Are foods grown from modified seeds more dangerous than foods grown from unmodified seeds?  The controversy has been stirring for years.  Like any controversy there are pros and cons on both sides, some which are scientifically based and others that are purely emotional appeals.

The proponents of genetically modified (GM) seeds herald modification as the saving grace to defeat world hunger by producing more crops per acre than non-genetically modified farming, and doing so with higher economic and resource efficiency.

The most vocal opponents typically focus on the potential negative health aspects.  However, the Federal government doesn’t seem to think there is any increased health risk as the FDA does not require genetically modify foods to be labeled as such (of course the FDA didn’t initially have a problem with thalidomide either).  Furthermore, this month the Senate soundly rejected a bill that would have allowed states to require such labeling.

The health debate burns brightly as demonstrated by the two million people that recently marched against Monsanto, the most well-known producer of genetically altered seeds. However, simmering beneath the health controversy are issues that could spell doom for those farmers who desire to produce non-genetically modified crops.  A major concern is cross pollination.  A pollen transfer from genetically modified plants to farmlands attempting to remain non-modified could “contaminate” those farmlands.  This can have serious negative effects on our traditional farmers who may suffer damages.  For example, farmers may be unable to market their supposedly non-GM crops, as such, if the “non-GM crops” test positive for genetic modification due to contamination from pollen transfers from neighboring farmlands.

Adding complexity to the issue is the recognition our US patent laws give to genetically modified seeds.  As stated in a 2010 article: “farmers who choose to raise non-genetically engineered crops intended for GM-free markets could, at times, be held liable if crops test positive for GM, even if the patented plant or seed was acquired unintentionally.”

Whether or not you support genetic modification there seems to be little argument that use of genetically modified seeds can and does increase productivity.  As such, and as its supporters proclaim, it represents one of the tools that may be directed toward fighting world hunger.  However, with all the surrounding controversy it certainly is not the sole and perhaps not one of the best solutions.  Only time and further scientific research will tell.

As the controversy surrounding genetic modification evolves we should stay alert to other ways to increase productivity.  In my next Blog I will address one of those alternatives, including how one of our local Portland entrepreneurs is attempting to bring a form of alternative farming to our city, on a relatively large scale.

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