How Facebook Helped Me Make Friends With GMOs

By Julie Mellor-Trupp

I’ve been obsessed with good health and nutrition since I was a teenager. As a young mom, I did everything possible to ensure my kids’ good health. I chose organic and natural foods, and used all-natural remedies, pesticides, and cleansing agents – only the best. My guidebooks were the myriad of materials provided by health gurus, celebrities and yoga instructors.

Julie Mellor-Trupp writes from Toronto, Ontario.

Then I discovered Facebook. I joined some health groups, and learned about evil corporations like Monsanto, which was trying to poison both us and the environment with dangerous pesticides and GMOs.

My mission was clear: I needed to inform the world of these terrible things.

I was well into my first few months of this commitment when one new member in an anti-Monsanto group suddenly chose me as his mentor, asking for all I knew.

He questioned endlessly, I answered. He questioned my answers. He forced me to search for ever more information.

It got tiresome and I started throwing in links without even reading them. I just ‘knew’ that they were good links; the headlines all matched my views. He read them all – and questioned me sentence by sentence. That meant I had to actually read everything I had shared, and found to my surprise that half of the links that I had provided went against everything I believed.

I started asking a lot of questions myself on my favourite forums, seeking evidence for claims that, days before, I had merely ingested as facts.

I soon found out any challenge to a claim on anti-GMO sites had me being called a shill for Monsanto and permanently removed. I realized that by stifling all challenges and silencing dissent, group members forced others to fall in line, mindlessly and unquestioning. I was shocked that my months as a ‘good member’ meant nothing to people who had now turned against me, merely for asking for evidence of their claims.

Fortunately, I found Facebook forums where I wasn’t yelled at whenever I questioned someone’s post on the subject of food and GMOs. I even joined sites that weren’t anti-GMO, wanting to know how ‘they’ could believe in this terrible unnatural technology.

Click here to Read More about GMOs in the Real Dirt on Farming! 

I’ve learned to respect the views of people who had been educated on subjects about which I was concerned – for example, farmers, biotechnologists and, yes, even those who work for Monsanto. I recognized that some celebrity actor knows no more about science than do I – and shouldn’t have as much influence on public opinion as a university-educated professional.

I even found organic farmers who support GMOs for a sustainable future.

I have come to realize that biotechnologists and farmers are not evil, paid-off or misguided. They kiss their babies before leaving for work and strive to make a better world like the rest of us.

I’ve realized the harm that comes from being uncritical.That those who aren’t speaking from a position of knowledge or education CAN hurt my family – by not vaccinating children, by controlling what is taught in schools, and by lobbying governments into making wrong decisions.

I’ve come to realize that people don’t have a right to their own facts, and that there aren’t always two equal sides to a story.

To ‘pay it forward,’ I now run several fact-based Facebook sites.I try to help others who are confused and fearful about current agricultural practices, as well as other controversial topics like vaccines, pesticides, chemicals and media’s often-misinformed portrayal of scientific research.

I’m every bit as committed to good health as I was as a teenager and young mom, but I’ve learned so much about what really constitutes truth, and what represents distorted propaganda for other agendas.

Julie Mellor-Trupp and her family live near Toronto, Canada.

How Can You Be Sure Your Food is Safe?

By Lauren Benoit and Carmen Tang

Canadians adore food, and rightfully so — we’re the country that combined the most artery-clogging ingredients we could find and turned the resulting dish into a national treasure known as poutine. We pour maple syrup on snow and call it dessert (or breakfast, if you’re truly dedicated). Heck, we love peameal bacon so much the rest of the globe collectively named it after us.

When it comes to food, Canada has a lot to offer and so much to be proud of, including an incredibly safe, diverse, and affordable supply.

Plentiful offerings

As Canadians,  we are privileged to a lot of choice when it comes to what we eat. If you want fresh veggies on your poutine you can have it, if you want bacon on your poutine you can have it, if you want poutine made with organic potatoes and vegetarian gravy, yes, you can have that too. The choices we have are impressive and what’s equally impressive is that every single one of those choices is just as safe as the next. Our government has a responsibility to protect the health and safety of Canadian consumers, and that is something they are very good at.

As farmers we often speak about what we do on the farm, how we follow the strict, federally-regulated protocols that ensure that food leaving our farms is safe for Canadians. The farmer is involved with- and committed to- the production of safe food, but our food safety story doesn’t stop there. A lot happens between the farm gate and dinner plate, and through every step of the value chain the safety of Canadians remains the top priority.

Keeping Canadian food safe

The Canada Food and Drug Act, created by the government of Canada, dictates the laws and policies of food. The CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) enforces these laws and can be thought of as the watchdogs of food safety. The CFIA is also responsible for other parts of the food chains including: the living and transportation conditions of animals, protecting our country from foreign diseases/pests, verifying food import quality, honesty in food labelling, and the regulation of genetically modified crops (commonly referred to as GMOs).

Your beloved golden, crispy fried French fries are likely fried with vegetable oil, particularly canola oil. Much of the canola grown in Canada has been genetically modified to include different traits, namely herbicide tolerance. Genetic modification, a type of biotechnology, is regulated by CFIA and Health Canada under the Food and Drugs Act. Genetically modified crops undergo rigorous safety testing before they even reach the farmers’ fields. The regulatory process involves thoroughly researching, testing and assessing the safety of the new GM foods. In Canada, these foods are referred to as ‘Plants with Novel Traits.’ Not all plants with novel traits are genetically modified, but all are subject to the same safety standards  Each trait and crop undergoes over 200 tests on everything from toxicology, molecular biology, and nutritional composition to ensure the genetically modified product is just as safe and nutritious as its non-GMO counterpart.

After the farm

After leaving the farm, many food ingredients travel to a processing facility. The bacon in your poutine is processed at a registered butcher or meat processing plant. Every federal meat or poultry processing facility is required to follow a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) protocol to food safety standards. HACCP is an internationally-accepted approach that requires processing facilities to identify all possible food safety hazards, design protocols to control hazards, a safety verification process and corrective actions. Potatoes, under fruit and vegetable regulations, also go through a regulated processing plant where the product is cleaned, sorted, portioned then packaged. The CFIA performs safety audits where critical points throughout the plant line are tested frequently for quality control.

If you want to be assured that your “vegetarian gravy” for your poutine is, in fact, meat-free, you can rest assured that regulations and inspection efforts are in place to ensure that product labels are factual, and not misleading (especially in the case of known allergens). In the rare event of a mislabeling, the product is immediately recalled, destroyed, and removed from the marketplace.

Product inspection extends to the non-federal registered sector, too, which includes alcoholic beverages, infant foods, and bakery products, as well as to foods imported to Canada. Products in the grocery store come from all around the world; Canadian food importers must hold an importers license. This license ensures food coming into the country meets the same standards as food produced in Canada by outlining the actions taken to keep their food safe and compliant with the CFIA’s rules.

The bottom line is that as you walk through a Canadian grocery store choosing the food that you will eat and feed your family, you can be assured that each product has passed through an internationally-renowned food safety regulatory system. Regardless of what you chose — organic, genetically-modified, all-natural, local, or conventional — the choice is yours, and all options are equally safe. From there, it’s up to you to make sure you’re storing, handling, and cooking your fine Canadian foods safely!

About the authors: Carmen is a fourth-year Food Science student at the University of Guelph and president of the Food Science Club. Lauren Benoit is a science and regulatory affairs analyst at CropLife Canada, and will be starting a MSc. degree at the University of Guelph in January, 2017.

Reality Check: GMO vs. Non-GMO Crop Production

By now you may have stumbled across a recent New York Times article that outlined the “broken promises” of genetically modified crops (GMOs). This first-generation of transgenic crops was first introduced in to commercial production about 20 years ago. With traits such as herbicide tolerance and insect resistance, these GMOs were rapidly adopted by North America’s farmers.

(If you haven’t yet seen the New York Times article , you can read it here) 

In Europe, however, they don’t grow GM crops, though they do import products, such as meal or oil, from GMO crops. In the New York Times article, the author uses European vs. North American production and pesticide usage patterns to outline his argument that GMOs don’t offer the benefits they claim.

Stuart Smyth is an assistant professor in the Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics at the University of Saskatchewan, and he wrote a lengthy rebuttal to the article (you can read it in its entirety here), correcting many of the falsehoods and half-truths of the above story.

As a quick summary, Smyth draws on actual research studies (not just data point comparisons) that quantify the economic and environmental impact of GM canola, corn, and even papaya. From, yes, reduced pesticide use, to a reduction in tillage (and thus diesel fuel use), and more, Smyth reiterates that GMO crops are safe to grow and eat, reduce the environmental impact of crop production, and benefit our farmers.

Still not sure? We’d be happy to connect you to an actual farmer who uses biotechnology on their farm so you can ask them first-hand how GMOs have changed (or not changed) how they farm. Just ask!

For more on biotechnology, GMOs, crop production, and more, read up in the Real Dirt on Farming.

Be Wary of People Preying on Fear

By Matt McIntosh, Farm & Food Care

No, this isn't how a GMO is made (and no, there are no commercially available GMO tomatoes, anyway)

No, this isn’t how a GMO is made (and no, there are no commercially available GMO tomatoes, anyway)

Do you see pictures like this from time to time? If so, do society a service and call rubbish.

Contrary to what such images imply, our food didn’t drop out of the comic book universe. It may have been produced in part with science — and some pretty incredible science at that — but such science hardly looks as controversial as sticking a tomato with a needle of malignant looking kool-aid.

I don’t know who takes the time to make these images, but the purpose behind doing so is, without a shadow of doubt, to misinform and frighten. I’d like to think that the designers genuinely don’t understand the science against which they rail, but it is perfectly plausible, of course, that they are well aware of how misleading such visual creations can be.

These pictures reduce food science technology to a level akin with antagonists from the Resident Evil franchise – you know, the Umbrella Corporation’s cronies and their zombie-spawning pharmaceuticals.

Assuming, then, that there is some kind of article or information accompanying the picture, can a person trust it? Likely not.

Here’s a typical example of something I see on an all-to-frequent basis. It’s titled “FDA finally admits 70 per cent of chicken contains arsenic,” and there are some major issues right from the start.

First, the article appears on what is, essentially, a blog site and not a legitimate news source. Second, the article features an image of a chicken being injected with some kind of tan liquid — a practice which exists solely in the mind of the image creator. Third, the very title of the article implies a distinct slant on the part of the author which, coincidently, seems to be a New York media production company with some very strong views on many science-y things.

Upon reading, we learn that a treatment for chickens produced by Pfizer – one of those pharmaceutical companies – is leaving traces of inorganic arsenic in the livers of chickens; the Food and Drug Administration in the United States has, as it says, “finally admitted” to the problem, and somehow manages to simultaneously condemn water companies by saying “the level of inorganic arsenic found in the chicken livers is equivalent to the amount of inorganic arsenic found in an eight-ounce glass of drinking water.”

The easy (and wrong) conclusion? Americans must be ingesting dangerous levels of arsenic whenever they eat chicken or drink water.

Of course, this conclusion is completely contrary to what the Food and Drug Administration said on the issue – there’s really nothing wrong with chicken, or water for that matter – but that’s almost beside the point. With so many things initially wrong with the piece – multiple misleading and fabricated pictures, a clear slant in the title, and an unaccredited information source – a person should, theoretically, never even get as far as the first paragraph.

If that were the case, though, I wouldn’t be writing this.

People read, and people listen. And not just disconnected, uneducated folks either — articles and images like this do nothing but perpetuate ignorance. Stemming the spread of this type of visual drivel comes down, at least in part, to critical thinking.

We live in a fast-paced world, and often don’t have the time or mental energy to research every issue in depth. Images of syringes sticking food products, though, should be an automatic red flag declaring “approach with caution.” They are ridiculous pictures, these things, and people employing them as fact should not be trusted.

Listening and Learning Across the Table

matt in GlencoeBy Matt McIntosh, Farm & Food Care

I had a mutually-educational supper with a friend recently.

It was a pre-planned date where I, being rewarded with barbecue and malted barley, gave a 101 on Canadian food and farming — a subject of great passion for me and great interest to my friend, though one she admitted to knowing very little about.

We hit on several common topics over the course of the evening: pesticides, GMOs, and the odd anecdote from my farm-kid childhood, just to name a few. But it was our discussions around “corporate agriculture” and what the ideal farm should be that stuck out the most. Indeed, I was somewhat surprised to discover that my view of the “ideal” farm was actually quite similar to hers.

I was however astounded to learn that my friend, whether she realized it or not, saw modern Canadian farms not as independent family-run businesses, but mere corporate franchises. In her mind, the modern farm was under the thumb of — and even directly controlled by — large agro-chemical corporations.

These ideas manifested themselves shortly after I described my family and our farm. After mentioning that we grow some GMO crops, my friend asked if we actually owned the land where we plant our crops. I said that we absolutely did, though we also rent land from neighbouring farmers. She then asked if we owned our own equipment, to which I explained that we did, though some farmers find it economical to hire others to plant, spray, or harvest.

Those questions were not asked just so she could learn about business structures, however. They were asked because she didn’t know how deep into my family’s livelihood the proverbial corporate tentacle reached. Without necessarily being conscious of the fact, she was questioning our sovereignty over our own business.

The fact that farms are independent businesses is a given to me, but it wasn’t to my friend.

Untrue as it is, the idea that farmers are under the thumb of large corporations is certainly not new. Many times I’ve responded to people asking if we are forced to use specific products, if we lived in fear of lawsuits, and other similar questions, but never had I encountered the idea that our land could be literally taken from us with such ease.

In this case, I realized that in order to connect with my friend starting with shared values was not enough. I had to one more step back and describe that the vast majority of Canadian farms (97%, in fact) actually are family businesses run by independent entrepreneurs who make decisions based on personal values, business goals, and what works best on their land.

With this in mind, I asked my friend what Canadian farming should be, and for comparison, followed her answer with my own conception of the ideal.

To paraphrase, my friend suggested Canadian agriculture should be comprised of more and smaller farms that are environmentally conscious and operate independently of large corporations. This was excellent to hear because I whole-heartedly agree with all her points, and better yet, I can say with certainty that much of what she idealized already exists.

DSC_0009I told her about Ontario’s long-running Environmental Farm Plan program, the seemingly-infinite number of crop varieties available to growers, some neat innovations I come across as a farm writer, and how an independent lifestyle is one of the most attractive characteristics of a farming career. 

Considering my friend has never been to a farm like my family’s — and the fact that, like the rest of us, she is continually bombarded by anti-modernity propaganda — it’s only logical that knowledge gaps exist. That was, after all, the entire point of our dinner date. Regardless of how close to the ideal we think modern agriculture is, though, we both discovered our idea of what was “right” was more similar than originally anticipated.

It was a good conversation, and to her credit, my friend was already quite knowledgeable on some subjects, and shared that knowledge with me. Where she knew little, though, the only real thing lacking was context, and that reminded me not to take the independent business aspect of farming for granted.

Fact or Fiction? Canola oil is the same from GM and non-GM crops

FactFictonYou might be surprised to know that canola is a distinctly “Made in Canada” crop. It was developed by researchers from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the University of Manitoba in the 1970s, using traditional plant breeding techniques. It is derived from rapeseed, an oilseed plant already used in ancient civilization as a fuel. Rapeseed is not fit for human consumption so Dr. Richard Downey and Dr. Baldur Stefannson, through breeding, lowered the erucic acid and glucosinolates thus creating a new plant — canola! The name canola is a contraction of Canadian and ola, meaning oil.

Did you know? Glucosinolates are what makes mustard spicy

Canola belongs to the Brassica genus, the botanical family that includes turnips, rutabaga, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, mustard, and cauliflower. Brassica oilseed varieties are some of the oldest plants cultivated by humanity, with documentation of its use in India 4,000 years ago, and use in China and Japan 2,000 years ago.

While canola was developed using traditional plant breeding techniques, about 80% of the canola grown in Canada has now been modified using biotechnology to make it tolerant to certain herbicides. Using these specific herbicides has reduced the amount of chemical needed for weed control in the fields. Remember: the canola plant has been modified, not the oil, oo canola oil from the herbicide tolerant plant is exactly the same safe and healthy oil as canola oil from conventional plants. The modification has been made to only one canola gene, and it is a protein. Processing removes all proteins from canola oil. That means canola oil made from genetically modified seed is conventional canola oil.

Did you know? Herbicide tolerance also occurs as a traditionally bred trait in canola, wheat, and lentils

In Canada, the largest producer of genetically modified (GM) canola, GM crops are regulated by Health Canada, under the Food and Drugs Act, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are responsible for evaluating the safety and nutritional value of GM foods. Since the dawn of canola, approximately 20 years ago (over 3 trillion meals), there are no documented cases of harm correlated to human consumption of canola oil.

FACT: Canola oil from GM crops is the same as canola oil from conventional crops!

Sources: Canola Council of Canada, CropLife Canada, Health Canada, Wikipedia, and SaskCanola

An Open Letter and Invitation to Rachel Parent

By Lauren Benoit

Dear Rachel Parent,

My name is Lauren Benoit. I’m 21 years old and I have been following your story and your crusade against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for quite some time. You are a remarkably talented and accomplished young lady. I applaud your quest to provide people with more information about where their food comes from.

As both a farmer and someone who aspires to a career in science, I couldn’t agree more that the public deserves accurate reliable information about the products on grocery store shelves. Truthfully, the only place we disagree on is what actually qualifies as good information.

I am firmly in the pro-GMO camp. Biotechnology is a valuable tool for farmers that allows us to grow the abundance of safe and affordable food that we are privileged to here in Canada. The use of GM technology has several benefits, including reducing the need for tillage (which can cause soil erosion) and reducing the amount of fossil fuel burned on farm (and thus GHG emissions). More recent genetically-modified innovations, such as non-browning apples or bruise-resistant potatoes, are new options to help significantly reduce food waste.

The National Academy of Science recently released a report supporting the safety of GMO foods and cited no risk to the environment or humans — the future of science and biotechnology is bright.

Right now, you are choosing to continue your anti-GMO crusade despite overwhelming evidence that your information is flawed. I don’t know if this is because you distrust the more than 270 scientific bodies standing behind the safety of GMOs or because of the financial gain and social status that you gain from it. Either way, I feel for you. The empire that you have built on pseudoscience and fear seems to be crumbling.

For someone at the age where they are just beginning a career, I could understand if you’re afraid of what this means for you. Being 19 years old is hard enough as it is, and you have a lot of added weight on your shoulders right now. You started Kids Right to Know when you were 11 years old. You’ve spent 8 years — almost half your life — working on this cause, and as we continue to learn about GM technology, the facts are not in your favour. 

Even though we disagree on a topic very near to both our hearts, I do respect your drive and, if armed with accurate information, I think you have potential to become one of the great scientific communicators of our generation. I truly hope that you will listen to the science before it is too late and we see what could have become a wonderful career communicating science-based information disintegrate.

I would very much like to meet you and hear more of your story, if you’d be willing to meet — the coffee’s on me.

Yours truly,

Lauren Benoit

Lauren BenoitLauren Benoit is a 2016 BSc. (Agr) graduate from the University of Guelph who was raised on a grain farm just outside of Kirkton, ON. Lauren is currently working in crop protection research and has plans to begin an MSc. Degree in weed science at the University of Guelph in January 2017.

You Heard Me: I Like GMOs

By Matt McIntosh, Farm and Food Care Ontario

Few issues get me fired up like biotechnology and GMOs (also known as genetically modified organisms). Biotech interests me scientifically, concerns me socially, and confounds me to no end. It’s a subject where speaking out in favour can land you in a minefield of hateful conversations, and a topic that remains hotly contested despite thirty years of discussion.

It is also, however, a subject which the scientific and agricultural community must resolutely continue discussing with the public. The catch is, it needs to be approached in a specific way — it needs to be approached with less science and more stories.

To be honest, and if you haven’t guessed already, I’m a bit of a biotech fan.

I love GMOsYes, you read that right: I LIKE GMOs.

I see biotechnology as one of a great many tools that societies around the world can use to overcome significant agricultural, economic, and environmental challenges. Is it the scientific be-all end-all? Of course not. Should it replace things like traditional breeding? Of course not. But when used in conjunction with the practices, varieties, and lessons acquired over thousands of years of agricultural history, I can’t help but be awestruck at the astounding potential this technology has.

Why, then, does the opposition to biotechnology seem more combustible than ever?  The answer, or part of the answer anyway, is simple enough – biotech supporters are great at explaining, but not-so-great at connecting.

Kevin Folta, 2016

Kevin Folta, 2016

“Biotech is a battle between fear and fact, between heart and head, and heart always wins,” says Dr. Kevin Folta, a prominent biotech proponent and professor who chairs the Horticultural Sciences department at the University of Florida.

“You can’t pound people with science and expect them to accept it. You have to show that you have interests in problems that align with theirs, and how your solutions are viable mechanisms to fix them.”

I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Folta speak at the Farm & Food Care Ontario conference this past April. I fully support his message that establishing shared values and actually speaking-out is absolutely critical if we want the public to understand and accept this incredible science.

The unfortunate bit is Folta’s sentiment is not new. Indeed, the idea of communication through shared values has been one of the central themes discussed within agriculture for years. As progressive as this industry can be, though, it’s a theme that agriculture as a whole has in many ways failed to address — much to our detriment.

Personally, I can say I’ve bore witness to how effective a shared values approach can be (Farm & Food Care, my organization, has quite a few outreach initiatives). And really, if anti-GMO activists can successfully use this method – and they do – why can’t we?

For his part, I would suggest that nobody knows the highs and lows of public communication like Dr. Folta. His is a real roller-coaster tale.

During his presentation, and again in a follow-up email conversation, Folta explained that he, like many, had spent years reiterating the science behind biotechnology, but to no avail. In 2013, though, he started focusing on values and trust (what the Ancients called “pathos and ethos”), discussing how biotechnology impacts individual farmers, the goals of researchers, how communities cope and recover from diseases, and so on.

A change was noticeable almost immediately, and Folta began “changing hearts and minds” with much more success. Unfortunately for him, that success attracted the ire of characters with rather sinister intentions.

At that point, folks, the manure-slinging really started.

Through the American Freedom of Information Act, anti-biotech activists seized Folta’s email records (his research projects at the University of Florida make use of government funds, and thus he is publicly accountable). Using those records, a false narrative purporting him to be a payee and puppet of large agro-chemical companies was manufactured and spread from Vancouver to Pretoria. The incident forced Folta to defend his career, his science, his institution, and most significantly, his own credibility.

Kevin Folta speaks at the 2016 annual general meeting

Kevin Folta speaks at the 2016 annual general meeting

His name sufficiently tarred in the eyes of millions, Folta was worried his career was over.

Thankfully, the blatant lies were exposed soon thereafter, and he eventually rebounded both personally and in his career. Now, he actively discusses his passion through a number of different mediums, including a podcast (Talking Biotech), blog (kfolta.blogspot.ca), as a speaker, and as a contributor to www.GMOanswers.com – a public-facing site providing information, resources, and news on biotechnology.

On a personal level, Folta’s experience really hits home for me. It is a grand example of my significantly more minor-league experiences.  I myself have been called a “shill for big ag” while in university, working as a journalist, and even in social settings.

My experience isn’t unique either. Discussing GMOs anywhere can be both frustrating and stupefying. The willingness to over-simplify complex science into tweet-sized falsities, to blindly argue correlation automatically means causation, is astounding. Most notably of all, though, is the level of personal and sometimes even violent vitriol hurled between opponents. Just take two minutes and read the comments under a GMO-focused news article and you’ll see what I mean.

The whole business is a sickening state of affairs, and one that has consequences in ways most of us wouldn’t even consider. One that has stuck with me personally is how Folta’s unfortunate experience as a target of anti-GMO activism has turned people away from pursuing science.

“It breaks my heart,” says Folta with very visible emotion during his conference presentation. “I have potential students emailing me asking if their names would be included in public records if they work with me. They are not going into the field because they are afraid for their future. It’s absolutely devastating. “

Now, I may be a writer by trade, but I’m also a farm kid with career aspirations. I want to get back to my family’s farm. I cannot fathom being forced away from that goal by fear. The fact that fear keeps prospective scientists from pursuing their interests, from pursuing a career in which they see value for themselves and others, is abominable.

Amidst the negativity, though, it’s important to remember that recovery is possible, and that the public is actually open to what biotech supporters have to say. In fact, Folta specifically identified farmers as key players in the biotech debate. Farmers are, after all, the prime users of biotech crops, and the public wants to hear their stories. 

“Get your online real estate. Register your farm as a Twitter handle, start a blog and just share personal experiences,” says Folta. “People like me can be smeared to death (but) you’re immune from that. You’re the most competent and trusted, but we don’t talk to (the public). Right now the people that want to take out tools away are filling the void.”

Misinformation is a reality impossible to escape from, but laying down and letting misinformation macerate good, honest fact is an option no one can afford to take. As Folta’s experiences so blatantly illustrate, repeating the same-old communication strategies does not suffice. Saying nothing does not suffice. Speaking together and from the heart, however, has the potential to really tip the scales.

My dad often imparts the phrase “might as well do it now” whenever there’s a tough job to be done, with the understanding that procrastinating only makes the job more difficult. A lot of us, myself included in many ways, are way past due for taking our turn in the trenches.

Science needs good spokespeople and good stories — and agriculture the world over has both in spades.

Straight Talk: Let’s Get Real About Technology and our Food

It’s understandable that many consumers are curious about about how their food is grown. After all, we put food in our bodies, share it when celebrating or at times of mourning, and are responsible for what we serve to our precious children. At a time when anyone can broadcast their own personal message to millions of followers in seconds, there’s no shortage of opinions and advice on what you should and shouldn’t eat.

The tough part is, the science of health and wellness is far less sexy than many food bloggers and celebrity-du-jour personalities would have you believe. Unfortunately, the words “safe”, “affordable” and “abundant” don’t get the heart pumping like “toxic”, “Frankenfood”, and “genetically modified”. Teasing out fact from fiction about our food is not always easy or straight-forward.

This week, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report on the effects of genetically engineered (GE, sometimes also called GMO) crops on human health, the environment, and agriculture. The broad study combed through 900 studies and compared conventionally-bred crops to their GE counterparts.

Hear More: Click here to hear “Debunking Food Myths” with Yvette d’Entremont, the Sci Babe

The panel of scientists came up with a rather ho-hum conclusion: GE crops are pretty much just crops. One of the scientists involved in the study went on to say that GE is not “the panacea that some proponents claim, nor the dreaded monsters that others claim.”

Ultimately, the study confirms that crop varieties containing GE traits are safe for us to consume and safe for the environment. They’re also not a silver bullet to any one challenge in agriculture  — but anyone involved in farming recognizes there are always trade-offs when you’re working with Mother Nature.

The Academy of Sciences’ report also noted that the distinction between “genetically modified” and not is becoming less obvious, as technology, such as CRISPR, a gene-editing technique, creates new varieties of crop types indistinguishable from non-modified lines.

Will this Biotech 2.0 ease the fears and distrust many consumers have of technology in food production? That’s the big question that many in agriculture would love to see answered with a resounding yes.

Curious about how your food is grown? Follow this link to The Real Dirt on Farming

Guest Blog: Biotech Benefits for the Environment and You, Too

By Bob Bartley, grain farmer based at Roland, Manitoba.

I have been a farmer for 40 plus years and I have grown genetically enhanced (GE) crops since 1996. We grow corn, soybeans and canola, all of which are GE as well as other crops which are not. I have seen many benefits to this technology through the years, but what is in it for the consumer?

IMG_2241I really don’t consider the crops I grow to be ready-to-eat food, like apples, carrots or potatoes, but more like ingredients to make food products such as margarine, flour and feed for livestock. Government regulators and scientists have questioned the safety of GE crops right from the beginning. As a result, these crops have undergone testing far beyond that required for other new varieties. There have been about 2,000 published studies on GE crop safety, I’m told. The results say that the GE crops now grown are as safe as any others. Some reports say even safer. There have also been several studies showing that they reduce food prices too-a direct result of the higher farm yields. GE crops are one reason why North American consumers have the safest, highest quality and most affordable food in the world.

The adoption of higher yielding GE crops has allowed farmers to grow more without using additional land.  Every day, cities grow larger on some of the most productive soils in the world. Every day the world’s population increases. Farmers are tasked to produce more food on fewer acres and it’s not something we can do on our own.  Farmers need the help of innovative plant breeding tools to increase the capability of the crops we grow – innovations that increase production and allow our harvests to be used in many different ways to provide food for you and me.

The adoption of higher yielding GE crops has allowed farmers to grow more without using additional land.  Every day, cities grow larger on some of the most productive soils in the world

The discovery of the herbicide glyphosate and glyphosate-tolerant crops changed agriculture. They have allowed farmers to control perennial weeds in crops instead of depending on summer-fallowing, which requires no crop to be produced for an entire year.  Also, with the new technology, the crop stubble remaining after grain harvest is undisturbed and this allows for more moisture retention and reduced soil erosion due to wind and water. There is less fuel used on the farm because of the reduced soil tillage.

Bob BartleyInsects have always been a threat to our crops and thus to our livelihood. The Bt gene in the corn we grow, gives the crop resistance to the European corn borer. In earlier years, we used insecticides to kill the borer but they also killed beneficial insects such as lady bugs. Bt is pest specific and only kills the corn borer. Insecticide is not applied now which saves another trip across the field.

Farmers have always been stewards of the land using the tools available to them.  We strive to leave our land with the same or increased production capability compared to when we started farming. Carbon sequestering in farm soils, through no-till and reduced tillage, results in a reduction of green house gas (CO2) levels in the atmosphere.

What’s in it for the consumer? Society’s buying habits have leaned towards being environmentally friendly and sustainable. So here it is!  Better air and water quality due to reduced erosion and reduced tillage. Fewer pesticides applied and less fossil fuel consumption resulting in lower greenhouse gases. Drought-resistant crops that produce with more efficient use of water. Protection of beneficial insects. It turns out that what’s good for me as a farmer is also good for you the consumer.  Some call that win-win.

This post first appeared in the Financial Post, April 13, 2016, and is used with permission.