Real Talk: theSkimm on GMOs

Several months ago, a friend introduced me to theSkimm. It’s quickly become one of my favorite daily e-mails; a quick roundup of the day’s happenings, plus a few fun pop culture stories. It’s especially great for me because I have become pretty lax about reading the news — if it isn’t Roll Call or Politico’s Morning Ag, I might not get around to reading it.

This morning, I was dismayed to open today’s Skimm and see the following near the bottom of the e-mail.

Thing To Know -- This is not accurate information

Thing To Know — This is not accurate information

This was extremely upsetting for me to see. As a Millennial with a background in agriculture — and one who still works to promote the industry as my career — this sort of misinformation is seen all too often in the argument against GMOs. I’ve had lots of conversations with both family and strangers (both can get pretty heated) about the safety and benefits of GMOs, and why they’re beneficial for consumers.

My friend Michelle — also a Skimm’r — wrote in to the editorial staff about this issue. With her permission, I’m posting her letter below.

Dear Skimm,

I recently signed up for your email and have been a huge fan thus far. I liked your Facebook page after watching your cable tv interview and have encouraged my girlfriends and husband to sign up. I was very upset to see your ‘thing to know’ article today. It makes me question if your newsletter is truly an unbiased publication.

I am writing in because I believe that creating doubt as to whether or not GMOs are safe for the average consumer by providing false information is hurting consumers, the environment, farmers, and the people living in poverty. Hundreds of studies have been conducted to test whether GMOs are safe. To date, not a single study indicates that GMOs cause new allergies or cancers, infertility, ADHD, or any other diseases. The article linked to in your newsletter brings up the Seralini study. Seralini was a French scientist that published a paper stating that GMOs are unsafe. Since then, the international science community has showed that he manipulated data to get those results and the findings cannot be replicated. His PhD has actually been revoked, which is pretty much unprecedented.

Now to the benefits- a report came out this week from the The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. The paper was dedicated to Norman Bourlog who was a founder of the organization, a Nobel Peace Laureate, and his advances with wheat (which there is no GMO variety to date) is credited with saving more lives in human history than anyone else. Here are a few of the highlights-

• Millions of risk-averse farmers, both large and small, world-wide, have determined that the returns from planting biotech crops are high, hence repeat planting is virtually 100%
• Good returns on their investment is the critical test applied by demanding farmers when judging the performance of any technology
• 18 million farmers benefit from biotech crops – 90% were small resource-poor farmers.
• On average GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%,increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%.

I believe that everyone should have the choice to decide what they are eating and they need the facts to make those decisions. In your newsletter you say “you know those strawberries that are freakishly red and big in February? GMOs” There are no genetically modified strawberries anywhere in the world. Currently there are eight genetically modified species that are legal to grow in the United States: corn (field and sweet), soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, and squash. Potatoes will be on that list soon.

Also, while plant breeding is incredibly advanced and impressive, mother nature still holds the trump card. No amount of technological advances can help plants that are adapted for warm weather grow in the winter. Mostly likely, those winter strawberries come from Florida, California, Mexico, or South America. According to Florida Strawberry Growers Association, Plant City, Florida, is the winter strawberry capital of the nation. They produce more than 15% of the strawberries purchased in U.S. grocery stores every winter.

I would encourage you to send your readers to sites that provide peer reviewed research and facts on GMOs. GMOanswers is an informative resource. It’s fact sheets – like this one from Ohio State University provide a great introduction.

The technology is complicated, confusing, and potentially scary. And I don’t think that scientists should get a free pass, but decades of research have proven that GMOs are safe, they let us grow more food on less land, we use less chemicals, which lowers food prices and could even provide more nutritious food (check out Golden Rice).

Please consider the benefits of GMOs when you publish future newsletters.

Thank you,
Michelle

Digging even deeper: lately, I’ve become a huge fan of Dr. Kevin Folta, chairman of the Horticulture Sciences department at the University of Florida (I’ll forgive him that one tiny sin…). I began to read his blog and follow him on Twitter, and after meeting him and hearing him speak in person, that fandom is firmly cemented.

In an interview done with a science and food website, he was asked about genetically modifying a strawberry. (And here is where I hope theSkimm takes note). His answer was:

Can you make GMO strawberries?

Yes we can, and we do. They are created in the lab for research purposes ONLY. If we add or take out a strawberry gene in strawberry, we can understand what it does and how it affects traits we care about. Then once we’ve linked a gene to a process, we can then use traditional non-GMO methods to breed that gene into elite lines. In the lab, we also use a very different strawberry (Fragaria vesca) a simpler cousin to the commercial strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa). Even if we had a transgenic plant that could solve a problem or make money for farmers we could never afford the time and money it would take to approve it. Right now such plants are only tools to understand biology better.

If you’re interested in learning more about his work or plant biology in general, he did an AMA on Reddit last summer!

Other agriculural Skimmr’s have taken notice. Katie Pinke has a great post on her blog that I encourage y’all to check out — Strawberries Are Not GMO, and How theSkimm Got It Wrong.

Articles like today’s Skimm newsletter only help make the water even more murky. The issue of GMOs is a touchy one that inspires a lot of passion from anti-GMO activists, and it’s easy to lose sight of the science in the face of harsh rhetoric. Hopefully, both theSkimm’s editorial staff and their readers will learn from this!

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