The sale of genetically modified seeds is booming. Monsanto, the largest seed producer in the world, wants to keep it that way.
Critics continue to attack genetically modified products, which has prompted the food producing giant to call upon academics and scholars to stand up for the safety of their seeds.
The company, along with its organic opponents, have used academic researchers to promote or destroy the idea of G.M.O foods.
The mixed academic opinions, which come with a hefty amount of authority, are leading to confused consumers. But it appears the anti-G.M.O trend may be changing.
Paying Professors To Research GMO Foods
The billion-dollar labeling battle has pitted Monsanto and other G.M.O seed manufactures against organic producers like Stonyfield Farm. The stakes are high, and each side has recruited academic researchers to defend their position. In a situation like this, it’s hard to tell who’s fighting for what’s right.
“Professors/researchers/scientists have a big white hat in this debate and support in their states, from politicians to producers,” Bill Mashek, a vice president at Ketchum, a public relations firm hired by the biotechnology industry, said in an email to a University of Florida professor. “Keep it up!”
Both sides are using research gathered by academics minds, which is meant to be unbiased. But many have wondered if hidden motives are at play.
Reports of unrestricted grants and entirely funded trips have left some to question the legitimacy of the supporting arguments.
Kevin Folta, the chairman of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida, has been paid to travel in defense of genetically modified foods. But Folta asserts that he makes his own decisions.
“Nobody tells me what to say, and nobody tells me what to think,” Folta said. “Every point I make is based on evidence.”
Many believe that accepting payouts to promote an industry or a product is a conflict of interest. However, Charla Lord, a Monsanto spokeswoman, believes that the food producer’s partnership with academics has helped to detract from the confusion.
“It is in the public interest for academics to weigh in credibly, not only to consumers but to stakeholders like lawmakers and regulators as well,” she said.
Supporters of G.M.O foods argue that labeling genetically modified organisms would create unnecessary consumer fear of government-approved products.
Legislators Reacting To The Debate
Legislators are using the information to make a decision about G.M.O labeling, but it’s important to realize that the fight isn’t about the safety of genetically modified seeds. The fight is truly over the safety of herbicides used to grow and manage G.M.O crops.
“The organic food proponents argue that herbicide use has surged, and that some of these herbicides may be unsafe. The biotech companies say that data relating to herbicide use on genetically engineered crops is being misinterpreted — and that these new crops, more resistant to pests and disease, are helping to feed the world,” the NY Times reports.
The consensus could be changing if G.M.O foods are safer than scientists originally thought. A new website, GMO Answers, is meant to shed light on misinformation about GMO products. The plan was to provide the academics with questions from the public, such as, “Do GMOs cause cancer?”
“This is a new way to build trust, dialogue and support for biotech in agriculture that will help explain in an independent voice what GMOs are,” an executive at Ketchum wrote to Dr. Folta.
The Senate is preparing to adopt legislation, already passed by the House, that would “ban states from adopting laws that require the disclosure of food produced with genetically modified ingredients,” according to the NYTimes.
Among the conflicting information, the Agriculture Department has developed a new label to notify consumers about foods that are G.M.O free. If the labeling is approved, the non-G.M.O food producers could elect to have their products read “U.S.D.A. Process Verified.”
Participation in the labeling is voluntary, but some argue it’s being done in order to support peace of mind, not scientific evidence.
Regardless, the labeling battle rages on with professors at the forefront. Despite the fact that the government says G.M.O products are safe, people still have the right to know what they’re consuming.
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