Commentary: Separating fact from fiction on biotechnology

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Note: Vanessa Kummer, United Soybean Board Chair and a soybean farmer from Colfax, N.D.

Much is said about biotechnology in our food supply, otherwise known as GMOs. It’s sometimes hard to tell fact from fiction. The United Soybean Board (USB) wants to set the record straight regarding this important technology, which enables us to grow more on less land, using fewer inputs and conserving the soil better than conventional crops.

What is biotechnology?

Simply put, biotechnology takes the DNA from one organism and transfers it into another. For as long as humans have been raising crops, we have cross-bred plants in order to improve them. We’ve done this by taking the pollen from one plant and physically transferring the genes in the pollen to another plant in order to make offspring that produce more seed or that can fight off diseases and pests, for example. However, pollen contains many genes, some good and some bad. So, late in the last century, we identified a way to accomplish gene transfer in the lab. This made it possible to add only the good genes, or fix bad ones already in the plant, in order to improve its usefulness to farmers and mankind.

Is it safe?

Yes. To ensure they are safe, the U.S. government has established a rigorous approval process for biotech products that includes the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Moreover, ever since the first biotech crop hit the market in 1996, about 1 billion acres of U.S. farmland have been planted to biotech crops and trillions of pounds of U.S. soybeans and corn have been consumed worldwide, all with no credible reports of harm to human health. In addition, these organizations have come out in support of biotech foods:

  • American Medical Association
  • U.S. National Academy of Science
  • UN Food and Agriculture Organization
  • World Health Organization
  • International Council for Science
  • British Medical Association

Why is it important to know about the safety of biotech crops?

Some have questioned the safety of biotech crops. That is because there are people, some of whom are even from the academic world, who claim that research has been done that questions biotech’s safety. But it’s important to know that in order for any research to be credible, it needs to be reviewed by the authors’ peers and replicated in their labs. No such “peer-reviewed” research has proven GMOs to be unsafe. As a matter of fact, the opposite is true: Peer-reviewed research shows that GMOs are safe.

The 69 farmer-directors of USB oversee the investments of the soy checkoff to maximize profit opportunities for all U.S. soybean farmers. These volunteers invest and leverage checkoff funds to increase the value of U.S. soy meal and oil, to ensure U.S. soybean farmers and their customers have the freedom and infrastructure to operate, and to meet the needs of U.S. soy’s customers. As stipulated in the federal Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soy checkoff.


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