It’s World Food Prize week, so you’ll probably hear some passionate (perhaps fiery) dialogue out of Des Moines on the “right” way to feed the 9 billion people who will be living on this planet in 2050.
Embrace the (constructive) dialogue, but take a deep breath if you find yourself being led to dismiss the merits of organic food or food that comes from genetically modified seeds (GMOs).
1. Both are safe and nutritious
The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires “certified organic” crops to be grown without most fertilizers or pesticides and other synthetic substances. And “certified organic” crops may not be GMOs.
GMOs are grown from seeds that scientists have infused with desired genes from another plant or organism – genes that help the plant resist weeds, diseases, insects, drought, etc.
And if the idea of changing the genetic makeup of plants used for food stirs your curiosity, know that you’re not alone. The global scientific community has been studying GMOs for years, and here’s what they’ve found:
“Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences to human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature.”
- The America Medical Association
“To date more than 98 million acres of genetically modified crops have been grown worldwide. No evidence of human health problems associated with ingestion of these crops or resulting food products have been identified.”
- The National Academy of Sciences
“No effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of GM foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”
- World Health Organization
In fact, genetic engineering can actually be used to make some food more nutritious than its organic counterpart.
For example, Plenish® high oleic soybean oil has zero grams of trans fat and lower saturated fat than traditional soybean oil, making it a healthier option. And “golden rice,” a genetically modified crop that is still under review, allows the plant to produce vitamin A, a nutrient that affects (among other things) vision and is severely lacking for millions of people in Asia and Africa.
2. Both can help reduce pesticide use
I won’t floor you by telling you that a primary goal of organic production is to cut down on the use of synthetic pesticides, but (given the bad press GMOs receive from opponents of the technology), it may surprise you to learn that GMOs work toward the same objective.
Long story short – if you have a seed that resists pests, you don’t need to use as much pesticide.
“Years ago, we used planters with seeds in one box and insecticide in another,” says Iowa farmer Paul Vaassen. “I’m happy that old planter sits idle on my farm now, because our GMO seeds help us defeat pests like rootworm and corn borer.”
It’s an environmental benefit that’s even winning over former anti-GMO activists, like Mark Lynas.
“As an environmentalist, I would like to see a reduction in agrochemicals,” says Lynas. “If you improve the genetics in crops, you don’t need to use insecticides and other crop protection chemicals. That, to me, is the way forward for somebody who is concerned about protection of the environment.”
3. Both can satisfy your tastes
Have you ever heard someone say his/her food used to taste better, before GMOs? I have.
I’m never quite sure how to respond because it’s difficult to have a dialogue with someone about how their food tastes to them (much less rely on them to accurately remember how it tasted years ago).
It’s important to note there are only currently eight GMO crops commercially available: corn (field corn and sweet corn), soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, and squash.
So if you’re eating something other than food from one of those GMO crops, you’ll have to look for a different culprit.
Personally, I can’t tell the difference, and I haven’t come across a reliable study or taste test that’s led me to believe there’s any difference.
For me, fresh food generally tastes better than food that’s been sitting around awhile. One of the nice things about traditional plant breeding and genetic modification (close cousins) is that they can help extend the freshness of produce (think apples that don’t brown or brown more slowly).
So eat organic, or eat GMOs. Either way, don’t let the decision cause you heartburn and don’t let others make you feel bad about your choice.
By Zach Bader . Zach is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Online Community Manager.