No new crop is risk free. While more regulated than any other crop, biotech crops (GMOs) do not pose any more risk than their traditional counterparts. Artificial selection alters the genetic makeup of plants and animals to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs, involving the selection of traits that are beneficial to humans and not what helps the organism survive in nature. Artificial selection leads to undesired and harmful outcomes such as rapist roosters, toxic organic zucchini, and the loss of nutrition. As late as the 19th century creating a hybrid flower was seen as an act of playing God. Today it is considered natural. What future innovations will one day make biotech crops look natural? Several next generationbiotech crops are even in the works that use genes from wild relatives, making them more natural than anything found in the organic aisle of a grocery store.
What about pesticides?
Biotech varieties on the market now without pesticide traits include the disease resistant papaya, zucchini, and squash. Next generation crops such as the Arctic Apple and Simplot Innate Potato also have nothing to do with pesticides. Seven crops have been created through traditional breeding methods to create herbicide resistance for BASF’s Imazamox. Imazamox is more toxic than, and has created more resistant weeds than, glyphosate. Washington State University filed a patent in 2015 for a glyphosate tolerant wheat using traditional breeding methods, and a company called Cibus has a glyphosate tolerant flax coming to market that qualifies as nonGMO. While the types of pesticides have changed, the use of pesticides has actually remained level. An amazing feat considering the rate of increase in yield.
We believe that any discussion on biotech crops should look at the entirety of the technology. If consumers and politicians are concerned about herbicide tolerant traits, then they need to include traditional crops with those same traits in policy making.
What about patents and corporate control?
Not all biotech crops are patented. Many traditional crops, including organic ones, are patented. No farmer has ever been sued for accidental contamination or cross pollination. Improved seed varieties are often developed by independent scientists in developing countries and offered free to farmers. Seed saving is even encouraged in Bangladesh because the scientists there cannot keep up with demand. Most crop varieties sold by large corporations around the world are not considered genetically modified.
We believe that seed patents are worthy of discussion and scrutiny, but are irrelevant to any discussion on biotech crops.
Don’t we already have enough food to feed the world?
Yes. Famines that occur in the modern era are generally due to politics. The Famine Early Warning System exists to offer food aid quickly when disasters strike. Unfortunately the agriculture and shipping lobbies have worked together to encourage aid from the United States to come from United States farms, making the process much less efficient. The $140 million dollars spent just to transport food aid each year could be used to invest in local sustainable agriculture, and like other nations, be used to purchase food from closer countries to the famine.
While food waste in the United States is a growing concern, food waste campaigns often have little impact for developing nations. Food waste in the developing world usually occurs due to postharvest losses caused by pests, poor transportation systems, and a lack of refrigeration. The Copenhagen Consensus determined that for every $1 spent on investing in developing world agriculture to reduce postharvest losses (including improved seed varieties) would return $13. Biotech crop adoption was found by independent researchers in Germany to increase yields by 14% more in developing nations than developed ones. The new biotech apples and potatoes are even designed to reduce food waste.
We believe that it is in the best interest of the United States and developing nations to invest in agriculture so all nations can become self sufficient.
We oppose attempts to create mandatory labels on food containing ingredients made from biotech crops. Biotech crops pose no more inherent risk than traditional crops, and traditional crops have actually caused harm. Such labels inform the consumer about nothing in regards to pesticides or patents. A “contains GMO” label does not explain the benefit of the trait, how the trait was used, how the trait was regulated, and ultimately, a shopper is left with no new information about the environmental or health impacts of the product. Voluntary labels such as halal, kosher, organic, and NONGMO already exist to allow consumers with faith based dietary restrictions a choice. Historically anti biotechnology activists have used labels in Europe to lump all biotech crops together over pesticide concerns, regardless of actual trait. They are attempting to repeat their success in the United States. Inconsistent state labeling also poses concerns because a state like Vermont will exempt cheese to satisfy their major dairy producers, while other states would exempt products that they rely on.
We believe that labeling decisions based on emotion, rather than evidence, will lead to detrimental outcomes in developing nations who need to make decisions based on facts, and not fears.