Part of my job is to cover the science and technology of agriculture. It's something I have come to love since I have always been a fan of science. A child of the space race, I learned to trust that the truth of science is something to rely on. Yes, things change, but science finds and reports those changes too.
That's why I'm weary. Weary of the screaming bloggers and voices on the television of people who purport to be experts on a topic and yet prove they are uniformed in a myriad of ways.
Earlier this year the National Academy of Sciences released a new report on genetically engineered crops called "Genetically Engineered Crops, Experiences and Prospects." The voluminous 400-page report tackles the big question - are GMOs safe?
The short answer is 'yes' but you wouldn't know it now. Congress recent fight over GMO labeling, for foods that are essentially the same as their non-engineered counterparts, shows that the screaming, fear-mongering internet bloggers have the ears of Congress.
Why is that important? If after reviewing more than 900 research studies looking at all aspects of GMOs, including some controversial ones that industry worries about, the NAS found nothing wrong with GMOs, what the heck makes Whole Foods right?
We are in the infancy of the technology with whole new ways to enhance crops, and livestock, under development. There will be questions ahead, and that's a good thing, since we need to be sure that the work and testing that's done protects the food supply. But I'm thinking it may not matter.
Taking on anti-GMO claims
Recently I wrote a piece on crop technology for the web and got a note from an ex-Pat in China who says that I can't possibly tell the truth about GMOs since I work for a publication sponsored by biotech companies; that I don't know about the gut troubles people have who eat Bt corn. Or other health ailments.
Reason I don't write about them is that they're anecdotal, and frankly poppycock. The NAS report includes an interesting result. The researchers - who note that GMO crops have been in the U.S. diet for 20 years - compared overall ailments for the U.S. population versus the same indices in the European population. It would be pretty easy to conclude that we GMO eaters, if the stuff was dangerous, would be exhibiting some kind of impact by now. Not so, there's no difference between the two populations and in Europe cows and pigs eat GMOs, people do not do that directly.
You may be reading a little anger in here, and it comes from watching the internet-ignorant sign petitions because they long for a kind of agriculture most of us wouldn't want to return to anyway. The days of overalls, hand mucking stalls and walking crops to pull weeds are not for today's farmer. The technology we have should be deployed to boost yields, reduce inputs needed to raise crops and enhance what we can do on saline soils, drought-ridden areas and under other special circumstances.
Given the patent dislike of GMOs that some consumer groups have, it makes me wonder what kind of power they may bring to the farm bill debate too. Interesting times ahead.