Western agricultural scientist touts GMO safety, benefits

I am a strong proponent of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) as a safe and healthy way to produce high quality food and fiber to help feed and clothe an exponentially growing world population using less land and water.

Opponents of GMOs, in my frank opinion, trample the truth about GMOs and use fear mongering, including terms such as ‘Frankenfood’, to turn people against GMOs by using emotional pitches instead of scientific fact.

To my delight and surprise, I recently turned to the editorial page of the liberal-minded The Arizona Republic newspaper. The "paper" is thrown on driveways, read online, and good fodder for bird cages in the greater Phoenix area; the nation’s sixth largest city with about 3.5 million residents.

The guest columnist, Shane Burgess, tackled the GMO subject head on. Burgess is no stranger to Arizona agriculture. He serves as vice provost and dean of the University of Arizona (UA) College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and director of the UA Arizona Experiment Station.

I met Burgess during his first week on the job in 2011 during a tour of low-desert agriculture and irrigation systems led by growers Tim Dunn and Marvin Marlatt. I quickly learned that Burgess is much smarter than this reporter. I listened…a lot…and took reams of handwritten notes.

In his editorial, the native New Zealander eloquently shared his scientific view on GMOs.

Genetically-modified crops contribute to American families paying less for the safest food in the world, Burgess said. GMO products are part of the most efficient, effective, and environmentally sustainable agricultural production systems in the world.


The scientist says GMOs are deemed by scientific groups, non-governmental organizations, and conservation groups as part of agriculture’s environmentally sustainable future.

Throw in a couple of ‘halleluiahs.’

The UA leader says GMO crops provide the same nutrition as, or possibly more, than conventionally-grown (non-GMO) crops.

As the worsening drought in the West continues to plague agriculture more and more, Burgess asserted that GM crops can use water more effectively and efficiently. GMO crop production, through less tillage, decreases soil erosion and fuel use.

Burgess was not shy about addressing the ongoing hot potato controversy endorsed by anti-GMO groups that labels on all food products should state whether the product contains GMOs or not.

“I believe in transparency because I believe in honesty, integrity, and education,” Burgess said. “I understand the science and the regulatory hurdles genetically modified crops must pass to become part of our food supply.”

Thus, Burgess did not support or oppose required GMO labeling. Yet he expressed concern about excessive implementation costs of labeling and misinformation.

He shared concern over state-by-state referendums by environmental groups trying to sew up support for mandatory GMO labeling.

Burgess said, “A well-designed, uniform, and national effort to fully inform you about how your food is produced is better and cheaper than a state-by-state patchwork.”

In closing, Burgess urged people to, “Check the facts (on GMOs). Opinion is not a surrogate for science.”

Well stated, Dr. Burgess.

Cue the Halleluiah Chorus!

TAGS: Agenda
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