Commentary: Biotech foods: Science makes a comeback?

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Editor's Note: The following commentary was written by Gene Hall, Public Relations Director for the Texas Farm Bureau and published on the Texas Agriculture Talks website.

I have been encouraged in recent weeks that good, old-fashioned, provable science has been making a comeback in the debate over biotech foods and the food supply of the human race. The idea that science cannot be ignored in the race to feed our ever-increasing population may be catching on.

Altering genes to benefit humans is nothing new. It happens routinely in medicine with scarcely a notice. It’s been done since 1996 in our food supply with no ill effects. However, the comparison bogs down here with sometimes shrill and mostly wrong complaints about a biotech food supply.

First, in California of all places, Proposition 37 was handily defeated. This would have required all food using biotechnology to be labeled. This was a bad idea, because it would have affected every state. You can’t really have a labeling system for one state, and it would have raised food prices considerably.

It also would create a negative connotation of GMO in foods that it does not deserve. That part was on purpose. The issue was not about labeling as much as imposing bad PR on biotechnology. Someone is going to reply here that agribusiness ponied up $40 million to defeat the measure, which is true. However, agriculture was forced to buy advertising because a sometimes lazy and often biased news media in California did a lousy job of covering both sides of the issue.

Mark Lynas is a leading environmentalist, an obviously responsible one who could no longer ignore the considerable environmental benefits of GMOs. Read about his change of heart.

The anti-GMO controversy was contrived in the mid-1990s as a fundraising mechanism by major environmental groups. It still serves that purpose, though it’s getting increasingly difficult to ignore the lack of evidence and empty claims of impending catastrophe. It’s just a fact that with biotech you use a lot less in the way of pesticides and fossil fuels. Now and in the future, farmers who plant GMOs across the globe will use less water.

For an even-handed debate on both sides of the biotech controversy, watch this video segment from The Food Dialogues.



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