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The Anti-Innovation Movement


Most of you are either in the middle of planting or frustrated because you are not planting. In any case, you are using some of the most advanced planting equipment ever developed by man. No matter the size, age, or color of your planter and the tractor that is pulling it, it is a marvel of mechanical innovation that has only been in use 70 years. For most of the history of agriculture, hand power and horse power did the planting and plowing of crops.  Imagine for a moment how long it would take you to plant your farm today with a horse-drawn, two or three row planter. Then consider that there is a growing movement that wants to return our food production system to what it was at the turn of the 20th century.


This movement is not a bunch of luddites who oppose all technology and live off the grid. The majority are highly educated, work in high tech jobs, and have a considerable amount of economic and political clout.  These folks have the latest iPhone, consume social media voluminously, and support advancements in medicine, education, and transportation. But, they vocally oppose technology and innovation in their food.


This philosophy is the backbone of the anti-GMO movement. “At the core of many anti-GMO arguments lies a romantic traditionalism, a desire for food that is purportedly more in line with nature,” wrote Jayson Lusk recently in the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Lusk goes on to say what is most worrisome about opposition to biotechnology is a market environment hostile to new crop technologies. “What innovations will we forego if the risks of investing in research and development are heightened even further by activism and litigation?” he asked. “Many opponents of biotechnology argue that the science has failed to live up to its promise. Yet these same critics seek to block new innovations, such as golden rice, which is genetically engineered to provide vitamin A to malnourished children.”


This call for more “naturally” produced food will go far beyond the biotechnology issue and impact a wide variety of innovation in food production. Dr. Jason Henderson, head of Purdue Extension, recently testified before a House subcommittee that there are a large number of research projects underway at Purdue that will increase food production without the use of biotechnology, synthetic chemicals, or many other high tech approaches. Yet, this research runs the risk of being demonized because it is new, innovative, and not generally understood by the consumer.


“The next generation of innovation is just around the corner: apples that will not brown, potatoes that produce fewer carcinogens when fried, staple crops in the developing world fortified with micronutrients, field crops in the Midwest that require less nitrogen fertilizer,” writes Mr. Lusk. However, this innovation might never be realized if we negatively stigmatize food made with processes not commonly practiced in an overly romanticized agriculture of the past — where everything was pure, wholesome, and local. This is why the fight against GMO labels is so important to win and why it is so important to win the hearts and minds of consumers to the idea that innovation in food is just as important and necessary as it is in their cell phones and computers.

By Gary Truitt