The assignment to meet Monsanto (see "Meeting Monsanto" and "A Conversation With Monsanto" on the front page) and take an unbiased look into the current controversies surrounding genetically modified (GM) food crops has been challenging, to say the least.
Heated topics include ethics, science, safety, regulations and biotechnology's potential risks and benefits. Will biotech lead to an increase or loss of biodiversity? Can it coexist with other farming methods? Can all farming technologies work together in the future? After all, seeds are the basis of life, all agricultural production and our food supply.
On my visits to the Monsanto Kihei office and farm, I received a friendly and hospitable greeting. Their team of scientists and administrators, led by Resource and Land Manager Dan Clegg, made themselves available to answer any and all questions and concerns.
Cindy Schumacher | Guest Editorial
"Over the last two decades, seeds improved through biotechnology have become the preferred choice of millions of farmers globally because of their benefits," said Clegg.
The U.S. government, the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization and other respected organizations do agree on one thing--"Consuming food containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional or organic plant improvement technologies."
With the recent public outcries for extra labeling of products (see "What Are We Eating" on page 5), labeling was one of the first issues on my agenda. Consumers are increasingly interested in agriculture and in understanding what is in their food and how it is produced. As a company involved in one of the first steps of food production, Monsanto was eager to discuss the topic.
"At Monsanto, we label all of our seed products, because it ensures that farmers are aware of what they buy and plant," said Clegg. "We sell both biotech and conventional seeds. The farmer is our customer, and the farmer chooses what he wants to buy."
That being said, who is responsible for labeling what consumers purchase?
It appears that responsibility lies with farmers, food manufacturers and suppliers, restaurants, grocery stores, other food sellers or a combination of parties.
"Monsanto supports this position," said Clegg. "Food companies should find out what type of information meets the needs and desires of their customers."
Many labeled, certified, USDA-organic or non-GM products are available for consumers who prefer them. While many GM ingredients go into processed foods, conventional non-GM crops do, too. Yet, separating GM and non-GM ingredients of processed foods throughout the global food transport and handling system appears to be impractical.
This is where it is up to the consumer to stay educated, choose wisely and remain healthy. Grow your own food, know your farmer, read labels and stay out of the processed food aisles if you have concerns about GM foods.
Respect for consumer choice is important. The mandate for extra safeguards should be weighed legally and economically along with agreements on how products should be labeled.
Monsanto has cordially opened its doors to group tours at their Kihei facility. The community is invited to contact them for more information at (808) 879-4074.