Ferrum speaker: GMOs provide bridge to a better life

newspaperDr. Tim Durham doesn’t like the term GMO; he prefers biotechnology.

“GMO has a bad connotation to it,” the Ferrum College assistant professor of agronomy and agricultural sciences explained during a Feb. 24 workshop at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers Winter Expo. “Scientists don’t like to use it. It’s precision breeding or biotechnology. It’s a refinement of conventional methods that we’ve been leveraging for thousands of years.”

GMOs have been widely used since 1996, and Durham called them a “scientific bridge to a better life.” Biotechnology foes, he said, “have done a great job of demonizing technology they don’t know much about.”

He said dogs have been bred over many years for characteristics that people want. “We’ve genetically modified animals through selective breeding, and no one bats an eye,” Durham said. “That’s A-OK. But use it for crop improvement, and that’s somehow not OK.”

He said that consumers often think GMOs are unregulated. “GMOs are the most heavily regulated technology ever released, and that’s not up for dispute,” he asserted. “That’s an undeniable fact.”

Additionally, Durham said science has proven that GMOs are safe. “There have been more than 1,500 studies over 20-plus years showing there is no negative health or environmental impacts, so that’s what I’ll base my decision on.”

He then introduced 11 common GMO myths—and busted them—so farmers in the audience would have information to share with the public.

“I know I’m preaching to the choir, but I want you to be equipped with facts to constructively engage in conversations about GMOs,” Durham said. “There has been a historical reluctance on the part of farmers to defend themselves and engage the public.

“Farmers feel like they don’t need to justify themselves or their existence to others, but the farming community now understands that we need people in the trenches to spread facts—‘The Gospel of Modern-day Agriculture’—if you will, to ensure our future.”

He recommended directing consumers or anyone with questions to gmoanswers.com. The website uses more than 340 contributors, including farmers, academics and industry volunteers, to help answer the public’s questions.