Pop quiz. Do you know what genetically modified crops are grown and sold in the United States? (Hint: there are only 10!)
Answer: Canola, corn, cotton, alfalfa, apples, papaya, potatoes, soybean, squash, and sugar beets. (Yes, that’s it. Only 10.)
Let’s be real for a second. Genetically modified organisms, nicknamed “GMOs,” are controversial in the United States. Why? Because many Americans believe that genetically modified crops are linked to health issues. It’s believed that these crops are modified with only the end goal in mind so that their end product isn’t as safe or even nutritious compared to other crops. And frankly, many people don’t know that genetically modification of our food has been happening for thousands of years.
There’s a part of the controversy that points to a lack of understanding about what genetically modified organisms are, but I believe there’s even a larger misunderstanding about why we genetically modify crops. From my many conversations regarding GMOs with various people, it seems that there’s a negative stigma associated with GMOs because we’re doing it for the wrong reasons as an agriculture community. It seems the population believes we’re only thinking about higher yields, more income, and saving resources on our end, and that we’re completely disregarding the health of the American consumer.
On top of these beliefs from the consumer perspective, the heat that farmers face regarding genetically modified organisms turns the agriculture community off completely. We immediately get defensive about the work that we do and feel neglected by the consumers, when we firmly believe in providing a safe, nutritious product to them. We feel disrespected and misunderstood.
Combine these two perspectives together, and you get a large divide surrounding the controversy of the use, legality, and safety of GMOs. To add onto the confusion, misunderstanding, and frustration, companies will use marketing strategies to scare consumers out of GMO products by placing “non-GMO” labels on products that couldn’t even be produced with a genetically modified organism. These companies are smart marketers to play into the fear that consumers feel about the safety of GMOs, so they scare them into buying a “non GMO” product “just to be safe.” Check out this Forbes article on how Hunt’s Ketchup did this, and it backfired almost immediately.
We’re at a point where the American population is so removed from food production and agriculture that there is already confusion surrounding food. But when we add this GMO debate to it, things get even more complicated. And this is where I have a problem with GMOs.
I am a 22-year-old American young woman who supports genetically modified organisms. I believe in the power of genetically modifying crops in order to feed a growing population across the globe. Here’s why:
From my lifelong involvement with agriculture, I understand the challenges farmers and ranchers face every single day in order to get food into our homes. These people risk everything just to be in the business of farming and ranching. Helping agriculturalists reduce risk in their jobs by protecting their crops against drought, pests, and disease could make a world of difference.
From my travels around the world, I have seen families and communities in Tanzania, Africa plant corn sparsely on the side of a mountain and hope they get a small fraction of usable harvest from it. These people would love to have the option of planting a crop better suited for their soil quality and environmental conditions to have a more stable food supply.
From my collegiate degree program in agricultural sciences and economics, I have studied economics of food enough to grasp the huge problem that we have with food distribution and waste. By modifying crops, we can help this by reducing food waste by eliminating superficial browning of foods that cause people to throw their food away when it’s still good. (Example: GMO apples)
From my love of food, I need to believe in what I’m eating and I want it to be good for me. Enhancing the nutritional content of food is something that could not only help the food secure, but could save lives of people who are hungry in the most desolate areas around the world. (Example: Golden Rice helping in Vitamin A deficient populations)
My problem with GMOs doesn’t come from their believed effects, but in the power of how our world can benefit from them and how we seem to ignore that. My problem with GMOs comes from the fact that companies and individuals have made “GMO free” and “non GMO” labeling a status symbol. My problem with GMOs is knowing that people around the world would die for the options of food that we have here, but we have made these options into something that defines or stereotypes us. My problem with GMOs is that we are lucky to have the option to choose how our food is grown, but at the end of the day, we still aren’t trying to understand it more deeply than its labels.
You don’t have to agree with me. You may totally not believe in the safety or use of genetically modified organisms. I respect your beliefs, but what I want you to know, as a lover of food myself, is that American farmers and ranchers are in the business of raising and growing food because they love it and because they want you to have a safe, nutritious product. Additionally, we want your kids to be safe, we want your pets to be safe, and we want you to enjoy what you eat. Food is culture. It’s more than just a way to give ourselves nutrients, but it matters. It matters from the moment as it starts the growing process until it gets to your plate, and there’s nothing that will change that.
Genetically modified organisms, organically grown food, conventionally grown food…whatever it might be, we are lucky in this country to have options to choose how our food is grown. Don’t take that for granted.
My challenge to you is to go to www.gmoanswers.org to learn more about GMOs and for you to think twice next time when you see a “GMO free” or “non GMO” label. But don’t stop there, go to a farm, learn about American agriculture, talk to a farmer, and ask questions. We’re all in this together for the long haul. Let’s connect producers to consumers and support each other in our love for food, on either side of the supply chain.
Other resources to explore: