When Genetically Modified Organisms were first introduced as a new technology three decades ago, GMO quickly became a buzzword in the food world. (If you’re uninformed about GMOs, we recommend reading The Daily Meal’s in-depth report on all things GMO). People wanted to know: can we safely eat crops that have been genetically tampered with? And if we can, are there long-term health and environmental benefits and risks? In many ways, we are still grappling with these questions. Recently, Intelligence Squared hosted a debate that pitted the “pro-GMO side” and the “anti-GMO” side against one another, and at the end of the debate, audience members found that the pro side, represented by Monsanto’s chief technology officer Robert Fraley and Alison Van Eenennaam, a specialist in animal science at UC Davis, held more merit.
During the 90-minute debate, the pro side argued that during the 30 years that this technology has been around, GMOs have been proven to not have any ill side effects, and that much of the draw of current GMO technology comes from crop resistance to herbicides and pesticides, meaning that farmers will theoretically draw a higher yield:
“Without GMOs, farmers would need to dramatically increase their use of herbicides and insecticides. I estimate it to be about 100 million pounds added to the environment each year. Second, since GMOs improved yields and helped farmers deliver more food, in their absence means we’re going to have to farm more land.”The anti-GMO side, represented by Chuck Benbrook, a professor at Washington State and an outspoken opponent of biotechnology, and Margaret Mellon, with the Union of Concerned Scientists, focused on the long-term health and environmental concerns about the effects of GMOs, as well as the promises of “superfoods” that, in many cases, have yet to be fulfilled by companies like Monsanto. Margaret Mellon said, during the debate:
“Right now I think we have too much faith in genetic engineering, which as I said, has not — it really hasn’t proven itself except in one instance. So, I do think it’s important that we face that.”