Sarah Hovinga

The Debate Over “GMOs”: Let’s Talk About Facts, Constructively

I honestly am not quite sure how to talk about “GMOs” in a way that will make everyone feel comfortable. I just know what’s right and true based on my values, my scientific education and experience, what I’ve learned about the wonderful people I know in Ag, and my passion for feeding people and taking care of the environment.

I think the “GMO” conversation has become so heated from where I sit due to the immense emotional value that we place on food. It’s what many of us enjoy at the end of a hard day, it’s what we form memories around, and it’s what we use to provide for our loved ones so they can live healthy lives with full bellies and happy faces, though this is not the case in all places where food is more scarce.

I think it’s amazing and honorable that people want to know more about where their food comes from. I think there are a lot of people in the agricultural industry that want to talk about what they do and why they do it. I also think that there is a lot of false information out there that is perpetuated. For example, here is a good resource that goes through some of the common misconceptions about “GMOs”. As a scientist, it just doesn’t sit right with me that false information is out there about something so important, like “GMOs”.

Also, what’s up with the quotation marks I keep using around “GMOs”? “GMO” stands for “genetically modified organism” which means that the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), or genetic material, of an organism has been changed. This is a basic fundamental need of one of the central dogmas of continuing life on our earth: evolution. DNA needs to change and adapt to the surroundings through the generations, otherwise it will be outcompeted and made extinct. I understand why the debate is so confusing over GMOs because it’s a term that means something different to different people. How can we move forward in a constructive way if we’re not on the same page?

Sarah Hovinga
Sarah Hovinga
Sarah Hovinga,
Senior Scientist, Biologics Project and Product Support, Disease Management, Bayer Division Crop Science

One of the modern techniques scientists use to introduce genes into crops to develop a new variety is by gene transfer using a bacteria called Agrobacterium. Basically, you give a gene that you want a plant to incorporate into its DNA to a bacterial strain. The bacterial strain enters the plant and the gene is transferred. A recent report goes into some more of the details about how this phenomenon of Agrobacterium transferring DNA into plants to modify their genes has actually been happening in a way in sweet potatoes for at least 8,000 years if you look at the genetic history of potatoes in countries like Perú. I believe one of the most fascinating aspects of science is discovering what wonders the natural world has already figured out.

For me the discussion of GMOs is not about making a list of pros and cons; it’s about relating to one another and understanding each other’s interests and concerns. I could go on and on about how over 100 Nobel laureates are speaking to the safety of GMOs, or how GMOs have reduced pesticide use by over 1.2 billion pounds, but I don’t think that’s where to begin. Let’s start at the beginning and talk about what’s important to everyone: food, family, environment, and life. Let’s talk about the facts, constructively. Last but not least, if you’re like me and want to research, understand, and decide for yourself, there are a lot of good informational sites out there. Here are just a few of them and thank you for your time in reading what I have to say.

  • www.bestfoodfacts.org: Hear directly from scientific experts about food facts. Go Science!
  • www.findourcommonground.com: I really like the idea of this site since it promotes conversation between women buying and producing food. It brings the conversation to a relatable level from genuine people.
  • http://genera.biofortified.org/wp/: Do you ever hear about all of those “peer-reviewed” articles in support of GMOs? How does one find these articles? It’s not very clear to a person outside the sciences, frankly. But here is a database that makes them easy to access.
  • www.gmoanswers.com: Think of this like a search engine of asking questions about GMOS. Ask your question and see what answers pop up. These answers are from actual people. Try it out.
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Jenny
June 30, 2017 - 04:59 PM

great article - thanks for sharing!

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kleber Exkart
June 24, 2017 - 03:21 PM

El tema da para muchos comentarios, pero entiendo que esto se viene suscitando porque todavía no hay comprensión clara a nivel de consumidores de los efectos ulteriores del consumo de los productos modificados genéticamente, muy a pesar que los venimos consumiendo por mas de dos décadas. La discusión no es de ahora sino desde que se descubre que la industria de agroquímicos no siempre es transparente con sus datos, especialmente por la guerra con las semillas "covachas" o artesanales que han sido el sustento por miles de años de la agricultura intensiva.

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George Skaracis
June 23, 2017 - 05:10 PM

Gongratulations for a very comprehensive post, to help non specialists grasp the issues involved in biotechnologically enriched Ag products

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