An Open Letter to Oprah: Come to My Farm and See Why Biotech Crops Make Sense
May 10, 2012
By Tim Burrack: Arlington, Iowa
Come to my farm. Visit the land that I’ve worked since I was a boy. See this place so that you’ll never again let bad articles on agriculture tarnish the pages of your magazine or the pixels on your website.
If you accept this invitation to have a firsthand look at how an Iowa farmer produces healthy food in an economically and environmentally sustainable way, you’ll perform an important service to your readers and viewers--because right now, they’re receiving a very mistaken impression about what we grow and what everyone eats.
In the May issue of O: The Oprah Magazine, writer Rachel Mount discusses genetically modified food. She asks a fair question: "What impact do GM foods have on our health?" But her answer--"no one really knows"--is absurd.
No one really knows?
That’s not what a number of globally respected organizations say: The American Dietetic Association, the American Medical Association, the Research Council of the National Academies of Science, and the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization all agree that GM foods are safe and nutritious.
Yet Mount doesn’t look to any of these authorities. Instead, she runs straight for the anti-GM busybodies who have made it their profession to protest mainstream American farming. One source compares GM crops to DDT and "countless other harmful chemicals." Another suggests that we won’t know for another 30 years what science has to say about food with GM ingredients.
This is nonsense on stilts. It’s like saying we shouldn’t heat our food with electromagnetic radiation because we just can’t be certain about the long-term health effects of microwave ovens. Many of us didn’t grow up with these tools in our kitchens, but they aren’t exactly an unproven technology.
Neither are GM crops. We’ve been growing them for almost a generation, all over the world. Farmers have harvested billions of acres of them. People have eaten trillions of servings of food derived from these sources. Although they haven’t caused a single health problem anywhere, Mount hints darkly at "the possibility of creating brand-new allergens."
If she’s going to say that, she should also inform her readers that no scientist has ever shown GM food to make anybody so much as sneeze.
Mount even claims that one study shows that hamsters lose their reproductive abilities when they’re fed a diet of GM soy. This is junk science: Dozens of other animal studies contradict this finding and show that biotech food is safe to eat.
But I didn’t start this note with the intention of issuing a point-by-point rebuttal of a willfully ignorant article. I recognize that you don’t copy edit everything that goes into your magazine.
Instead, I mean to invite you to my farm.
If you come here, you’ll see why biotech crops make so much sense. Farmers are able to grow more food than ever before--more food on less land, compared to just a few years ago. This is good for the environment. Because GM plants have a built-in resistance to bugs and weeds, we’re using fewer chemical sprays. This is good for everyone.
As a result, our food is abundant, affordable, and nutritious. Yet even in the United States we continue to struggle with feeding everyone. More than 16 million American children suffer from food insecurity, according to the Department of Agriculture.
Given this harsh reality, does it make sense to demonize GM crops? In their absence, food would become less available and more expensive.
On my farm, you’d see these realities with your own eyes. Or you could visit the farms of several friends. In Hawaii, Ken Kamiya can show you how biotechnology saved the papaya industry from a deadly virus. In the Philippines, Rosalie Ellasus can describe how GM crops helped her put three sons through college after she was widowed. In Kenya, Gilbert Bor can discuss why he thinks biotechnology is so important to feed the people of Africa.
And if you don’t have time to visit with us, would you please send a memo to Rachel Mount? If she writes on GM food in the future, she should give us a call.
Tim Burrack raises corn, soybeans and pork on a NE Iowa family farm. He volunteers as a Board Member of Truth About Trade and Technology. www.truthabouttrade.org