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GMO Answers Concludes Get to Know GMOs Month with People

October 31, 2014
October is Get to Know GMOs Month, and GMO Answers is bringing you information about biotechnology in agriculture. In week one we discussed the biggest misconceptions about GMOs, followed by week where we covered GMO basics. In week three, we talked about the science of GMOs. Now in our final week, GMO Answers has reached out to the people who study and grow GMOs to share their perspectives with you.  

The People Who Grow GMOs

Watch the video below of Lawson Mozley, a sixth generation Florida farmer and cattle producer, talk about how he chooses which seeds to use on his farm. Lawson explains the role that GM crops play in his daily farming operation and discusses how specific GM traits have helped impact his production costs, including traits for herbicide and insect resistance.

We also interviewed Jillian Etress, who farms with her husband in southeast Alabama. According to Jillian, her family “farms around 600 acres in southeast Alabama and northwest Florida, and [their] primary crops are peanuts and cotton. [They] also grow a little bit of corn, soybeans and a few tomatoes for the fresh market.”

While Jillian’s family does produce crops that aren’t available as GM varieties, she explains, “We use crops improved with GM technology when planting cotton, corn and soybeans. These allow us more flexibility when controlling pests and problem weeds. The improved seeds help us limit the amounts of pesticides and herbicides that we use, which is really important because we farm in an area of Florida that is part of a first magnitude spring basin. By limiting the use of these pesticides, we are able to help preserve the environment around our farm.”

The People Who Study GMOs

We reached out to the scientists who study GMOs, including consultant Steve Savage with Savage & Associates, and postdoctoral research fellow Xiaohua Yang from Cornell University.

Steve tells us, “I had no farming background, but became interested in plant biology as an undergraduate at Stanford. That’s also when I first learned about genetic engineering in 1977. I went to the University of California, Davis, to study diseases of plants. Since then I’ve worked in many different aspects of agriculture technology, such as viticulture, fungicide discovery (at DuPont) and biological control (at Mycogen). Since 1996, I’ve been an independent consultant working on a wide variety of projects including many associated with biotech crops.

We asked Steve what impacts GM crops could have on a global scale, and he said, “I don’t like any statement in the vein of ‘technology X will feed the world.’ Only farmers will feed the world. That said there are some important contributions that could come via genetic engineering.”

He goes on to explain: “The increased pest control efficiency that has been seed via herbicide tolerance and Bt-based insect resistance could help in a great many other crops. Biotech would be a way to move resistance genes from wild crop relatives into crops for which doing that by conventional breeding is either far too slow or which would disrupt complex quality traits. Biotech solutions could help save entire crops from exotic pests which threaten to destroy the industry in various geographies.”

Xiaohua’s research focuses on how different factors such as crop load, nitrogen level and canopy position affect the metabolism of apple trees and fruit quality. Some of her previous research topics include plant architecture, plant hormones and increasing salt tolerance of rice through genetic engineering.

She explains, “My introduction to genetic engineering was rather natural. I needed to solve a scientific problem (increase the salt tolerance of rice) and genetic engineering was one way to do it.” She adds, “I only started to appreciate the non-scientific aspects of the technology and the complexity of the issue after I took a course at Cornell with World Food Prize winner Professor Per Pinstrup-Anderson. The course was focused on food safety and globalization. Per often asked the question: what are the alternatives? I still find that an effective way to facilitate thinking when facing complex problems with no obvious or less than perfect solutions.”

 Looking for more testimony from those who plant GMOs and those who study them? Visit the GMO Answers page here for more exclusive interviews.