Genetically Modified Seeds

By Peter Thor, President, Bellissimo Foods

There are some matters of importance that are bigger than how we market or buy in the pizza industry, so once in a while we are compelled to write about them and share some facts about what we’ve learned.  One such issue is GM (genetically modified) seeds and how it relates to both our food supply and the environment.

We know from our casual reading and social interactions that most people are against genetically modified foods which they say are both bad for you and bad for the environment.  But as we’ve learned from Mark Lynas, a leading environmentalist from Europe, nothing could be further from the truth.  So let’s examine a few of the commonly misunderstood “myths” about GM, our food supply, and its impact on the environment.

If we start with commonly agreed objectives, (1) safe and nutritious food, and (2) clean environment, we should also add other important objectives like (3) feeding the world’s population, and (4) preserving natural resources (land conservation) and fresh water aquifers.  All of these factors are interconnected and critical for our future on this planet.  In the US, it is common for people to think of hunger as an economic issue, yet millions go to bed hungry.  The National Academy of Sciences in the UK estimated that by 2050, world food demand will increase by 100% from today.  So the challenge facing us is how to feed 9.5 billion people using about the same land area as we use today, using limited fertilizer, water, and pesticides.  How can that work?

“Organic” food production is a popular topic among the rich, and no doubt there is a place for it in every restaurant, but it will not contribute to feeding most people.  Production yields are up to 40% less, and scientific studies have repeatedly disproved significant health benefits.  A study by Rockefeller University found that since 1961, world land area farmed grew by only 12% while food production increased by 300%, enabling feeding an additional 3 billion more people.  How much land was spared thanks to yield improvements due to GM, fertilizer, and water?  The answer is 3 billion hectares or the equivalent of two South Americas!

Is food grown from GM seed safe and nutritious?  The answer is unequivocally “yes”.  As published in a paper to Oxford University in January of this year, Mark Lynas reports, “The GM debate is over…We no longer need to discuss whether or not it is safe – over a decade and a half with three trillion meals eaten there has never been a single substantiated case of harm.”  Idealists may ignore the facts, but the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Society (UK), health institutes, and national science academies around the world all agree.  While there is admittedly a “high-tech” aspect to it, genetically modified seeds are now thought to be actually safer than conventional cross-breeding, since GM seeds have only specific genes moved, rather than conventional “natural” cross-breeding programs which have been practiced for hundreds of years.

GM crops have the potential to do far more than simply raise production yields, since other benefits have included reduced use of chemicals, adaptation to harsh climates and poor water, and pest resistance.  So too are nutritional opportunities.  A few real world examples of GM crop benefits are: 

  • Wheat and corn yield increases of +30% and more
  • Golden rice in China adding Vitamin A to reduce blindness in children
  • Omega 3 oilseed that could replace wild fish for sustainably farmed salmon, protecting ocean fish populations and habitat
  • Aphid resistant wheat which needs no pesticide applications
  • Salt water tolerant grains in Israel to enable food production in otherwise non-arable land
  • Enables high intensity farming of both crops and animals, saving millions of acres of rainforest and wetlands
  • Reduced use of chemicals and fungicides

The regulatory burden to get new products to market in the biotech field seem to be worse than our own industry.  As a result only a few companies have the millions of  dollars in resources to tackle these problems.  While this may seem distant for us, hopefully this provides us all with some facts to ponder.  If you have further interest, simply look for Mark Lynas’ lecture to Oxford University or numerous papers by the National Academy of Science.

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