Last week, after listening to some people who are a lot smarter than I am discuss the information gap between what happens on a farm and what consumers believe happens on a farm, I decided to conduct a very unscientific survey on my personal Facebook page to see what my non-aggie friends think about modern food production.
I asked them to comment on their concerns about GMO and organic foods and also to let me know where they get their information. Responses are illuminating.
Particularly interesting, I think, is that only two offered responses about information sources. I’ll quote those, names withheld.
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“I saw a documentary on Monsanto and now I hate them. That's the extent of my knowledge on the subject.” In response to a follow-up question, the respondent did not know who produced the documentary and so could not judge the bias or accuracy of the information.
Another response, from someone I have known and admired for years: “There is a lot of misinformation that gets out. Much of what we hear is the dramatic information at the end of the spectrum. I want to hear information from people who are both knowledgeable and who I trust. That would be you.”
That’s a nice sentiment and I appreciate the vote of confidence, but I plan to send her, and all other responders, a few links that provide some scientific information, of which there is plenty.
The upshot of the responses is that most people base their opinions on the safety of conventionally-grown and GMO food on rumors, anecdote and the misinformation that abounds in the popular press.
Some of the responses regarding GMO foods, which I’d rather call biotechnology, were expected. Examples: “I think it’s (GMO food) why there is so much cancer, why girls are going into puberty early; organic sounds good, but so expensive. I would love to go all natural food.”
“The chemicals in processed foods alter the healthy production of each cell in the body. These foods cause the cells to freak out so they mutate into monsters that attack the body to fight off the poison attacking them. Processed foods cause mayhem in the human body; outcome is horrible diseases and cancers.”
“I am generally distrustful of GM foods. That doesn't mean that I don't eat them, but I have begun trying to be more careful about reading labels on ALL foods. I also find that in general, organic foods taste better.”
“Don't know a lot about GM food, etc., but knowing the food industry is all for the all mighty buck, of course they are going to add whatever and grow/produce anyway necessary to have a product to sell for the cheapest possible price (cost?) they can and with the highest possible bottom line profit. Knowing this, I buy organic in everything and am willing to pay the price, but I also pray along with that higher price that it REALLY is organic in the way I'm hoping it's organic. If we look back to decades ago when people grew their own food or bought it from area farmers cancer was rare, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism, obesity, mental illness, you name it...when we ate food grown and prepared fresh, we were a healthier nation. Beef was good. Didn't cause problems, because it wasn't fed artificial growth hormones.”
“OH how I'd love to have a store and restaurant near me where I could buy and eat everything truly organic! Anyone willing to take on the adventure... Wouldn't it be awesome if true farming came back to America!!!”
Safe food supply
I have to respond to that last sentence here. I think this is an idea many consumers have about modern agriculture—because farms are larger, more mechanized, and rely on more technology than was the case just 50 years ago food is not as wholesome as it used to be. That’s certainly not the case; in fact, I suspect the opposite is true. Because of improved production and sanitation practices our food supply is safer than it was 50 years ago. It’s not perfect, but we have the safest food supply in history.
Also, if we went back to agriculture of decades ago, a lot of us would be hungry. It is simply not possible to produce the amount of food and fiber we need for today’s population with outdated technology.
We’ve said this before but it bears repeating. We see a significant disconnect between the reality of food production and the perception of how farmers raise fruits, vegetables, grains and meats. I’m gathering up some links to pass along to my friends, links from reliable sources such as the World Health Organization and USDA, to help them make informed decisions about food. I agree with my friend that reading labels is a good idea. We all need to know the calorie count, salt content, cholesterol and the nutrition value of what we eat.
We also should buy mostly from the outside aisles, where the fresh things are, but I don’t think there is anything in a can of green beans that will do me any lasting harm. I also will stop short of preaching. If someone thinks organic tastes better, it probably does, to him. If folks choose to be vegetarian, vegan or eat only nuts and berries, then I have no right to say they are wrong to do so. I would advise them to learn as much as they can about what they eat and not rely on what their neighbors say or what they read in the magazines they find at the check-out counters for nutrition advice.