Posted on May 17, 2012 at 9:05 AM by Iowa Corn
This is part of series of articles called, What’s All the Hype? The goal of this series is to answer questions about food and how it is raised and grown. If you have a topic that you have questions about, please leave it in the comments section.
Last week I saw a tweet about a petition in California that might be on the ballot in November. This petition was requesting labeling of all foods made with GMO corn, soybeans, canola, or other biotech crops to specify that they were “produced with genetic engineering.” You also may have seen that Kashi announced they would only be using grains from non-GMO sources, so I started researching biotech crops.
What are GMO and Biotech Crops?
The World Health Organization defines GMOs or genetically modified organisms (I know another science term!) as organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, including between nonrelated species. This technology is called biotechnology (and it is also a way to create a plant hybrid).
Farmers have been creating plant hybrids for just about as long as we have been growing plants! Farmers are always finding ways to develop an even better seed to be used for crops in the future. As a matter of fact, just about all of our food crops have been modified through human selection over the past 10,000 years through plant breeding.
Biotechnology is basically the same thing – only it’s done in the lab at the DNA level. Selecting traits at this level is much more efficient, faster and allows for greater improvements than conventional plant breeding. Biotech also allows farmers to use seeds that are equipped to withstand extremes in weather and insects, which could wipe out a crop.
Suzanne Shirbroun, a farmer from Farmersburg, Iowa and a CommonGround volunteer explains biotechnology in this video.
Why do Farmers Use Biotechnology Crops?
Farmers use biotechnology crops because it allows them to use less land and resources while producing more. Because of biotechnology, farmers use fewer crop protection products. It also allows farmers to use more soil conservation techniques such as no-till (meaning they don’t stir up the soil) to reduce erosion – ensuring that they can continue to pass their farms onto their children and grandchildren. Most importantly, biotech crops increase the productivity and efficiency of farmers to meet an ever growing demand.
That’s great for the farmer but how safe is it for me?
The big question that many people have about GMOs is how safe they are to eat. All GMO foods undergo testing that looks at the gene that is being introduced in the plant and it’s affect on the plant and food. GMOs are actually one of the most tested food products in the history of food production.
GMO crops are regulated by three different government agencies: the Food and Drug Administration, the United States Department of Agriculture - Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the Environmental Protection Agency. Did you know that we actually use products every day that are made through the biotechnology process? Everything from hard cheeses that we eat to medicines we take are made because of biotechnology (NC State University).
Dr. David Ertl, Technology Commercialization Manager with Iowa Corn, has had experience with regulatory approvals of GMO corn. According to Ertl, “Biotech companies must prove to the EPA, USDA and FDA that the GMO plants and their resulting food are no different from those of conventionally produced crops. It takes years of testing to confirm that these plants and the food from them is safe and no different from non-GMO foods. It’s a very thorough process.”
Of Course You Would Say That They Are Safe
I realize that many people may say I believe biotech crops to be safe because I work for Iowa Corn, but I am just like you and had to do the research. Yes, there is science on both sides of GMO safety. But, I trust many of the different groups from across the world that say GMOs are safe.
Since 1992, the FDA has approved more than 50 safe biotech products. The U.S. National Academies of Science, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, American Medical Association and American Dietetic Association have all determined that biotech crops are just as safe as crops produced in traditional methods.
For another source, I checked with Best Food Facts. They asked Dr. Wayne Parrott , Professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences University of Georgia, this question and he said: “Although there is no indication that the FDA has made a wrong call on any GM product, the point remains that we are in a global economy. Thus, it is not just FDA who approves these foods, but also FoodCanada, the European Food Safety Authority, the Food Standards for Australia and New Zealand, and various agencies in Japan and Korea, among others. It is one thing to say that FDA's procedures might be flawed; it is another to say every major food safety agency is flawed. Thus far, I am not aware of any situation whereby one agency gave a GM product a clean bill of health and another failed to do so.”
But Don’t Consumers Have A Right To Know?
I do believe that consumers have a right to know what is in their food. But ultimately labeling GMO foods, would cause more confusion for consumers. By law if there is a nutritional difference or if a food causes allergies, they must be labeled. Because there is no proven nutritional difference between GMOs and non-GMOs and because GMOs are proven to not cause allergies, there is not a label.
While some people say that labeling of GMO’s won’t cost the consumer or farmer, a Colorado State University Extension paper finds different. It will be more than just the ink and paper to print the label; it will require a complex system to track from the farmer to the retailer – and every stop in between. GMO labeling has the potential to cost consumers up to 10% of their food bill a year. That is a lot of our extra hard earned dollars to go to something that isn’t warranted.
At a CommonGround Event last year, Dr. Ruth MacDonald, Department Chair for the Iowa State University Food Science and Human Nutrition Department also answered this question.
It’s a confusing arena out there for all of us. We all want to purchase nutritious food that is safe. I’m the same way. Based on all of the research I’ve done (and it’s been a lot for this article) I trust in the safety of food made with biotech foods – and you should too.
For More Information on the Safety of GMOs