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ND farmer urges others to inform consumers about agritech importance

FARGO -- As a ninth-generation farmer, Laura Rutherford said she's passionate about food quality, safety and nutrition. She also speaks fervently about agricultural biotechnology like genetic modification. "Farming is more than an occupation," Ru...

FARGO -- As a ninth-generation farmer, Laura Rutherford said she's passionate about food quality, safety and nutrition.

She also speaks fervently about agricultural biotechnology like genetic modification.

"Farming is more than an occupation," Rutherford said. "It is a way of life that we all want to be able to pass on to our children."

Rutherford grows sugar beets near Grafton, N.D. She and Kellie Bray of CropLife America recently talked about the importance of farmers addressing consumers' concerns when it comes to things like genetically modified organisms and pesticides at the North Dakota Agricultural Association's Northern Ag Expo at the Fargodome.

The women said food is an emotional topic and there's a lot of misinformation out there that spreads quickly through social media, so it's up to the people growing the food to tell consumers how it's grown and why they use genetic modification and chemical applications.

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All farmers, whether conventional or organic, face the same threats of weeds, pests and drought, Rutherford said. Ag biotech allows farmers to grow more crops using less fuel and chemicals and using water more efficiently, she said.

"There's over 1,500 studies that have affirmed the safety of genetically engineered food and also many well-respected international organizations that support the technology," she said.

If GMO foods were unsafe, Rutherford said they wouldn't be sold.

"Because of activists, there's a growing divide between farmers and consumers," she said. "Activists' agendas are not about science. It's about marketing. We must all demand that accurate scientific evidence defines this debate."

She said farmers should embrace consumers' skepticism because their concerns are real and they should use social media to invite dialogue.

"Research has shown that most consumers do trust farmers and they want to see how their food is produced," she said.

John Kritzberger, a sales agronomist who farms near Hillsboro, N.D., said he sees a lot of misinformation on social media about genetically modified organisms.

"People are too far removed from the farming culture," he said. "They see something online that looks scary and then post it on their wall."

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Kritzberger said GMOs are necessary to farming today and will be needed even more in the future.

Without them, he said, "There would be more chemicals sprayed on any given acre to produce crops and there wouldn't be as much yield coming off a given acre."

Bray said the information consumers want is often basic. Many don't realize pesticides are regulated or how much of the chemical is used on the field.

"In the crop protection space with pesticides, I think there's a general feeling that farmers use way more than they need to use just because they can, not recognizing that there are financial implications to that, there are environmental implications to that and it's just not necessary," said Bray, who grew up on a farm and has a brother who is a sixth-generation farmer.

As a pesticide lobbyist for CropLife America, a national trade association that represents the manufacturers, formulators and distributors of pesticides, Bray said people make cracks about what she does, but she uses those moments as opportunities to have a conversation.

"Food is something that we talk about, that we love, it's in our value system," she said. "But there's so much misinformation out there."

She said activists now are focusing on issues at a local level and fear is "a great challenge to overcome" once it sets in.

Rutherford blogs about ag biotech issues at www.thesweettruth.net . Bray said farmers can find out how to answer consumers' questions at http://tellmemore.croplifeamerica.org .

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