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Commentary: Myth Madness: The Barrier to Informed Food Shopping

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No another aspect of agriculture is surrounded by more myths, misinformation, misunderstanding, and downright lies than biotechnology, aka GMOs. This has happened primarily because well-funded and organized activist groups have engaged in a long-running, smear campaign against GMOs. It has been exacerbated by social media morons who click “like” and “share” without checking the facts or the source from which the information has come. The biotech industry also bears some responsibility for the myth mess because they first ignored consumers and then baffled them with complex scientific gobbledygook.  Now it is time to move beyond all that, set the record straight, and give consumers some practical answers about the food they buy every day.

The website GMO Answers recently put out list of some of the most common myths about GMOs. One of the most popular was that almost all food products contain GMOs. This is not the case; in fact, on average only 5 items in your average produce section might be genetically modified. These include potatoes, sweet corn, summer squash, papaya, and perhaps some of the new variety of apples.  That’s it! None of the other products can be GMO because there are no GMO varieties available.  Even your seedless watermelons are not GMO; they were developed with traditional, plant breeding methods. There are also many products that are labeled “GMO free” that could not be anything else because they don’t have genes. For example, water or salt have no DNA so no GMO.

Another common GMO myth is that GMO products are drenched with chemicals. This is ironic because the reality is just the opposite.  Products raised with biotechnology require less chemical application. The average GMO soybean field is sprayed with about 22 oz of active ingredients per acre.  Industry figures show that, over the past 20 years, biotechnology has reduced chemical application by over 8%. GMO technology also requires fewer trips across a field which helps reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture.

Another misconception is that because cows, pigs, or chickens eat GMO grain, then their meat or milk is GMO. This is not true.  Scientists examined meat and milk down to the molecular level and found no traces of GMO material in the meat or milk. So, to say milk is GMO free is correct, because ALL milk and yogurt is GMO free.

While uninformed consumers are trying to avoid GMOs, some are beginning to seek out GMO products. Take beer drinkers, for example. The craft beer industry is booming. There are over 100 craft brewers in Indiana alone. The primary ingredient in beer is hops, and craft been contain a large amount of hops which is what gives them their very robust and distinct flavor.  Yet, hops are not easy to grow. They take a lot of labor and a whole lot of water.  An average of 50 pints of H2O goes into growing enough hops for just one pint of beer. But some brewers are experimenting with GMO hops. They require less water and, thus, are easier and less costly to produce. This will help sustain the supply of good craft beer and keep the cost down — a noble cause indeed.

The list of GMO myths is long and varied. There are people who are comfortable believing their myth and don’t want to be disturbed ty the truth. But when you see a GMO myth, get the truth out and bust the myth. You owe it to your industry, and it is your humanitarian duty to help those poor, ignorant saps who believe what they see on social media. Simply getting the truth out there about what food has been genetically modified and what has not is the first step to real  understanding by consumers.  The science and safety come later, but helping shoppers feel comfortable about making informed choices, based on actual facts, is the place to start.

By Gary Truitt