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Safety, contamination are valid concerns

The Mail Tribune urges readers, in their April 27 editorial, to "Believe science, not ideology, in GMO debate." Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, believes Jackson County residents should do just that, and that science, and economic concerns, will lead them to the conclusion that they should support Measure 15-119.

The editorial states that "The science has been consistent and as clear as possible: GMOs have not been found to cause health problems." In fact, there is considerable debate about the safety of GM crops. A review of the scientific literature of animal-feeding studies shows that some, generally independent studies, find some evidence of adverse effect, while other studies, often funded by industry or performed by industry-affiliated scientists, find no safety problem.

In fact, there is global agreement that genetic engineering differs from conventional breeding, and that safety assessments should be completed for all GE crops prior to marketing. However, the U.S., unlike virtually all other developed countries, does not require GMOs to be tested for safety.

The April 27 editorial also asserts that GM crops have increased crop yields, but this is in fact not the case. In February, the USDA Economic Research Service released a report that found that GMO seeds have not been shown to definitively increase yield potentials, and "in fact, the yields of herbicide-tolerant or insect-resistant seeds may be occasionally lower than the yields of conventional varieties." Meanwhile, in the first 16 years of GE crops being planted in the U.S. (1996-2011), there has been a net increase of 423 million pounds more pesticides, primarily herbicides, sprayed on GE crops compared to their non-GE counterparts.

The major reason to pass Measure 15-119 is that GM crops can contaminate non-GM or organic crops, thereby reducing the organic or non-GMO farmers' ability to grow and sell non-GMO seeds. The editorial notes that while this may be true, it is "only because they are dealing in a farm economy based on the unproven premise that GMOs are a health threat." This statement cavalierly dismisses the views of the millions of consumers who prefer organic, natural and non-GMO foods, both for health reasons and due to environmental and other concerns. This is in fact the fastest-growing segment of the food marketplace. A recent New York Times poll found that more than 90 percent of respondents would like genetically engineered food labeled so they can choose whether to buy it. Foreign markets are even less enthusiastic about GMO foods, and have rejected shipments of rice and corn because they contained unapproved GMOs.

These cases show that growers of non-GMO corn and alfalfa could be economically hurt by growing of GE crops. Jackson County is wise to be concerned about the contamination issue. Measure 15-119 would protect the organic and non-GE crop growers.

Bottom line, Measure 15-119 should be supported because there are safety and economic concerns about genetically engineered crops. Ideology is not the issue.

Michael Hansen, Ph.D., is a senior scientist with Consumers Union.