The Turning Biotech Tide

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For those in the know, agriculture is much like the tide. There is a definite ebb and flow in terms of market drivers, overall trends and technology adoption — an endless cycle of ups and downs.

For decades, however, there has seemed to be one major exception to this rule — biotech crops. Since their introduction to the market, biotech crops have been at a consistent low tide in terms of opposition to their use/consumption. Numerous special interest groups have sued, protested and posted “information” on the Internet decrying “Frankenfoods.” And all this has taken place while a host of scientific research conducted over years have cleared biotech crops.

But I’m happy to report that 2012 may have been the year when the biotech crop tide finally came in to a degree. For those that follow the marketplace, there were three very high profile, encouraging signs that biotech development may finally be getting some measure of respect in the public eye. The first of these took place in November, when California voters soundly defected Proposition 37. This would have required food companies to label any of their products that were made using biotech crops.

Then, in December, Discover magazine in its annual “The Top 100 Science Stories Of The Year” edition named transgenic cotton’s ability to reduce pesticide use while boosting ecosystems the No. 24 scientific development of 2012. This pointed to research done on Chinese biotech cotton that found not only did pesticide use drop an average of 60% in fields growing these varieties, but that beneficial insect populations increased as well.

While nice accolades to have in their corner, biotech crops would still seem to be a low tide in terms of overall public love. After all, food manufacturers and researchers have long accepted biotech crops as beneficial. What’s needed now is some love from activists.

And now, biotech crops have this as well. In January, outspoken biotech critic/environmentalist Mark Lynas essentially backtracked on his long-standing anti-biotech stance. “For the record, I apologize for having spent several years ripping up biotech crops,” said Lynas, speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference. “We employed a lot of imagery about scientists in their labs as they tinkered with the very building blocks of life, hence the Frankenstein food tag. What we didn’t realize at the time was that the real Frankenstein’s monster was not biotechnology, but our reaction against it.”

Over the years, Lynas added, the ongoing scientific research being conducted on a regular basis has convinced him of the safety of biotech crops.

I know that for many, many years, biotech companies have consistently pointed to research and scientific facts to prove that biotech crops are safe. It’s nice to finally see this factual message getting some more widespread acceptance. Maybe now, agriculture can go back to doing what it does best — feeding a growing world population instead of consistent fighting irrational fears.

Sfiligoj is the Editor for both CropLife and CropLife IRON magazines. He travels regularly to cover industry events and has been dedicated to the ag retail industry since he joined the staff in 2000.

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2 comments on “The Turning Biotech Tide

  1. Innsbrook

    Biotech had, until recently, a negative image because that image was being framed and disseminated by the hysterical and unethical food activists who were playing a dirty hand in spreading misinformation and outright lies about modern, science based agriculture in their quest to force the worlds food supply to become one produced in the manner of the romantic image created by "Little House On The Prarie" where men tended their fields with hand held tools and the farm women worked alongside them wearing bonnets and long dresses. The reality of that image would be one described as "feeding rich people expensive food that cost a lot of money because it's being produced in an inefficient manner due to irrational fears on the part of the phobists". These rich food yuppies have the money so they don't care if the less affluent starve while they satisfy their phobias.

  2. SRHUEN

    I'm from a medium sized farm in the midwest and growing up I didn't question any of the products we used, herbicides, fungicides, seed, etc. The reason for this was because everyone in the agricultural community i.e. dealers, reps, farmers, consultants, etc. assumed the products we used were safe and anyone who questioned safety was considered a kook and made it socially ackward if they took that view. Therefore nobody did any research on any of it. We just assumed, somebody smarter than us did. That's the problem, as growers we need to be pro-active and not just take somebodies word for it. The problem comes in when the FDA releases statements saying they're not in charge of food safety, it's ultimately up to the producers (farmers). Then you have companies like Monsanto who have publicly stated that food safety isn't their job, their job is to make as much money as possible. It was hard to believe, if you'd like I can reference those two statements if you don't want to take my word for it. Without a little research I wouldn't have known that food safety was my responsibility as a grower. As far as research done, I continue to question what reserach is done and the credibility of this research, because thus far I haven't seen any purely unbiased research. When research is done and I'll agree a lot of it has been done, we don't look at long term affects as much as we should. We say, oh well, it didn't kill the ginea pig so I guess were alright and it's a safe product. The other major problem with research is the only ones doing mainstream research are the ones selling the products themselves and it is piece of cake to make a 'loaded gun study' to make it look good. If the companies that make the products don't do the studies they have a 'third party' do the studies making it look like it's not them, but really it is. A lot of studies are done in universities for example. Who educates and funds the universities? THOSE COMPANIES. If someone stood up to any injustice within these universities that someone would be shoot down quickly and called a quack for one thing. But the major reason is because the university would lose MAJOR money. Get it? So it's a cycle, and it's been that way for a long time. People rarely 'buy' or buy into on pure logic, check yourself the next time you shop, you may be buying something that isn't necessarily the best deal for needs. You may be buying it because you were emotionally comfortable with it. As far as the Prop 37 deal, here's how that went: Extremely liberal state, usually the pioneer on what the rest of the nation eventually does. So how does something like this not pass? If you research it you will find out that Monsanto spent multi-millions to make sure this passed, through propaganda, marketing, paying doctors to speak on their behalf while remaining anonymous. If you don't believe me research it yourself, if you're not motivated enough to research it, I can show you the cite. I can show you tons of research indicating how unsafe biotech food is. I can show that when biotech crops first came out the FDA warned of it's dangers and said we should not carry through with production. Genetic modification has been well documented to be unsafe. Injecting a gene alone causes free radicals in the plant….a well known cancer causing uncharged molecule. It just doesn't make sense after doing a little research. Why in 1900 you're risk for cancer was 1 in 30 now it's 1 in 2? What changed? I thought America was on the cutting edge of health, currently we're not even in the top ten in the world! But for some reason we are astronimically ahead of any other country in how much money we spend on health care. A bit strange. But I'm sure things will stay the way they are, five companies running our food supply, so I guess acceptance is just the answer here. I used to make fun of others for being 'hippies' and thought, hmm that's great but how are we going to feed that world with that 'model of farming'. After doing some research I've found that organic actually can produce better yields then conventional. Think I'm a quack now? :) Do some research of your own, it takes quite a bit but it's possible, cover crops & raising O.M. to 6+% starts doing the work for you. You'll find yourself using less and less commercial fertilizers because your ppm's become adequate, and less chemical because of the allopathic effect from cover crops. But this process of conversion takes a looooong time, you just can't dive in or you'll fall flat on your face because everything that needs to be in the soil to make it work has been desecrated because of all the previous commercial ferts and chemicals. Now that I've given my hippie propaganda, I'd like to let you remind you what I said at the beginning and my background. I thought people like me were nuts and some of them are. But they're not nuts of the information they're providing is factual and scientific instead of based on some 'tree hugger' mentality they picked up somewhere along the way.