Terry Stevenson’s Agricultural Weblog

A blog about news and events occuring in Canadian agriculture

Genetically modified crop debate heats up – again

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The debate over genetically modified crops, especially for wheat is heating up again. This recent escalation in opposing viewpoints started when three wheat organizations from Australia, Canada and the United States made a joint announcement that they would begin working towards “synchronized commercialization of biotech traits in wheat.” 

This announcement has brought a chorus of condemnation from many groups and organizations around the world. Many of those opposed to this step of genetically modifying wheat are in fact farmers themselves. The arguments that both sides put forward are very powerful.

 Those in favour of genetically modifying wheat state that the declining wheat acres being grown is in part because of competition from other biotech crops (corn and soybeans) and stagnant yields in comparison to other crops over the past number of years. This has resulted in a reduction in wheat production and overall wheat research. Those in favour also point out that a result of genetically modified crops is a reduction in crop protection products that are applied which is better for the enviroment. 

 On the other side, opposing opinions argue that the current generation of genetically modified crops has yet to prove that there are any significant yield advantages. Some opponents like to point their finger at Monsanto as some kind of purveyor of monster genetics and mostly motivated by the almighty dollar. Still many question the integrity of the science and research results that have been conducted to date on genetically modified crops. There is no question that food safety is at the top of consumers’ minds today and any food genetically modified or not must be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be safe for the environment and to eat.

 One common thread that runs through both sides of this debate is passion. While passion is an admirable quality when making a case for your point of view, the danger lies in that  it can sometimes make a person become blind to the facts being presented by the other side.

 This past fall I had the opportunity to tour Monsanto’s research facilities in St. Louis, Missouri. The scientists and researchers I met there were very passionate about their work, finding solutions to assist farmers in increasing crop production and help feed the world. I work for two farmer-owned agricultural co-operatives’, AGRIS and Wanstead Farmers. I can assure you that these farmers are just as passionate about growing their crops, maximizing yield potentials and feeding the world.

 Both sides in this debate make excellent points supporting their respective points of view. I certainly don’t have the perfect answer to settle this hotly contested debate. I do think that considering scientifically based facts is usually the best direction to take in helping to resolve these types of issues.

 Science can address some the key arguments;

1)      will genetically modified wheat result in higher yields?

2)       is it economical for farmers to grow and consumers to purchase?

3)       is it safe for the environment and human consumption?

 Moral arguments can and will be made against scientific facts that are established in the case of genetically modified organisms. Science does not take sides and provides us all with proven facts that will hopefully allow opposing groups to come to a reasonable consensus on the future of genetically modified wheat.

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Written by terrystevenson

June 2, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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