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This Thanksgiving, We're Thankful for Modern Agriculture

November 20, 2018
Thanksgiving dinner as we know it wouldn’t be possible without modern agriculture and GMOs. These technological advancements also give us an abundance of food choices that can be sold at more affordable prices, not just during the holiday season, but all year long.

In a new blog post on the GMO Answers Medium page, volunteer expert and registered dietitian Leia Flure explains, in plain language, just how modern agriculture, from GMOs to selective breeding, has had an impact on your Thanksgiving dinner. Flure is a registered dietitian based in Champaign, Illinois – home of the University of Illinois and the heart of “corn country.” Known in her community and on social media as Moderation Maven, Leia draws on her background in psychology to lead productive conversations around today's pressing food and nutrition issues, with an emphasis on critical thinking and practicality.

In her new guest post for GMO Answers, she writes,
What if Thanksgiving were a holiday like President’s Day, with no traditional meal? It’s hard to imagine, because let’s face it — Thanksgiving is pretty much defined by the food. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! If we have anything to be thankful for, plentiful and nutritious food should be way up there. Turkey, sweet potatoes, corn, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie… the Thanksgiving meal as we know it wouldn’t be possible without the advances of modern agriculture and GMOs.

And this article from Vox reminds us that as you're roasting those Brussels Sprouts, ricing that cauliflower, and steaming up broccoli, remember that none of these Thanksgiving favorites would exist without plant breeding and innovations in plant and crop science.
Though they're all the same species, these various crops are cultivars — different varieties bred to have desirable qualities for human purposes. Virtually all crops have different cultivars, though B. oleracea are especially diverse in appearance and taste (some speculate this is because the plant grew over a wide geographic area to start, so there was more genetic diversity for farmers to tap in to when selectively breeding).

All this speaks to one thing: the remarkable power of human breeding and artificial selection. Changes that would take thousands of years or more to occur via natural selection can occur in hundreds when people are at the controls.


And finally, a guest column from another one of our GMO Answers experts, Ponsi Trivisvavet, highlights just how agricultural technology has shaped your Thanksgiving feast:
You might remember learning about the story of Squanto, a Native American man who taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn and fertilize crops with fish. A common food production method among Native Americans at the time was called the Three Sisters Garden, which included corn, beans and squash planted in a companion garden.  Fish were often buried underneath corn rows for fertilizer, then beans were planted next to the corn to grow up the stalks as a trellis. The squash (or pumpkin) were planted so that the leaves would cover the soil, similar to a mulch.


This garden provided two benefits: The produce, eaten together, offered a balanced, nutritious (and storable) meal, and the garden was an example of how crops were grown together or in succession to achieve benefits similar to many modern crop rotations.

Ongoing agricultural innovation in seeds breeding and crop protection is critical to helping farmers continue to produce an abundant, affordable and sustainable food supply. Nature challenges farmers in many ways every growing season. We must maintain appropriate incentives for researchers to innovate and ensure regulations remain based on sound science to meet these challenges. If we do, farmers can keep putting Thanksgiving dinner on our tables for generations to come.