The 'war' between those who support GMO and those against it will be playing out this week in Sacramento and Davis at the University of California, Davis at the upcoming Climate-Smart Agriculture Global Science Conference, to be held from March 20 to 22, 2013. The main areas of discussion will focus on the problems causing worldwide food shortages now and in the next few decades.
Smart agriculture now refers to GMO crops. But smart foods formerly meant tailoring your food to your genes as you fed yourself your ancestral diet of what foods bring out the healthiest response in your body. These days, the term 'smart' agriculture takes on a new meaning, when 'smart' means genetically changed--modified to feed the most people at usually the lowest cost.
The conference is structured around lectures, sessions, and research highlights
1) There will be a set of open plenary lectures on specific topics that offer an overview and an interpretation of major issues related to climate change and agriculture,
2) Then there follows a set of parallel science sessions that offer interdisciplinary views and a forum for in depth discussion on narrower issues where the effort will be to collectively seek conclusions regarding the available scientific knowledge that forms a basis for specific policies and/or actions to mitigate and/or adapt to climate change, and the new research initiatives that could greatly advance effective science/policy integration for improving food security, land management, ecosystem services and sustainable development,
3) Finally, the conference will offer a set of special sessions organized by groups and institutions to highlight research and specific actions underway to influence and/or achieve mitigation and adaptation to climate change, and the ways that these research initiatives are supported by specific institutions and policies.
The smart agriculture conference agenda focuses on transformative themes: Food security and availability
The 2013 conference agenda builds on that consensus focusing on three main themes: farm and food systems, landscape and regional issues, and the integrative and transformative institutional and policy aspects that will bridge across scales to link science and practice to ensure food security, poverty alleviation and multiple ecosystem services.
Those problems include droughts, population explosions, and salty soils. In the Sacramento area and the rest of the Central Valley of California such as the San Joaquin Valley, ever-increasing amounts of salt in the soils needs to be fixed, but the water supply is decreasing. The result is and will continue to be about food shortages, according to the March 17, 2013 Sacramento Bee news article by Edward Ortiz, "Debate over genetically modified organisms precedes UCD conference."
The result of food shortages, historically brought on due to climate change, follows a pattern: Famine resulting in migrations, resulting in crowding and competition for food, land defense, wars, or the land dries up, salts down, and turns to sand. For example, drought and salty soils are growing problems right here in the San Joaquin Valley. The soils are becoming saltier here. Food security problems usually are the outcome of climate change. Every time frost or drought destroys a crop, it becomes scarce, and the supermarket price rises on that vegetable, livestock, nut, seed, or fruit.
The rising demand for water presents a problem because the result are farms with progressively salty soil. A 2009 University of California, Davis, study reported that if salinity increases at the current rate, by 2030 the direct annual costs to Central Valley agricultural communities and farms will range from $1 billion to $1.5 billion. The conference this week will focus on grappling with these and other problems all attributed to climate change.
How rapid climate change threatens agriculture and food security
Climate change is occurring more rapidly than anticipated and the increase in extreme weather events threatens more disruptive effects to agriculture. Existing technologies and current institutional structures seem inadequate to achieve the mitigation needed to adequately slow climate change, while also meeting needed food security, livelihood and sustainability goals.
We must identify actions that are science-based, utilize knowledge systems in new ways, and provide resilience for food systems and ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes despite the future uncertainty of climate change and extreme events. It is imperative that new modes of science-policy integration transform land management and community action for food security, and for conservation of biodiversity and the resource base upon which agriculture depends.
Genetically modified crops
On one side of the debate are the scientists who stand for the development and use of GMO crops, foods that are genetically modified. And to do that you need to engineer genetically modified organisms. But in the other corner of this conference debate and presentation of research are scientists and consumers who want those in charge of making genetic changes in the food to proceed with caution.
Those on the side of caution want scientists to do more research on what effects GMO food, seeds, and various plants, animals and other organisms will have on humans and the animals that feed on GMO foods. The point the opposite side is making is that the effects of GMO food/crops on humans have not been researched nearly enough due to lack of money, staff, time, and other resources.
The side routing for GMO foods will not budge yet in the face of opposition because they believe there is no other way out, no other way to think outside the box because there's no time left when it comes to population increase. The prediction is that by 2050, 9 billion mouths to feed will be a problem because food security is and will remain a problem. It's going to take many more crops to feed 9 billion Earthlings.
Near future crops will need water, not salty water, and not salty soils. But water is shrinking. The UNESCO World Water Assessment Program recently forecast a 40 percent increase in global freshwater demand and a corresponding 35 percent decrease in per capita supply by the year 2025, according to the Sacramento Bee article, by Edward Ortiz, "Debate over genetically modified organisms precedes UCD conference." And plant biologists were working to develop GMO crops at least for a decade or more.
Many experts in agricultural ecology (agroecology) are rushing too fast into developing GMOs to beat the clock as Mother Nature submits to the ravages of Father Time as far as food security predictions. That's one reason many scientists give for developing GMO crops.
Those who disagree may say it's more about making more money selling seeds to farmers along with fertilizers and pesticides to provide more income for huge industries that bring GMO and pesticide-fumigated farms under control and the long arm of big industry. Who's right? Could it be both sides have their points in this debate and conference where research is being presented? And who has the most money to fund the research?
Those who oppose are labeled unscientific by some of the experts. You can find further information on agricultural advocacy at the website of Food First, a social and agricultural advocacy group. Individuals who oppose GMO want to see a demographic study in GMO's effects on large populations. Their solution also focuses on building up the resilience into the ecosystem to solve the problem of who gets feed and who has food security and safety. Scientists also want to know what to do about droughts that come with climate change.
Those emphasizing resilience want to see the problem solved by crop diversity, not GMO changes
Scientists opposing GMO farms want to see more tree cover on farms to protect the soil and more water conservation practices like you see being done in Central America on small farms. The result quadrupled many of the farm yields there without using GMO crops or GMO seeds.
GMO crops are feeding farm animals or being turned into fuel for cars. So the studies being done with them are not about feeding people and ending hunger, unless you look at the commercial cold cereal packages made with GMO corn or other GMO grains that are processed and sweetened in some cases.
Those who oppose GMO want to see how the GMO foods are ending hunger globally or locally. Those who want GMO crops think it will end food shortages coming in in the next few decades. Those who oppose want caution. What would you like to see go commercial?
GMO seeds can be sold at higher prices in some industries such as tomatoes changed to taste sweeter
About 1,000 tiny seeds of hybrid cherry tomatoes, named Summer Sun and valued at about one U.S. dollar each, were shown to news cameras in a petrie dish as a Hazera Genetics laboratory worker sorted them at company headquarters February 13, 2007 at Berurim in central Israel. One kilogram of Summer Sun seeds developed by Hazera Genetics, an Israeli company specializing in breeding and marketing non-GMO hybrid varieties of vegetable and field crops, was sold to growers in Europe for $350,000 or about 268,800 Euros, more than sixteen times the current price of gold.
The warm-yellow colored fruit, with high concentrations of sugar which makes for a unique honey sweet taste, retails in Europe for about $23.50, or about 18 Euros a kilogram. The seeds have been tinted blue, the company's trademark color.
Note the future of tomatoes around the world, to get more sugar into them so they'll taste sweeter, in the hopes of attracting more people to buy and eat a sweeter tomato. That's another theme based on the habit formed in childhood of dopamine released in the brain that works to crave that taste for sugar. The sugar craving brings people back to buy more when it comes to vegetables, compared to a more sour tomato taste. GMO can be used to extend flavor in certain foods with a goal of bringing you back to buy more of the same.
What happens when genes area put into produce to addict you to the taste of sugar so you come back and buy more of the sweeter fruit or vegetable? Does it remind you of the restaurant that adds sugar to carrot salad already sweetened by a large number of raisins mixed with the sweet carrots and the fatty mayonnaise already in the salad?
Putting a gene in a tomato to make it taste more like sugar, is one way of genetically modifying edible plants. Another way is altering seeds at the genetic level to produce more crops. The bigger and sweeter highway when it comes to foods is controversial among some consumers. The same refers to processed foods getting saltier or sweeter to alter taste from the original or to increase the number of crops that can be grown from each seed.
Even wheat has changed so that it affects your body differently that wheat did in Biblical times or anytime before the industrial revolution. See how wheat has changed and how it changes your body in the article, " Mark Hyman, MD: Three Hidden Ways Wheat Makes You Fat."
GMO foods in the USA and controversy surround their regulation
In the USA, it has been almost 20 years since the first genetically modified foods showed up in produce aisles throughout the United States and the rest of the world, but controversy continues to surround the products and their regulation. Do GMO crops present risks to consumers or the environment?
Some researchers say that the overregulation of GM foods is a response not to scientific evidence. But to a global campaign that disseminates misinformation and fear about these food sources. And others say that they want to eat only organic produce. The idea is to have an affordable choice.
Bruce Chassy, a professor emeritus of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, believes that after thousands of research studies and worldwide planting, "genetically modified foods pose no special risks to consumers or the environment" and are overregulated. Chassy elaborated on this conclusion at the 2013 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston on Feb. 17, 2013.
Are GMO crops overregulated or underregulated?
During his talk, "Regulating the Safety of Foods and Feeds Derived From Genetically Modified Crops," Chassy shared his view that the overregulation of GM crops actually hurts the environment, reduces global health and burdens the consumer, according to the February 18, 2013 news release, "Food science expert: Genetically modified crops are overregulated."
As you can read in various media, there are different views, opinions, and research reports on both sides of the issue. The bottom line for the consumer is what you put into your stomach and how it affects your allergies or other bodily processes over time. The bottom line for the farmer is how they observe and interpret the advantages of GM crops based on increased yields.
The consumer may not care about the yields or the farmer's income from increased yields, but worries about the safety of the crop and whether it's organic and free from pesticides and genetic changes from what nature first intended before the industrial revolution. There are two sides to every issue.
Farmers have witnessed the advantages of GM crops firsthand through increases in their yields and profit, and decreases in their labor, energy consumption, pesticide use and greenhouse gas emissions, Chassy said, according to the news release, "Food science expert: Genetically modified crops are overregulated."
Safety evaluations for GMO foods and allergens
Despite these benefits, various regulatory agencies require newly developed GM crops to be put to the test with rigorous safety evaluations that include molecular characterization, toxicological evaluation, allergenicity assessments, compositional analysis and feeding studies. This extensive testing takes five to 10 years and costs tens of millions of dollars, and Chassy argues that this process "wastes resources and diverts attention from real food safety issues."
"With more than half of the world's population now living in countries that have adopted GM crops, it might be appropriate to reduce the regulatory scrutiny of GM crops to a level that is commensurate with science-based risk assessment," Chassy said in the news release, "Food science expert: Genetically modified crops are overregulated."
During his talk, Chassy chronicled the scientific tests used in pre-market safety assessments of GM foods and elaborate on the evidence from thousands of research studies and expansive GM plantings that he says show these crops do not present risks to consumers or the environment. The overregulation of GM foods is a response not to scientific evidence, Chassy said, but to a global campaign that disseminates misinformation and fear about these food sources.
Some worry about misinformation, and others tell consumers to just follow the money and see who profits from genetic changes to increase crops (or animals) based on making more income -- or for some farmers, just surviving and trying to hold onto the family farm. Then again, there's the organic local produce movement focused on eating the best possible produce, animals, or seafood for health as a goal.