Crops are genetically engineered to produce characteristics to enhance crop growth or nutrition. The DNA of soybeans, corn or other crops are modified to be tolerant of herbicides, resist pests and diseases, withstand adverse environmental conditions and improve human health.
Six panelists with backgrounds in farming, science and the law participated in a lively discussion on GMOs, which was followed by audience questions. Panelists included:
* Steven Druker, a public interest attorney and executive director of the Alliance for Bio-Integrity, based in Fairfield, Iowa. Druker's group sued the Food and Drug Administration in 1998 challenging it's approach to deciding whether genetically modified foods are safe.
* Bill Horan, a farmer from Rockwell City, Iowa who plants GMO crops and is a long-time proponent of biotech seed.
* Ruth McDonald, professor and chair of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University.
* Gary Munkvold, professor of seed science and seed science endowed chair at ISU.
* Mike Owen, ISU Extension weed management specialist and professor of agronomy.
* Ron Rosmann, owner of Rosmann Family Farms at Harlan, Iowa, an organic farming operation that hasn't used any pesticides for 30 years. Rosmann doesn't use GMO crops and he thinks they've been over-sold.
GMOs are safe, based on independent research and 20 years of use
ISU's MacDonald said consumers have concerns about genetically modified food. However, she said GMOs are safe, based on independent research and 20 years of use. "There's no documented evidence of harm to humans or animals. There's no evidence that genetic modification changes the nutritional value in any way. This technology has substantial potential to increase the health benefits of food both for the U.S. and developing countries."
Consumers have the option to not consume GMO food, she noted. They can buy organic food which doesn't contain GMOs. An estimated 80% of packaged products in U.S. grocery stores contain GMOs.