GMO debate won’t be solved anytime soon

Regular readers of the Tribune Chronicle’s community page know that each Thursday we publish what we, in my newsroom, affectionately refer to as the “farm column.”

“On the Farm” offers views and opinions of area agricultural experts on things like the past and future of this very important local industry. If you think this doesn’t sound like anything that’s incredibly controversial, you’d be incorrect.

Frequently on Thursday mornings my office phone rings with readers disturbed by the often supportive stance our columnists take on the subject of GMOs, i.e., Genetically Modified Organisms. The health and safety of GMOs is a major topic of conversation and debate today.

I admit my knowledge of agriculture is limited, and I was having a difficult time understanding both sides of this hotly debated issue and speaking intelligently to my callers. So I did what any good journalist would do. I spent some time getting educated. I read about the pros and cons of GMOs. I heard arguments from a very close personal friend who is adamant in his opposition to GMOs and chemically treated crops. And I called up a couple of local agriculture experts and farm columnists and arranged to sit down at the Ohio State University Extension Office in the Agriculture and Family Education Center in Cortland to hear what they had to say.

I learned that farmers are coming to rely more and more on genetically engineered crops to make the agricultural process more advanced and their yields more profitable. They believe that scientific advances in technology are beneficial for all industries, so why not in agriculture? But it is human nature to fear change — especially when it comes to the food we feed our families. In response, these agricultural experts produced document after document that gave the stamp of approval to GMO safety from the U.S. Department of Agriculture; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; U.S. Food and Drug Administration; and the World Health Organization.

Opponents, however, want to debunk this support and claim that it is driven largely by big corporations, like those that manufacture weed-controlling chemicals and who stand to make big money.

Opponents of GMO usage argue that GMO crops are being developed in laboratories to be resistant to pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, that way crops will withstand regular chemical treatments used to remove bugs and weeds.

That drives a lot of fear, and of course it should. No one wants to think about chemicals that are used to treat the food before it gets to our dining room table.

But like it or not, the fact is, farms would not be able to produce enough food for the world if they didn’t treat their crops. Further, many non-GMO and organic farmers also use pesticides and herbicides, but still experience crop damage because non-GMO crops may not be as resistant to these chemicals.

According to a Purdue University report, 18 million farmers in 28 countries planted about 181 milion hectares of GMO crops in 2014. About 40 percent of those were in the United States. According to their study, eliminating GMOs would decline the corn yield by 11.2 percent on average; 5.2 percent of soy; and 18.6 percent of the cotton yield. Some argue that if organic farming was all that was permitted, there would be much more famine in the world.

After much research on this topic, I have developed an opinion. But really, my opinion is irrelevant. Here in America, we all are able to believe and say whatever we want about controversial topics like this.

Do your homework. Look at both sides of the issue and be open minded.

After that, at the end of the day, do what you think is best for your family’s health. If you feel strongly, write a letter to the editor that I can publish on this page.

Then push for good food labeling so that we, as Americans, can continue to make good decisions. Farming shouldn’t be divisive.

It should be about information, education and choice.