The untold story of Genetic Modification and Plant Biotechnology
Today, less than 2 percent of the U.S. population claims farming as an occupation. According to research by the Center for Food Integrity, consumers trust farmers because they believe farmers share their values. Unfortunately, consumers aren’t sure today’s agriculture still qualifies as farming. Why? One of the main reasons cited is “technological advances in farming.”
But what if technology has allowed for better animal care, more precise farming practices to decrease inputs such as water, fuel, fertilizers and herbicides and improved efficiencies to produce more with less – a business model companies strives for regardless of the line of work? What if the cost savings associated with technological advances allowed a farmer to keep the farm that has been in his or her family for eight generations? And gave that farmer the means to raise his/her children to be the next generation of American farmers?
You’ve heard the term GMO. You’ve likely picked up on the fact that this is a contentious topic. In fact, over two-thirds of consumers see genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as an important consideration in food/beverage purchase. Further, almost 48 percent say that the presence of labeling that indicates GMO ingredients would make them less likely to purchase the product. But do you know what GMOs are? Or why you believe what you believe about them?
Genetic modification, or biotechnology in plant agriculture, is the process of making a copy of a desired gene or genetic material from one plant or organism and placing it into another plant to achieve a desired trait (such as disease resistance or drought tolerance). Currently, only eight crops – corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya and squash – are available from biotech seeds for commercial use in the U.S.
It takes an average of $136 million and 13 years to bring a biotech product to market (as it goes through rigorous testing and approval processes by the United States Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration). There are thousands of new organic and conventional seeds that have come to market through different technologies and breeding methods (including mutagenesis – deliberately engineered DNA mutations), yet, only GM plants require extensive testing and regulatory approval.
Today, the majority of U.S. soybean and corn crops are grown from GMO seed, and the majority of those soybeans (72 percent) and corn (60 percent) are used to feed livestock. So the farmers and ranchers that provide our meat, milk and eggs depend on plant biotechnology as critical to a successful business. Results from long-term studies have indicated no impact on animal health or the quality of any animal products as a consequence of long-term consumption of GMO feed. And because components in animal feed are broken down during digestion by the animal, milk, meat and eggs from animals fed biotech feed are nutritionally no different than the end product from animals fed conventional feeds.
While, there have been some individual studies that have suggested negative human health impacts from eating GM food, in each case, credible scientists and regulatory agencies dismissed the findings based on flawed methodology and/or flawed interpretation of the data. Since 1996, biotech crops have been part of the human food supply with no documented health implications, and study after study have shown that nutritionally speaking, biotech and non-biotech crops are the same. In some cases, GM foods have been altered to increase the nutritional value over its non-GM counterpart.
We believe that every production method – conventional, organic and genetically modified – has a role to play in providing safe, wholesome food, and we must harness the best practices of each method instead of single-mindedly favoring or demonizing one over another.
We encourage you, as a consumer, to understand how your food is produced. And when questions arise, turn for answers to the farmers and ranchers who provide that food for you.