The budget deal gave the FDA $3 million dollars to provide “consumer outreach and education regarding agricultural biotechnology,” which includes information on genetically engineered food. They’ll supposedly use the money to try to show the positive side of GMOs—which make up 80 percent of maize and soybean crops planted in the U.S.—including their “environmental, nutritional, food safety, economic, and humanitarian impacts.”
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In April of last year, more than 50 food industry groups signed a letter expressing their support for the proposed campaign, hoping that it would “better inform the public about the application of biotechnology to food and agricultural production,” arguing that “all major scientific bodies, including all federal health agencies, have said that genetically engineered foods are safe.”
There was a plenty of pushback against the campaign before this budget passed: State Representative Nita M. Lowey of New York argued that a community outreach program of this kind would be nothing more than a state-funded propaganda campaign for the GMO industry.
It’s still unclear what kind of educational programs the FDA plans to implement, or even when they will launch, but the parameters are broad for what they’re allowed to do: All they’re required to do is collaborate with the Department of Agriculture, and distribute “science-based educational information,” to the public.
There does seem to be a gap between the public and scientific perception of GMOs: Pew found that 88 percent of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science agree that GMOs are safe to eat. Only 37 percent of the American public agrees.
But the politicians who advocate for this campaign aren’t just looking to inform the public—they have their own interests in mind, too: Take State Representative Robert B. Aderholt, a Republican from Alabama. His campaign received $10,000 from Monsanto in 2016, a company that would greatly benefit from a public more open to eating genetically modified food.
Even if GMOs are safe to eat, they still have problems. For instance, soy farmers who plant genetically modified crops use 28 percent more herbicide than those who don’t. And last October, a thorough New York Times report found that GMO crops don’t significantly increase food production, as promised.
Now that the federal government has taken a clear side on the complex debate over whether or not GMOs are helping our economy and our health or not, it seems as though we can look forward to a future shaped by genetically engineered products—whether we’re ready for them or not.