GMOs: Will the Change Generation Help Advance Agriculture?

I grew up in an urban setting, far from any farm and not familiar with the overall production techniques used in farming. During college, while getting my B.S. in Biology, I took a number of environmental courses that discussed agricultural practices—but many class discussions still left large voids in my general understanding of the industry.

Therefore, when I first started working at Dow AgroSciences and supporting communications needs for our scientists, I had questions. Having a scientific background gave me the opportunity to ask questions of our scientists and understand their work—especially work around GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

As I learned more, I realized our generation is predicted to face unprecedented global challenges around land and water resources. Now, this prediction is not all doom and gloom. Our world has faced this before and met this challenge. In the 1940s, scientists like Dr. Norman Borlaug were able to greatly increase yields through plant breeding and by introducing hybrid seed technology. And, from talking with our scientists, I know that we can meet the challenges we face by advancing our technology further.

We change for the better

After all, our generation (Millenials) have been dubbed the “change generation” by experts who have studied our uptake and early adoption of technology. We’ve moved the music industry from cassette tapes to digital downloads, we’ve advanced phones from being corded touch-tones to smart phones that respond to our voices, and we’ve even taken childhood games and turned them into apps for exercise—enter Pokémon Go. Because our generation knows how advancing technology can improve our lives, it seems natural that we should embrace advancements in food production to meet the population and environmental demands of today.

But there are a lot of questions about GMOs and how they are made. And, the idea of eating something dubbed genetically modified doesn’t sound like an appealing part of our generation’s story. Furthermore, in a country where food is seemingly everywhere for those lucky enough to live above the poverty line, we don’t directly see the benefits of the technology; until we look closer.

What do GMOs offer?

GMO technology can help save consumers money. And, for us young professionals, who are statistically underemployed and bear large financial burdens with student loans, this is a very good thing.

Nutritionally, GMOs are the same—or offer the possibility of more nutritional benefits—than other food options. And, GMO technology has the capability of extending the shelf life for fresh fruits and vegetables, meaning we could experience less food waste and not have to re-stock shelves quite as often. I don’t know about you, but every dollar I can save adds up, so having the option to purchase the same food for a lower price means a lot.

GMOs are beneficial for the environment. Farmers are able to lower their carbon footprint because GMO seeds already come with beneficial characteristics that help fight off pest pressures and therefore less tractor passes are needed. Additionally, because farmers can produce more food with less land, we’ve spared an estimated 55 million acres of land in the U.S. alone from being put into food production. This is good news because it means that we get to keep more land for national parks, forests and community parks—which, my fur-baby Diesel (pictured with me to the right) and I regularly enjoy.

But, are GMOs safe?

I get it. Going back to when I started and the questions I wanted answered, I know that while lower Carbon footprints, parks and financial savings are nice, it doesn’t matter unless it’s safe. Especially if we’re feeding this food to the friends, family (and of course the fur-babies) we love, because we want most to protect them. Luckily, there have been thousands of studies done and not a single one has indicated that food created with GMOs is harmful to people, animals or the environment.

I often get asked how I can trust these studies, especially with so many scary headlines and memes associated with GMOs frequently appear on social media feeds. In short, I trust them because I’m lucky enough to work with some of the scientists that do them. And, I know they all have skin in the game. Personally, they have friends and family who are eating the food that is coming from the seed traits they are engineering. They, like all of us, want to keep their loved ones safe. Professionally, they have their name and scientific reputation on the line. And, in the science world, your ability to recreate your study through the scientific process and good documentation means everything. To further support the studies done on GMOs, earlier this year an independent study titled, “Genetically Engineered Crops: Past Experience and Future Prospects,” was completed and released. It reviewed the studies done on GMOs to determine the authenticity of the science behind them.

If you think about the science of GMOs, it’s no different than how we’ve advanced medicine and vaccinations, automobile safety, and other technologies that are saving lives. And, like hybrid seed technology, GMOs can help save lives around our world by helping increase food production. They also have the ability to provide children around the world with vital nutrition, like Vitamin A.

Really GMO technology is just the next advancement in plant breeding—that has modified our food and its genetics for thousands of years—and allowed us to advance agriculture to create crops like the corn farmers grow today.

It’s exciting to see how our generation has the power to change our world with our innovations. And, as Millenials we are some of the biggest drivers and adopters of these innovations because we realize that science is all around us, improving our lives. After spending time with our scientists and learning more about agricultural technologies, it is my hope and belief that we will also be the ones who will make the largest leap in fighting world hunger, in a sustainable way, through agricultural advancements like GMOs.

JennaMarstonHeadshot1Jenna Marston is an R&D Communications Specialist at Dow AgroSciences. She received her B.S. in Biology and a Masters in Mass Communications from South Dakota State University. She loves supporting the scientists on her team and seeing how their work is helping feed the world.