by Eric Bohl

A major American food company recently announced its strong stance in support of genetically-modified ingredients, commonly referred to as GMOs. General Mills, maker of such varied foods as Cheerios, Betty Crocker, Chex Mix and Hamburger Helper, announced in May that it was standing with the “broad global consensus among food and safety regulatory bodies that approved GM ingredients are safe.” Missouri farmers appreciated this support of the products many of them produce, as it has often been hard to find in years past.

Steady improvements in farmers’ methods and tools have led to astounding compound growth in agricultural output over the past century. This growth was fueled by a combination of emerging fields. Stronger scientific research and deeper understanding of what works best in different scenarios was dramatically helped by the increased communication everyone experienced with the Industrial Revolution. Sharing that information with the front-line farmer received a boost from organizations like Extension, Farm Bureau and other industry groups. The creation of better machines and the improved quality of plants and animals was boosted by advances in technology, computing power and scientific understanding about machinery and genetics.

In the past few decades, a strong undercurrent of suspicion regarding technological advances in the agriculture industry emerged. The most fervent part of this movement was a distrust of any plant seeds that had been modified by plant scientists to express or avoid certain traits.

Opponents of this practice of genetic modification of organisms have grown to believe that crops created through this process are poisonous, cause disease and risk ecological habitat and diversity. Supporters have often pointed to the hundreds of scientific studies showing that there is no difference in safety between foods that have been produced through a process of genetic modification and those that have not. They point out that plants and animals have been selectively bred for millennia to choose their most desirable traits, and that new processes only make the changes faster or more precise.

In its statement, General Mills noted that GM or “biotech” crops have been found as safe as their conventional counterparts by the U.N. World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and others. They also noted that, even after 20-plus years of GM foods dominating the world supermarkets, experts agree “there has not been a single incident of harm to health or safety demonstrably linked to the use of GMOs anywhere in the world.” On the positive side, they note that GM crops can reduce energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and soil erosion. They also improve water quality, nitrogen retention and water filtration.

Questioners and doubters will always remain. But General Mills has recognized what farmers have known for many years. Genetically modified crops are a huge benefit to society, not something to be feared. We applaud General Mills for standing up for what’s right.

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