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Separating fact from fiction in GMO debate

The debate over genetically modified crops needs to be both thorough and spirited, but should be based on fact not internet myths.

Published on April 11, 2014 8:16AM

Our View

We’re not sure where the debate over genetically modified crops would be without the internet.

While the internet is a wonderful tool for finding legitimate data both pro and con, it also makes it easy for just about anyone to spread misinformation and falsehoods. Readers commenting on Capital Press stories frequently recite “facts” about GMOs and the companies that produce them.

• “Why did Monsanto lobby for the ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ that would prohibit lawsuits from illnesses related to eating GMOs — when Monsanto says GMOs are safe to eat? This alone made me suspicious enough to want GMO labeling.” — John B.

John refers to Section 735 of the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013. Many GMO opponents are falsely convinced that Congress granted the company immunity from civil lawsuits claiming damages caused by its genetic modifications.

Section 735 does not give any biotech developer immunity from damages caused by their products.

The measure, officially known as the Farmer Assurance Provision, protected farmers who planted an approved genetically modified crop that was subsequently found by a court to have been deregulated in error. Legislators wanted to make sure growers wouldn’t be forced to dig up crops that were legal at planting time.

Cases challenging a GMO’s deregulation are brought against the USDA, which has sole regulatory authority. GMO developers have no liability.

The measure expired Sept. 30, 2013.

• “We Need GMOs banned just like they are in Europe and most Sane places.”

Though highly regulated, GMOs aren’t banned in Europe. The European Union subjects potential crops to rigorous study. Proposed GMOs that pass muster can still be blocked by a majority vote of the Council of Agricultural Ministers.

Nearly 50 genetically modified crops — including cotton, corn, soybeans and oil seeds — are registered in Europe, according to the EU Register of Genetically Modified Food and Feed. Two have been approved for cultivation — a variety of Bt corn and a potato variety.

• “Oregon’s agricultural sector is unique in the U.S. in that the majority of farms are still individually owned. We have a strategic advantage to position our farms to grow and sell non-GMO crops and food products, which consumer demand wants. Oregon could be a national — and international — leader to just say no to GMOs.” — Worldly12

Worldly12 expresses a common misconception that most farms in the U.S. are “corporate” owned. Oregon is not unique. The vast majority of farms in every state are individually or family owned. Corporations own a small fraction of U.S. farms, and non-family corporations own an even smaller share.

Figures for the 2012 Census of Agriculture are not yet available, but according to the 2007 Census, 86 percent of all farms were either individually or family held. Eight percent were partnerships, and only 4 percent were corporations. Eighty-nine percent of those corporations were family operations incorporated for tax or other business purposes.

Only 907 farms — about .04 percent — were owned by corporations with more than 10 shareholders.

The debate over genetically modified crops should be thorough and spirited. But it should be based on fact, not falsehoods.


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