Special Report: The non-G.M.O. challenge

by Donna Berry
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CHICAGO — Money, religion and politics are the historical taboo topics of conversation for family gatherings. In recent years, food has joined the list, as many have strong opinions about how their food is grown, raised and sourced. Specifically, the presence of genetically modified organisms (G.M.O.s) in the food supply often turns into debate, with personal values going up against science.

The way Americans eat has become a source of social, economic and political friction as consumers follow personal preferences reflecting their principles on how foods connect with their health and ailments, according to a 2016 survey by Pew Research Center, Washington. The Pew study showed that a sizable minority — 39% — of Americans consider genetically modified foods worse for health than other foods. This compares with 48% of adults who said G.M. foods are no different from non-G.M. fods and 10% who said G.M. foods are better for health.

The Food and Drug Administration is planning on stepping in to help clear the confusion and put the science out on the table. This is after receiving a letter from more than 50 agriculture and food groups urging the government to counter “a tremendous amount of misinformation about agricultural biotechnology in the public domain.”

The U.S. federal budget passed at the end of April 2017 to avoid a government shutdown included funding for a campaign to educate consumers about agricultural biotechnology, including the use of G.M.O.s in food. The initiative allocated $3 million to consumer outreach on the environmental, nutritional, food safety, economic and humanitarian impacts of biotech crops, which account for more than 90% of all corn and soybean crops in the United States, and the foods produced from them.

No specifics about the program or a launch date have been released. What is known is the program will be developed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and will include the publication and distribution of education information.

This science includes studies showing that G.M. crops have better taste, enhanced nutrition, improved resistance to disease and pests, and increased output to better feed the growing global population. In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said that farmers can grow more food on less land with G.M. crops.

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