By Joanna Lidback: Barton, Vermont
The debate is over: Genetically modified crops are safe.
That’s the most important takeaway point from the massive study released last week by the National Academy of Sciences, one of the most respected research agencies in the world. A team of 20 scholars—drawn mainly from universities and think tanks, and none from seed companies—spent two years examining more than 900 studies. Its comprehensive report comes in at nearly 400 pages.
This is quite an endorsement from our best and brightest. It also affirms what other groups have said in recent years, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association, the European Commission, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the National Research Council, the World Health Organization and more.
They all agree that GM food is safe. They speak with one voice.
What we have is the very definition of a scientific consensus.
It’s absolutely okay to ask questions about GM food—but it’s not okay to pretend that we don’t have answers about fundamental issues, or to suggest that scientists are dueling over data or tussling over theories.
They’re not. They’re saying that GMOs are safe, just like the earth is round.
The science may be settled, but the politics surely isn’t. Should GM food carry special labels? That’s the hot topic right now. My home state of Vermont is about to implement a law that will require some food with GM ingredients to carry special labels. In Washington, DC the U.S. House has approved a bill that would overturn this decision, blocking states from passing a mishmash of confusing and contradictory labeling regulations. The Senate continues to deliberate.
Here’s what the NAS report says about labels: “The committee does not believe that mandatory labeling of foods with [GM] content is justified to protect public health.”
The lawmakers ought to listen to these wise words.
The report should also help answer U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss, who, in ruling against a preliminary order to halt Vermont’s GMO-labeling law, said that concerns embedded in the law were within the state’s purview. “The safety of food products, the protection of the environment, and the accommodation of religious beliefs and practices are all quintessential governmental interests.”
Let me state my interest here. My family raises dairy cows and we grow some of the food we use to feed them. We don’t plant GM crops on our acreage, but I believe that my fellow farmers ought to enjoy access to this positive technology.
The NAS report calls attention to all of the benefits, beyond the simple fact that GM foods are safe to eat: They allow farmers to boost their bottom lines, help them save time, and also protect the environment, such as by enabling more insect biodiversity. “The committee found no evidence of cause-and-effect relationships between [GM] crops and environmental problems,” says the report.
GM crops also keep food affordable for consumers. In a recent report on NPR, Dan Charles pointed out that many candy companies are replacing GM sugar beets with sugar cane. The result? Hershey’s Kisses are going up in price. The rejection of GM sugar beets, reports Charles, “means that buyers are paying 10 to 15 percent more” for the sugar in their candy.
So people are paying a premium for the sake of avoiding a food-production technique that just earned a big thumbs-up from the NAS.
That doesn’t make much sense.
Neither do mandatory labels, even though they represent a top reason why companies such as Hershey’s are turning away from biotechnology: They figure it’s easier to abandon GM ingredients entirely, as opposed to replacing infrastructure to comply with the directives of Vermont and possibly other states.
Yogurt lovers are about to fork over more, too. Last month, Dannon, the country’s leading yogurt maker, announced plans for the feed of its farmers’ cows to be non-GMO within three years.
As a dairy farmer, I happen to know a bit about the price of cow feed. Right now, non-GMO grain costs about 30 percent more.
I’m also a mom. I look after what my kids eat and try to maintain a family budget. I see the value in a technology that allows farmers to reduce their reliance on herbicides and pesticides. I also wonder why anybody should pay extra for safe food that doesn’t deliver new benefits and in many cases, goes backwards.
We should quit debating GMOs, and start thinking about how to make the most of this remarkable technology.
Joanna Lidback and her husband operate the Farm at Wheeler Mountain, a diversified dairy farm in Vermont. Joanna volunteers as a board member for the Global Farmer Network.