As Consumer Faith in GMOs Slips, It’s Time for a New Era for Our Food System

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The debate on GMOs is a lively one, filled with good talking points for the pros and the cons as well as big financial backing from interested parties. This past week’s news leaned toward the anti-GMO side of things, highlighting growing concerns over potential misuses of this technology.

Annie Gasparro of the Wall Street Journal reported last week on the effectiveness of the anti-GMO movement. Overall, it is going strong! She explains that the “Non-GMO” label is growing at an incredibly rapid rate and that companies like Unilever, General Mills, and Chipotle are all clamouring to have non-GMO offerings. Consumer preferences, she notes, are changing:

The anti-GMO backlash reflects the deep skepticism that has taken root among many U.S. consumers toward the food industry and, in particular, its use of technology. Similar criticism has roiled other food ingredients including artificial sweeteners and finely textured beef, the treated meat product that critics dubbed "pink slime." The Web and social media have enabled consumer suspicions in such matters to coalesce into powerful movements that are forcing companies to respond."

The Big Ag tag slogan, “feeding the world,” used to justify so much of their questionable practices, is losing its pull for a lot of us. In fact,  sustainability writer Michael Tobis’s recent article asserted, as so many others have, that if we share resources, tighten up supply chains, reduce food waste, and give support in the right places, the “world” is going to be just fine. As he explains, malnutrition and hunger are almost entirely products of income inequality and animal protein consumption:

The point of livestock earlier in human development was to generate calories from marginal land, leaving agricultural land for growing edible crops. This at least is conceptually frugal. But now the situation is turned on its head, and the best lands around are used almost exclusively to feed livestock. We eventually have reached the bizarre situation where even in summer, a hamburger is cheaper than a salad."

Fortunately, there is another way. A way that has been practiced for thousands of years, and that is well researched in modern academia. Reporting on the Savory Institute’s International Conference that took place earlier this month, Sarah Street and Katherine Paul in Organic Consumers Association explain a promising method of sustainable farming: “regenerative agriculture:”

The key to regenerative agriculture is that it not only “does no harm” to the land but actually improves it, using technologies that regenerate and revitalize the soil and the environment. Regenerative agriculture is dynamic and holistic, incorporating permaculture and organic farming practices, including conservation tillage, cover crops, crop rotation, composting, mobile animal shelters and pasture cropping, to increase food production, farmers’ income and especially, topsoil.

This specific methodology, initially brought to the international sphere by Allan Savory, is not received without criticism, but the potential that it shows is truly amazing. Street and Paul cite a Rodale Institute study that found an incredible carbon sequestration ability in this type of farming.  

And consumer trends are showing that we are, in fact, ready to support more types of agriculture like Savory’s.  As reported by Helena Bottemiller Evich in Politico’s Morning Agriculture, a recent Gallup Poll found that 45% of consumers in the U.S. seek organic foods. That’s almost half of America looking to eat organic! The Poll concludes:

Given that almost half of Americans actively try to include organic foods in their diets, they may view the benefits of organic foods as greater than their downsides, such as the higher cost or limited access."

The poll also shows that there are large disparities in consumer’s pursuit of organics by region and by income. We imagine that if the price was not so prohibitive, and organic food more accessible, the overall number would be even higher.  

Let’s keep on speaking our mind in this debate and supporting the type of food system we want to see with our actions, our words and our buying habits whenever we can!

PHOTO: malachyshields on flickr

Sources:

Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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