When I pursue agriculture news I’m always drawn to read anything about genetically modified crops.
The most recent example was when I took a look through the fall 2013 edition of The Union Farmer, the quarterly publication of the National Farmers Union (NFU).
The issue contains a rather lengthy look at the NFU’s lobbying effort to stop the introduction of Roundup Ready alfalfa, a GM variety of the crop which of course would live through an application of the aforementioned weed control product.
The position of the NFU of course was not a surprise at all. The organization has remained solidly against GM technology from the start, and that position remains.
But the article’s existence, more than its content, is what interested me. It illustrates how the debate about GM technology is an ongoing one, and is becoming one of entrenched positions with limited capacity for movement.
It really breaks along two lines, one of science and the other of emotion.
On the science side there is simply the thinking that if something can be developed which can have a benefit it should be.
Certainly what is created must be safe, but that determination must come after the basic science has taken place.
So the first GM crop to be Roundup Ready could only be determined safe after it was in existence.
That it has been determined safe then opens the door to more crops to be developed along the same line.
We have seen interest in a GM wheat, one which government opposition in other countries where threats of blocking exports were obvious, squashed the development.
Now the debate is around alfalfa.
The science remains very much the same and so that brings in the element of emotion.
If we look at canola, where most of the Canadian crop is a GM variety of one type or another, have we seen issues of health result?
For most canola remains a preferred oil when it comes to cooking because of the oil profile.
Yes there was opposition, again at the political level, in other countries, but those were more obviously trade barrier inspired rather than public health issues.
Domestically, the public’s position is a blurred one.
Ask most would you prefer to eat a GM carrot, or a non-GM carrot, the answer is likely to be non-GM.
The reason for the answer would be one based on emotion because there has been enough media coverage of GM which implies it is not as good, consumers have gravitated to the other side.
It’s the same where most consumers would opt for a non-sprayed food option too.
And most would say they prefer locally grown over imported over thousands of miles.
But the reality is most of us happily purchase imported, sprayed foods, and eat them daily, without a lot of second thought.
And so the GM debate will continue.
Long term GM is likely to win out based on need.
The ability to such crops to expand cropping regions, help yields, and fight pests and disease, is likely to be too great a benefit as agriculture feeds a growing populace to ignore.
Yes there should be checks in the system to make sure the science is as safe as possible, but that can be said of every microwavable bacon product or energy drink too.
In the end though if the benefits to farmers of a GM alfalfa make economic sense, then it should be an option available to them.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.