environment.” A comprehensive report on 10 years of European Union-funded research, comprising 50 research projects, drew the same conclusions about Bt safety.”

      – “In Defense of Genetically Modified Crops” http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/06/gmo-bt-pesticides-crops

      • 6

        says

        It may well be that these changes are safe. I just want to see long-term studies instead of using the population at large as test subjects. I would hate to see things like Bt corn found to be dangerous down the line after we have all be exposed to it. Things like this have happened in the past and I don’t know why we don’t learn from the lesson. Thalidomide is one that comes to mind. Test first is all I’m saying. Not put it into the food supply and ask for forgiveness later.
        Catherine recently posted..Cute Candy Corn Footprint Cards

        • 7

          says

          I understand that also. Would be great if we could have a 100-year study on the effects of GMOs on the human body. But, I also understand that we don’t have 100 years to feed starving populations around the world. I think the good has to be weighed with the bad and a conclusion must be drawn as to what will help the most people most effectively now. For those of us in the U.S. who have the ability and the funds to buy all organic so that we have peace of mind, I think that’s great! It just might not be right for everyone, and that’s where I think we need to find common ground.

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