Fear, Not Fact, Determines Food Acceptance

Upon entering a store recently, the owner greeted me with a friendly smile and excitedly told me about the new grain-based snack food that she wanted me to try. “It’s all natural and 100% organic,” she explained and gave me a look implied it had to be better for you if it was organic.

Honestly, my purchase decisions are not at all affected by whether or not a food item is certified “USDA organic.” It concerns – and even frightens – me that so many well intentioned and well meaning people are getting the idea that “organic” means that these foods are better or safer. It’s of even greater concern to me that they believe organic or non-genetically modified (Non-GMO) foods are a realistic way to feed the world’s growing population.

Modern production practices have led to increased production and efficiency. Crop yields continue to increase and innovations continue to be made to make today’s products even more environmentally friendly. For example, farmers in India are buying BT cotton even though the seed is more expensive because it requires less spraying and consumes fewer fossil fuels.

In addition, today’s seed technologies offer even more benefits. A GM-breakthrough has saved the Hawaiian papaya crop. The fruit was being destroyed by papaya ringspot virus, which resisted all attempts to control it, until researchers at the University of Hawaii bred a variety that is resistant to the virus. Transgenic papayas now make up 75% of the total Hawaiian papaya crop.

It’s unfortunate that resistance to GM foods is keeping many populations from experiencing similar benefits. According to a recent article in Seed World, the release of GM eggplant has been blocked in India. This eggplant variety could help stabilize food prices, as well as increase Indian food crop yields by mitigating the effects of climate. Another GM breakthrough that has yet to be accepted is inserting vitamin A in rice.

With time, I believe the benefits of such technologies will lead to their acceptance. Transgenic crops will become an important – and necessary – part of sustainable agriculture. With that said, however, I won’t refrain from buying organic products. While I believe organic food production has its niche, I won’t buy something merely because has been organically produced. I merely want to choose foods – and to teach my kids how to make food choices – that taste good and offer nutritional value.