Farming and Ranching

Jennifer Banks: Teach the public that biotechnology doesn’t threaten food

Controller and financial analyst, Scythe & Spade Co. in EagleFebruary 19, 2014 

The topic of genetically modified organisms is in every farming magazine in our office, yet it can also be found in the New York Times or trending on Twitter. This agricultural technology has permeated the consciousness of consumers who are increasingly concerned with the quality of their food supply. GMOs were first introduced to the marketplace in the 1990s as a way to increase crop yields across smaller land sizes and with fewer inputs. In 2012 there were 420 million acres of genetically modified crops grown around the world.

Despite its popularity among farmers, consumers continue to be wary. A bill to ban genetically modified crops on the island of Hawaii passed in December. Last month General Mills announced that its original Cheerios will be completely GMO-free. The argument against GMOs is also widely used in the “pro-organic” food markets. Trader Joe’s embraces the “no GMOs here” slogan that it will soon bring to Boise. As organic foods are in higher demand, there is a higher awareness of food engineering.

A debate in the recent farm bill, and an ongoing debate in the food industry, is detailed labeling on food products (i.e., the origin of meat or use of genetically modified seeds). The agriculture industry has fought back against these requirements primarily because of the difficulty of such regulations and the costs involved. However, some say “big ag” must have something to hide. Consumers want more transparency.

These concerns and fears about GMOs have risen, despite the fact that there is little evidence to show that foods grown from genetically modified seeds are any less safe than others. Companies such as Monsanto have launched websites devoted to educating the consumer about the use of genetic engineering in seed production.

The biotechnology sector of agriculture is looking for ways to grow beyond GMOs. Scientists are finding new ways to examine and promote the best plant DNA, such as genome-sequencing. In other words, scientists are building databases of the various versions of plant genes to isolate distinct traits; they are then able to breed only those plants with the preferred traits.

Last year, J.R. Simplot Co. announced it has engineered genetically modified potatoes that reduce bruising and brown spots. Simplot explains that its Innate-brand potatoes are not defined as GMOs since they contain only potato DNA. Earlier this year McDonald’s released a statement that it is ready to use these potatoes in its restaurants by 2015.

We in agriculture need to teach consumers that biotechnology is not a threat. Technological advancements in plant engineering have changed how food is produced, and this technology continues to evolve and improve. Due to modern plant breeding, farmers can maximize size, consistency and yield. GMOs can reduce crop damage or losses from weeds, diseases, insects or drought. GMOs also allow farmers to control and target pesticide application, which is more favorable to the environment.

We should continue to educate and promote the importance of biotechnology in providing for the world’s food supply.

JenniferB@agmanagement.com; 893-5333

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