Cereals, GMOs, and Failure to Yield


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A friend recently posted this feature from Rodale to her Facebook page. It summarizes findings from a study of the content of a variety of “natural” boxed cereals. That word is, unfortunately, largely meaningless when it come to food labels. Many of the cereals have lots of pesticide residue and/or are comprised predominantly of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). For me, it was most disappointing to learn that some organic labels have shifted to “natural” products in recent years. For example, “Barbara’s Bakery got called out because, over the past few years, they’ve slowly been decreasing their USDA-certified organic cereal options and increasing their selection of uncertified ‘natural’ products. Between 2007 and 2011, the company’s organic choices dropped from 55 to just 20 percent—shortly after the company was acquired by a private investment firm. That’s misleading to customers who think the company is staying true to its organic roots, and think they’re still buying organic cereals.”

My friend’s Facebook post generated a bit of back and forth about whether GMOs are the answer to the food needs of humanity’s growing population. Some say yes, but this report from the Union of Concerned Scientists suggests otherwise. In short, “The biotechnology industry has been promising better yields since the mid-1990s, but Failure to Yield documents that the industry has been carrying out gene field trials to increase yields for 20 years without significant results…. In addition to evaluating genetic engineering’s record, Failure to Yield considers the technology’s potential role in increasing food production over the next few decades. The report does not discount the possibility of genetic engineering eventually contributing to increase crop yields. It does, however, suggest that it makes little sense to support genetic engineering at the expense of  technologies that have proven to substantially increase yields, especially in many developing countries. In addition, recent studies have shown that organic and similar farming methods that minimize the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers can more than double crop yields at little cost to poor farmers in such developing regions as Sub-Saharan Africa.” You can find an overview, FAQs, responses to critiques, and the full report here.

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