Education on genetic seeds necessary
by Kevin Pearson
Aug 01, 2013 | 2678 views | 0 0 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
At the Delta Area Young Farmer Emerging Issues Conference hosted by the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation recently at the Monsanto Learning Center in Scott, Ab Basu, the managing director of state affairs for Biotechnology Industry Organization, and Jerry Slocum of the USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture addressed issues regarding genetically modified organism and labeling.

Basu first expressed his excitement about the preemption bill in Mississippi, which would allow them to fight bans on biotech seeds at the state level instead of county by county.

The biotechnology industry is currently fighting the ban on biotech seeds county by county in Oregon, where it costs between $500,000 to $750,000 per county.

To fight the ban at the county level they have to organize with farm bureaus, county farm bureaus and farmers in order to make the appropriate impact.

Basu said a theory, based on their research, is that there is a merger between organic companies and global environmental groups, because a couple of years ago “a lot more money poured in to fight the use of genetically modified organisms.”

These two groups are fighting by going after fertilizers, pesticides and by targeting GMOs by trying to get labeling on all food that was made with GMOs.

There are 28 countries and 420 million acres, as of last year, growing biotech seeds.

Although GMOs are on the raise across the globe, there has been a drastic decrease in approval of new GMO technology, which Basu attributes to a backlog in the USDA and political reasons that stem from misinformation.

The labeling of foods that use GMOs is inconsistent with science-based U.S. policy, sends a false message to consumers and has a negative impact on innovation, according to Basu.

“We embrace ‘right-to-know’,” said Basu. “We want consumers to be educated as to what they’re eating and where their food comes from. We don’t want, however, the food companies to have to be in the position to have to put warning labels on their packages.”

The food companies are highly against the idea of GMO labeling on the front of their packaging because they have spent years and significant amounts of money developing their brands.

“We’re working with anyone and everyone we can to try and educate the legislative leadership that this is not something they want to do and the repercussion for farmers could be pretty negative and pretty extensive,” said Basu.

Basu encourages farmers to work with the farm bureaus to oppose anti-GMO legislation and to educate their communities about what they use, why they use it, and the environmental and efficiency benefits they receive from using GMOs.

“It’s been a long struggle, but it’s been an important fight,” said Slocum.

According to Slocum, there are 78 million acres of planted soybeans in the United States, 95 percent of which are GMOs.

Of all the soybeans grown in Mississippi, 96 percent are GMOs.

Ninety percent of the 97 million acres of corn grown in the U.S. is GMO, while the corn in Mississippi is 95 percent GMO.

Ninety-three percent of the 10 million acres of cotton grown in the U.S. are GMOs and in Mississippi 99 percent of the cotton are GMOs.

“It’s the most rapidly adopted technology in the history of agriculture,” said Slocum. “Faster than the tractor. Faster than hybrid seed.”

According to Slocum, the U.S. government, including the USDA, FDA, and EPA, are highly in favor of genetically modified technology.

United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsac, according to Slocum, said, “There’s only two reasons to label food. One is to talk about nutritional content and two, to warn people of dangers in the food like an allergy.”

Organizations want to label GMO food because of the way it’s produced but Slocum points out that organic food is labeled by the way it is produced and that none of it, including the seeds are tested.

“Everything that you grow is tested if it’s biotech,” said Slocum. “It’s the most tested food in the history of mankind.”

The debate over biotech food has shifted from the question of safety, to the disruption of ecosystems, and has now shifted to the public’s “right-to-know.”

“Over 3 billion meals have been served with biotech foods around the world and not one person has died or gotten sick as a result,” said Slocum.

There have been no ecosystems have been destroyed, and developing nations are adopting biotech faster than the U.S.

“We live in the most litigious society on the planet and if anyone could sue Monsanto because their products weren’t safe, they would have sued them a long time ago,” said Slocum. “We stand on the high ground. It’s the most tested and proven way to produce food on the planet.”