I was disappointed to see the column from Yaakov Levine (October: Non-GMO month!) demonizing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The piece was filled with misinformation, and readers should have a chance to hear the truth about GMOs. The author crafts the column around the simple premise that GMOs are somehow more dangerous than plants derived through other breeding methods, and then suggests that readers contact legislators to demand that food containing GMOs be labelled.
The debate on GMO labeling has been settled. Congress passed a law in 2016 that requires labeling of foods that contain GMO ingredients. The United States Department of Agriculture rules will go into effect in 2020, and in the meantime, many food manufacturers have begun including information about GMO ingredients on their labels. It’s good that consumers will have more information about the food they buy, but that makes it even more important that they have accurate information about GMOs.
One foundational point — the definition of GMOs is much broader than Mr. Levine includes in his definition. There are many ways to genetically modify a plant, and we have been doing it as humans since Gregor Mendel discovered the science of heredity in the mid-1800s. Modern techniques harness that knowledge and use new methods to get similar results. While some GMOs do contain DNA from other organisms, many also have traits from related plants and the newest generation has no outside DNA. This has allowed plant breeders to develop plants with pest resistance, disease resistance, herbicide tolerance, drought tolerance and even reduced carcinogenicity.
Quite simply, GMO foods allow farmers to produce better yields while using less water, soil and pesticides. While some people have concerns about eating GMO foods, the science is clear: Since GMO foods were introduced into U.S. markets in the mid-1990s, not a single person or animal has become sick from eating them. The Food and Drug Administration, who is one of three agencies along with the Environmental Protection Agency and USDA charged with regulating GMOS, says that GMO foods and crops are as safe as their non-GMO counterparts. In addition, the American Medical Association, the American Dietetic Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Council for Science, the French Food Agency and the British Medical Association have all concluded that GMO foods are safe for human and animal consumption.
GMOs are a key part of helping farmers to feed an ever-increasing population. In the next 50 years, we will need to produce more food than we have in the thousands of years since civilization began. GMOs will help us tackle that challenge in a way that benefits farmers, consumers and the environment.