Word on Wheat: Not Letting Quack Science Get in the Way

April 3, 2009 Bookmark and Share

Scott Swenson, NAWG Research and Technology Committee Vice Chairman

My family recently made a trip to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and took some time to stop at the Science Museum of Minnesota. We’ve made that visit a number of times before, but we keep going back to refresh in our minds some of the things we’ve seen and to see the newest traveling exhibit.

As we were leaving one of the larger exhibit rooms, we passed by an area reserved for “quack science”. On display were a number of interesting items including the “Orgone Energy Accumulator,” used to relieve colds, headaches and even allergies, and the “Psychograph,” or personality detection machine. My 11-year-old son’s favorite was the “vibrating chair” that could supposedly improve breathing and relieve constipation.

As we stood there, I started to wonder how many years it would be until there would be a picture of the anti-GMO crowd in that display. Medical biotechnology holds some of the most promise of tackling major diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and food biotechnology will be vital to feeding an ever expanding world population in a sustainable way over the next few decades. Wouldn’t, then, those opposing any advances in GMO research be comparable to those who believed in the Energy Accumulator in times past?

Unfortunately, these folks are out there. Some people believe that because GMO technology is new, it’s automatically dangerous. A lot of people who don’t support biotechnology have bought into the anti-biotech hype perpetuated across the Internet and by rogue environmental groups. And many, many more who have concerns just don’t understand the technology.

Those of us who have spent a lot of time looking into this know, though, that GMO crops are backed up by quite a lot of very sound science – years and years, in fact. The number of studies and regulatory reviews needed to bring a biotech event to the commercial market is mind numbing; we expect it to be 10 years before the commercialization of a biotech wheat trait AFTER research is well under way. Despite these hurdles, biotech crops have been commercialized around the world for more than a decade, with more than two billion acres safely and successfully planted.

We as an industry have a responsibility to fight back against those who want folks to believe the quack science. Anytime a bright, promising college student or a mom trying to learn how best to feed her family reads a news article attacking the science of genetically modified organisms, there is a negative effect on our ability to continue to do our jobs utilizing the best sound science has to offer. We can’t let fear, misinformation, and opinions masquerading as facts keep us from developing the best tools possible to feed a growing world.

– Swenson is a wheat producer in Elbow Lake, Minn.