Tag Archives: GMO debate

How I’m Moving Forward in the GMO Food Debate

Bosworth Battlefield (2)

A few weeks ago I wrote a post, “The Genetically Modified Food Debate”, which introduced a series of articles by Nathanael Johnson, a Grist.org writer that’s taken on the big task of sorting through the GMO debate to provide the straight story on where the science, politics and implications to people and planet truly stand.

As someone who’s followed the topic of GMO for many years, I’ve often wished for a series of articles just like this. It’s a heroic effort and having the opportunity to go on an exploration of sorts through these articles has helped me crystallize what I believe are the biggest issues and necessary next steps in the GMO food debate. If you’d like to read Johnson’s series, you can start here and find links to subsequent posts at the bottom of each article.

As I’ve mentioned before, I believe that as humans we are hard-wired to experiment, research and evolve our understanding of the world. Given what I know of evolution and farming, biotechnology seems like a logical place for exploration in science. It’s in the application of this science that things can get complicated. My sense is that, like most things, the best scenario for people and planet as it relates to genetic modification is toward the center from either side of the extreme.

My primary concern about genetically engineered food crops is not so much about the study of biotechnology in plants, but the ripple effect the application of these crops is having on current farming practices and our global food community. Here are some of the things I find most troubling:

  • GMO are often bred for resistance to herbicides and pesticides. As a result, weed-killing herbicide use on genetically engineered corn, soybeans and cotton increased by 383 million pounds in the U.S. from 1996 to 2008.
  • GM crops support the practice of mono-cropping (growing only one type of agricultural product in a large area of land, year after year). This approach has an economic benefit in that it simplifies farming operations and decreases labor costs. However, mono-cropping depletes nutrients from the soil and decreases crop-yields over time creating a need for increased synthetic fertilizer use. Although there may be a short-term economic gain, there’s a larger long-term cost to the health of the planet.
  • Implementation of GMO and mono-cropping practices in developing countries has impacts that go beyond just human and planet health. Traditional knowledge about how to farm the land, what indigenous plants provide nutrients of need and seed saving techniques to maintain biodiversity…all this wisdom that is passed from generation to generation may be lost and maybe more importantly, be seen as inferior to modern conventional methods.

The biggest hurdle to finding a path forward that is acceptable to groups on both sides of this issue seems to sit within science. Through Johnson’s articles, it’s clear that the methods we have to determine safety and the impact to human and planet health are flawed. The questions we’re asking through testing simply do not provide the answers many people are seeking to understand. This is an issue that’s much bigger than just GMO, but yet one that is effectively stalling the ability of the food community to find consensus about how to move forward. Until we evolve both the methods of testing and what we’re testing for, I don’t see how we’re going to come together.

So, what to make of all this? Well, as for me, I plan to keep looking [read: hoping] for an evolution in testing, particularly in the form of support from our government to investigate new approaches to better answer the valid concerns around GMO’s impact to people and planet health. In the meantime, as we continue to navigate our way to better answers, I believe the right thing to do is provide as much transparency and through that, education, as possible. We don’t have the answers, and until such a time that we do and this matter is settled, why not let people make their own decision? Let’s label GM foods, raise awareness and hopefully get to a place where we can argue towards solutions.

If you’re interested in doing some digging of your own into this issue, Johnson also did a recent article that provides a “Cliff’s Notes” version of some of the most popular books on GMO. You can read this article here.

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Finding Neutrality in the Genetically Modified Food Debate

GMO debate IntentI’ve been heavily involved in understanding and tracking the GMO debate for many years.  As an expert for the natural products industry, the issue of genetic modification and the role it should or should not play in natural products is a heavily debated (and litigated) topic. You need look no further than the New York Times, the Dr. Oz show, or your Facebook feed to get a dose of the emotion and polarized positions on both sides of this subject.

Over the course of these years I have come to a couple conclusions that I believe heavily influence our ability to productively communicate about this issue: 1) Despite the rapidly growing debate on this subject, there is still an incredible lack of awareness about GMO and an even bigger level of ignorance about the various topics at play under the “GMO” label, and 2) the emotional intensity this topic carries with it makes improved education, understanding and rational dialog a seemly impossible task at times.

I confess that I also feel a lot of emotion about this subject and wish for more information and understanding. I am troubled by conventional farming practices, the petro-chemical use required to keep it going and the seeming disregard for the natural wisdom of nature. I worry about the global impact the spread of these farming practices into developing countries will have not only to the health of the soil and people but to the traditional farming wisdom that will no longer be passed from generation to generation.

On the flip side, I believe that as humans we are hard-wired to experiment, research and evolve our understanding of the world. Given what I know of evolution and farming, biotechnology seems like a logical place for exploration in science. It’s in the application of this science that things start to get complicated to me. My sense is that, like most things, the best scenario for people and the planet as it relates to GMO is toward the center from either side of the extreme.

Last week I came across a series of articles that are currently posting on Grist.org attempting to do the thing I’ve been hoping I would have the ability to do myself someday – investigate and dissect this issue without emotion and understand the impact of biotechnology in food crops on human and planet health.

Like me, the reporter, Nathanael Johnson, has been wishing for a rational dissection of this issue for many years. I’ve spoken to some of the same people he’s interviewed for this series and am impressed by the depth of his research. I’ve been reading and note taking as each of his articles are published and hope that if you’re also seeking to understand this complex issue, you will take the time to read his pieces as well.

You can find a link to the first article in his series here and can find links to subsequent articles in the series at the bottom of the piece.

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Image by Steve Rhodes

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