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Safe and Affordable Food – An Ongoing Debate

June 13, 2016
safe and affordable food

If you want to start a fight on social media — or at the Thanksgiving dinner table — casually ask how everyone feels about GMOs. For years, the topic of genetically engineered or modified foods — both for consumption by humans and livestock — has sparked heated debate. And probably more than a few gravy boats tossed across the table.

For farmers and other people in the agriculture industry, the topic is personal. And it is part of a larger ongoing conversation around food safety. The bottom line: Everyone wants food to be safe. Most people also want food to be affordable, both to produce and to purchase and consume. Those things don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive.

Regardless of where you fall on the GMO opinion spectrum, genetic engineering is part of our reality. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), around 89 percent of U.S. corn is genetically engineered to be herbicide-tolerant, along with around 94 percent of U.S. soybeans.

In what a Forbes contributor called “the most comprehensive study of GMOs and food ever produced,” GM feed was found to be both safe and nutritionally equivalent to non-GMO feed. The study, conducted by University of California-Davis Department of Animal Science geneticist Alison van Eenennaam and research assistant Amy E. Young, “reviewed 29 years of livestock productivity and health data from both before and after the introduction of genetically engineered animal feed.” Of course, not everyone agrees, hence the gravy boats.

Since people on both sides of the fence presumably want safe and affordable food and a robust economy (that inevitably includes a robust agriculture industry), food safety as a whole — and GMOs as part of the conversation — must remain a focus.

A word on food safety and handling

And what about farms focused on growing produce intended for human consumption instead of livestock feed? This topic moves the conversation from GMOs into the realm of food handling and safety. GMOs safety has no bearing on safety when handling food, but both topics draw strong opinions. The FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety rule has been recently finalized and will be going into effect via staggered compliance dates over the next few years. According to the FDA, “the rule establishes, for the first time, science-based minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption.”

Key requirements of the rule relate to agricultural water quality; biological soil amendments; contamination of sprouts (yes, sprouts get called out individually!); domesticated and wild animals; worker training and health and hygiene; and equipment, tools, and buildings. The rule does have several exemptions, including any food that is not a raw agricultural commodity, and some foods that receive a certain level of commercial processing.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the progression of food safety regulations as well as GMOs. (No throwing gravy boats, please.)