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School is for factual learning, not anti-GMO rhetoric

As an agricultural journalist, I receive my fair share of e-mails and phone calls on the GMO (genetically-modified organism) issue – both pro and con. Yet a recent school news release lifted the anti-GMO movement to the next level of absurdity.

The Minnesota Public Schools are taking steps to reduce GMO content in food in school meals in five school districts - which combined dish up 56,700 school meals daily.   

The announcement comes from director-level staff and includes the Minneapolis, Orono, Shakopee, and Westonka school districts. Surprisingly, the anti-GMO food ingredient directive is supported by some school nutrition directors.

And yet to highlight MPS’ distaste for GMO foods further, the districts held ‘GMO Awareness Day” events Nov. 5 which, “Sparked a lot of good conversations,” said Bertand Weber, MPS’ director of culinary and nutrition services.

According to the MPS release, the decision to shift away from GMO foods will help educate students, says Laura Metzger, food and nutrition services director with the Westonka Public Schools. “Our students will grow up to make their own decisions about the foods they eat.”

School nutrition directors are now communicating the schools’ non-GMO directive to vendors and distributors and will switch to non-GMO cooking oils. The release says the school system is “working to eliminate other risk ingredients.”

Risk ingredients? Since when do GMO foods constitute a human health risk? Did I miss the government e-memo?   

The MPS news release contends little research has been conducted on the human impacts of GMO consumption. Yet exhaustive research by our U.S. government, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, plus across the private food sector, has found zero instances of GMO food causing human harm.

All the information I have read concludes that GMOs are safe for people to eat and in no way compromise human health.

In general, non-GMO foods which include organically-grown food can costs more. I was unaware that public schools in Minnesota have the extra funds to pay for non-GMO foods.

From what I hear from my own school district, teacher salaries are flat and too many teachers over the last decade have lost their jobs to funding challenges. So my question is - who will float the bill on anti-GMO foods in these Minnesota schools?

I wonder if the school system had in depth discussions with parents to gain their perspective on the then proposed GMO mandate. Did they request feedback from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, or from agricultural researchers at the University of Minnesota – the state’s land grant agricultural institution?

Were experts on the both sides of the GMO aisle asked to provide input to school leaders?

In my opinion, this decision sets a bad precedent. In the end, I believe parents will foot the bill - based on fear instead of fact.

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