Lucas Lentsch: “Technology is Not the Enemy, Hunger is”
S.D. Secretary of Agriculture
At the 2015 Governor’s Ag Summit held recently, speaker Brian Klippenstein of Protect the Harvest made a statement that truly resonated with many in attendance: “Technology is not the enemy, hunger is.” Klippenstein was referring to a number of promising yet controversial technologies available to today’s farmers and ranchers. One tool that has received a great deal of discussion in recent years is biotechnology.
Biotechnology, or genetic engineering, is a rapidly growing area of technology in the agriculture industry. The organisms resulting from genetic engineering are known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Despite being subject to a great deal of controversy, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that GMOs are safe. GMO crops have been studied since before the first biotech crop was commercialized in 1996. Recently, a team of Italian scientists cataloged and analyzed 1,783 studies that were conducted from 2002 to 2012 regarding the safety and environmental impacts of GMOs. They could not find a single scientifically-credible study demonstrating that GMOs pose any threat to humans or animals.
International health organizations such as the American Medical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Academy of Sciences have declared that there is no health or safety threat from the consumption of GMOs.
GMOs offer a promising opportunity for farmers to produce more food for a growing population while decreasing the impact on the environment because they often require fewer inputs, like pesticides, or are more drought resistant, requiring less water. GMOs have the potential to make crop production cheaper, easier, and more adaptable to weather conditions and have also been shown to increase yields of various crops by up to 50 percent. Ultimately, GMOs can help meet the lofty goal of feeding a world population that is expected to reach 9.6 billion by the year 2050.
One potential limiting factor to the use of GMOs in agriculture is consumer skepticism. In response to some consumers’ concerns, a number of states have passed or are currently considering GMO labeling laws. A patchwork of state labeling standards would create a number of problems for farmers, seed companies, and consumers, particularly as the agricultural market grows more nationally and internationally. This approach could also feed the widespread confusion over the safety and regulation of GMO crops. Thus, a national uniform policy is needed.
At the federal level, three different agencies have regulatory oversight of GMOs. The Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency all work together under a coordinated framework to ensure GMOs are safe for human consumption and do not adversely impact the environment. Leaving this issue solely within federal oversight would ensure labeling standards are consistent, ultimately resulting in less confusion for consumers.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would ensure this happens. The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 (H.R. 1599) will continue to protect consumers while maintaining a transparent and workable regulatory scheme for GMO labeling. I thank Representative Kristi Noem for her support of the bill and am hopeful that the U.S. Senate will take up this legislative effort soon.