The Ag sector has a huge issue maintaining public and commercial confidence in genetically altered food. That is not going to change whether the GMO was done the old way, blasting new genes into DNA, or by use of a new process called CRISPR where no foreign genetic material is introduced, whereby only the existing DNA is modified. Most people, possibly myself included, are not smart enough to really differentiate the nuance. Anything with modified DNA will provoke skepticism from technophobic consumers.
I find it frustrating how commercial interests run and hide from any defense of science. They do not want to lose technophobic customers so add to consumer food expense by securing more expensive non-GMO food ingredients and labeling them as such. The GMO uncertainty and global regulatory gauntlet that GMOs are required to circumvent add complexity, risk and expense to the global food supply chain. As the US is the biggest adopter of food biotechnology, the US bears most of the risk but also gleans the reward.
China has used GMOs as a trade barrier and the entire EU trade system is predicated on use of one kind of phyto-non-science-based trade barrier or another. Whether it is giving chickens a chlorine rinse or use of growth hormones or just plain rejection of GMO feed they bar most Ag trade with the US in order to protect their less efficient Agriculture. These are the levers they use to limit access to their markets. It is a lot easier to undermine consumer confidence than to create it or restore it. GMO-phobia plays into their trade policy. They use it to their advantage.
As stated, as the U.S. is the largest adopter of GMO biotechnology it bears the most risk in sustaining public confidence in our food security and safety. That puts a target on the back of our food supply chains both domestically and in exports. Technophobics are everywhere. Who would shoot at the target seeking to undermine public or global confidence in our food system that has embraced GMO’s? Competitors of course, and geopolitical enemies.
Who is putting out disinformation purposely creating doubt in the safety of GMOs? ISU, a proponent of GMO food safety, researched where the anti-GMO propaganda was coming from and followed the trail back to Russia. ISU says, “Stirring the anti-GMO pot would serve a great many of Russia’s political, economic and military objectives.” It could further drive a wedge between the US and its Ag trading partners harming US AG export markets. If they are worried about Russian influence providing disinformation into our election process it would not be difficult for them to apply the same propaganda dissemination to denigrating GMOs.
The Farm Bureau Spokesman wrote, “A new study by ISU researchers shows that the same Russian news outlets that target internet users in the U.S. and other western countries have also been working hard to gin up opposition to GMOs. The same folks who national security officials say have been meddling in U.S. elections have employed the internet to consistently post criticism and misinformation on GMOs.” ISU discovered that Russian news outlets ran more articles about GMOs than other media organizations such as Fox News and CNN, embedding negative GMO misinformation into stories that were unrelated. They were running a full out propaganda campaign to undermine public confidence in GMOs. They would attribute negative outcomes and conditions to GMOs that were pure fiction.
This is a direct threat targeted at the U.S. Ag sector purposefully intending to undermine commercial confidence in it. It was an attack intended to do damage. ISU researchers went so far as to interpret Russian objectives as going beyond damaging US food security, believing their intent was to undermine the public trust in science. Let’s see. . .ISU, FDA, USDA all say that GMOs are safe and Russia says that they are not. Who would you believe?
Russia bans the production and import of GMOs. Their anti GMO campaign is designed to justify that ban and create the illusion that Russian exports are therefore healthier, safer and more environmentally responsible than US Ag products. They see it as a wedge issue between the U.S. and the EU which is GMO-phobic that they can exploit. The Russians are pitting their truth against ours and are actively promoting their fake truth for commercial gain.
Acknowledging Russian anti-GMO trolling is difficult for the Trump Administration which has expressed a “riding the fence” kind of acceptance that Russians interfered with the 2016 election. Top U.S. Intel officials say that they have been given no directive to aggressively challenge Russian meddling. 88 percent of scientists support the safety of GMOs while only 37 percent of the public does shown in a PEW poll. Consumers are not aware of the high level of scientific consensus on GMO safety. This time it is not Democrats on the opposite side but Russians. That shows the divergence between propaganda and science.
36 percent of consumers polled by Michigan State did not know that food contained DNA. Another 46 percent did not think they had eaten food containing GMO ingredients. The organic industry has a problem too. Consumers polled said that they were willing pay a lot more for non-GMO food than for organic products. I got a laugh out of that as organic is non-GMO. When a large number of consumers claim that they want their food labeled whether or not it contains DNA, it shows another large divergence in the level of knowledge that would be easy for nefarious interests to exploit. Russians have seen an opportunity to undermine confidence in U.S. food safety and have taken it.
David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.
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