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Published June 24, 2013, 10:04 AM

A single field, a host of questions

There’s a rule of thumb that goes like this: If you’re a liberal, you think man-made global warming is real and GMO food is dangerous.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

There’s a rule of thumb that goes like this: If you’re a liberal, you think man-made global warming is real and GMO food is dangerous.

If you’re a conservative, you think man-made global warming is bogus and GMO food is safe.

If you’re a rationalist who follows the evidence, you think man-made global warming is real and GMO food is safe.

Well, if the rule of thumb is true, I’m a conservative with rationalist leanings.

I think GMO food is safe. I’m also skeptical of man-made global warming, though less so than I once was. It’s increasingly difficult for me to ignore all the experts who insist that global warming exists and that human activity is at least partly responsible.

The issue of GMO food’s safety has received even more attention than usual after the discovery of wild GMO wheat in an Oregon field. Though the amount of grain involved appears to be extremely small, the case has received a huge amount of attention.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has the unenviable job of figuring out how GMO wheat ended up in that Oregon field. I have no idea what APHIS will discover.

Important questions

But the investigation won’t resolve a number of fundamental questions.

Can the world produce enough food for its rapidly growing population without genetically engineered crops?

Can the world wheat industry remain competitive with other crops without GMO products?

Is a “zero-tolerance policy” (consumers refusing to buy wheat unless they’re certain it’s 100 percent GMO-free) financially realistic?

Can farmers, even if they personally think GMO food is safe, expect to sell it to customers who believe otherwise?

Will a system evolve in which both GMO wheat and non-GMO wheat are sold?

Perhaps most important, with the issue so polarized and positions seemingly so fixed, can pro- and anti-GMO groups ever reconcile their differences?

For what it’s worth, a prominent critic of GMO food last year announced that he’s changed his mind. He said a careful analysis of the facts convinced him that GMO food is safe.

I suspect, however, that he will be the exception, not the rule. The battle lines on GMO food seem drawn.

Finding answers

To make the point again, I think GMO food is safe; federal regulators say it is. I have no concern about eating it.

But that’s just me. You might think otherwise, and I won’t argue with you.

I will say this, though. Whatever your view of GMO food — whether you oppose it or support it — don’t take a position blindly.

Listen to both sides, not just the side that supports what you already think. Try to keep an open mind. Try to be guided by the best scientific evidence available.

Science may not understand everything about GMO food, at least not yet. But science is the only sensible place to look for answers.

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