The latest GMO Report, compiled by a panel of experts in Engineering, Medicine and Sciences, staunchly states that genetically-modified crops pose no threat whatsoever to the welfare of the consumer. While their conclusions may be open to interpretation (as everything should be), public opinion is a different animal altogether, and commercial trends toward non-GMO products are not losing any momentum. Why don’t we discuss this report in a proper context then?
GMO Report Findings and Implications
The committee, that has placed its reputation on the line with this report that has already sparked some controversy, claims to have analyzed data from over 900 studies conducted by universities and NGO’s, nation-wide across a span of 20 years. The results point to there being no link between the ever-growing percentage of genetically engineered crops (USDA approved) and a wide range of metabolic diseases such as gastrointestinal illnesses, obesity, allergies, and cancer.
The echoes of the GMO report did not take long to make themselves heard. Darren Seifer, an expert at the prestigious NPD market research company, has stated that this report will have no influence whatsoever in the existing negative attitudinal trends towards GMO products. He backs this up by stating that these attitudes are here to stay because fear has been ingrained in the public and non-GMO advocates have profited from this fear in an attempt to widen their niche.
The report is likely to have the same non-existent effect on the farmers themselves, or on the businesses that supply the farmers because it is unlikely that they will renounce on the productivity that comes with implementing GMO crops, or that they would invest in expensive alternatives to traditional herbicides and pesticides.
A Bit of Official Statistics
When it comes to the food market as a whole, the stakes of the GMO vs. non-GMO duel are significant. The non-GMO share of the market is still pretty minor, nevertheless, the trends are on the up and up. For example, in 2012, the total sales of GMO-free labeled products amounted to close to $12.9 billion. In 2015, these sales have almost doubled. This is the most relevant parameter in assessing the growing popularity of non-GMO products, and the pertinence of the statements of the above-mentioned market research expert.
The USDA has, since 1990, granted a series of approvals to several varieties of genetically enhanced crops. As it would be expected, most approvals have been made to plants that have a far-reaching impact in both the processed and unprocessed types of foods: corn (38), soybean (20), cotton (17), tomato (11) or rapeseed (7).
With their faith in GMO’s enhanced by this official approval, farmers have embraced them with both hands, as nobody in their right mind would turn down higher productivity with lower maintenance. In addition to the traditional pesticides and herbicides, which more often than not have demonstrated their pernicious effects, it is no wonder that a producer vs. consumer war of words has been ignited, and the debate does not seem to be cooling down.
The Other Side of the Barricade
Alarm bells signaled by non-GMO advocates are based on sets of sound statistics. Nevertheless, results in health risks related flows of information are contradictory. These figures are accurate about the prevalence of genetically-engineered crops in the US:
- 94% of cotton crops;
- 93% of soybean crops;
- 90% of sugar beets;
- 88% of corn crops;
- 100% of tobacco crops
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
When you consider that these are the building blocks of all food products, then you get the actual magnitude of even the slightest risk that only one of these GMO variants could be less than safe. This implies that eggs, meat and dairy products would be compromised, and all other derivative products, which means almost the whole spectrum of the market. Furthermore, this deep influence may provide an explanation as to why there seems to be different data and conclusions with every GMO report.
Some advocates of GMO argue that, in addition to the increased productivity, the durability of their variants has led to a significant reduction in the use of pesticides and herbicides, in some cases even a 37% reduction.
This may be true, however, common sense dictates that it is unwise to place all your eggs in one basket, hence the growing demand for non-GMO food.
What Are the Alternatives?
A steady and increasing demand for non-GMO products should convince the farmers to diversify their crops, which today seem to be wholly reliant on GMO’s and antiquated products such as glyphosate-based herbicides.
Encouraging them to use recently developed substances like the Enlist Duo herbicide, which uses a chemical combination that is not only more potent than the traditional herbicides but also more environmentally friendly would go a long way in rethinking agriculture with the consumer in mind.
Yet, these changes can only be achieved through constant effort in the media as well as in political circles. For them to come through, consumers must be educated and we all know that this is a process that cannot happen overnight. Variety is the spice of life, and applying this ideal to a food market that centers on the primitive conceptions of productivity and sales is going to take a while. Also, a GMO report like the one that ignited this post does not help.