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 His PhD has actually been revoked, which is pretty much unprecedented.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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Celebrating American agriculture

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has declared this coming Monday—October 24th—to be Food Day. According to their website, Food Day seeks to “bring together all Americans to push for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.”  Sounds great, right?

Not so fast!

Food Day is not a celebration of all agriculture. Rather, it is a stealth attack on the vulnerabilities of American consumers.  CSPI would have you believe that farm animals are abused by their owners, pumped full of hormones and raised on “factory farms.”  In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Farmers care about their animals

Farmers and ranchers involved in animal agriculture are stewards of the land.  The welfare of their animals is of utmost importance to them, and it is in their best interests that their livestock are treated humanely.  This not only guarantees them a healthier, higher-quality animal, it also provides a greater return on their investment and produces a wholesome food product.

American agriculture is something to be proud of.  Modern production methods allow 2% of the population to feed 100%!  So when did attacking farmers and ranchers become en vogue?

Here’s some food for thought:

  • In 1960, a U.S. farmer fed 26 people.  In 2011, a U.S. farmer will feed 155 people.
  • American ranchers provide 25% of the world’s beef… with just 10% of the world’s cattle!
  • There are 2.1 million farms in the U.S., and 98% of those are family owned.

Show some love for farmers (Photo courtesy of Animal Ag Alliance)

Furthermore, CSPI has aligned itself with some folks who would like nothing more than to see animal agriculture done away with.  Michael Pollan, well-known advocate and author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, sits on the Board of Directors as does CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.  Pacelle’s employees have stated before that one of their goals at HSUS is the elimination of all animal agriculture.  Pollan has been quoted as saying, “Eat food, not too much.  Mostly plants.”

You know, Mr. Pollan, that doesn’t sit too well with this farm girl.

It’s truly disheartening that CSPI is not taking this opportunity to talk about all areas of agriculture.  Instead, they’re pumping out misinformation and scare tactics in order to drive consumers away from the food products that farmers and ranchers have worked so hard to produce.

However, there is someone out there speaking for all aspects of agriculture.

Real Farmers Real Food is a campaign launched by the Animal Agriculture Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to helping consumers better understand the role farmers and ranchers play in providing a safe, abundant food supply to a hungry world.  The underlining core of the message is simple, and it’s one I truly believe in.

For farmers, food day is every day.

Partnered with Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan, Real Farmers Real Food is an excellent tool for consumers who want to know the truth about modern agriculture production.  Agriculture shouldn’t be a dirty word.  It’s a tiring occupation that demands hard work and perseverance, and sometimes it can be a cruel mistress.  But American farmers and ranchers have dedicated their lives to feeding the world.  Watch Teresa’s message below, and then visit www.realfarmersrealfood.com to learn more.

Because not everyone farms, but everyone has to eat.