Advertisers bombard us with "what to eat" messages. Chefs become television stars talking about food. Doctors offer their views on consumption in media commentary daily. Scientists are brought into the discussion. Grocers and restaurateurs get their say. But what about the people who produce the food? Shouldn't farmers have a say in the food dialogues too?
That's what the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, the Ohio Soybean Council and U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Council had in mind as they organized a "Food Dialogues" event in Columbus last month. In two panel discussion sessions a variety of sources were brought together to examine critical food issues. They participants included scientists, dieticians, restaurateurs, a nutritionist, a food blogger a food bank organizer, an environmental spokesman, and it included farmers.
Allen Armstrong, a grain farmer from South Charleston, Doug Billman, operator of Twinbill Jerseys, an organic dairy farm in Burbank, Pat Hord, CEO of Hord Livestock Co. in Bucyrus, and Ben Sippel a cattle, dairy, sheep and vegetable farmer from Mt. Gilead, gave a farm-based view to the food debate.
The first discussion session focused on "Biotechnology (GMOs) and Your Food." It was moderated by radio host Joel Riley from 610 WTVN radio in Columbus. In addition to Armstrong and Billman, panelists included, Andrew Michel, Ohio State University entomologist, Casey Hoy, Kellogg Endowed Chair in Agricultural Ecosystem Management at OSU, Mike Sopoko, Ohio restaurant Association board member and restaurant owner, Ruth MacDonald, Iowa State University nutritionist.
Michel immediately made the point that while the public perception is that corn and soybean crops have had genes inserted for herbicidal or insecticidal activity, the fact is that genetic modification has occurred in all plants and continues to occur naturally in all organisms. Billman raised the concern that his crops could be contaminated by GMO pollen. Hoy questioned whether GMO use fit into the concept of integrated pest management and what the intent of creating GMO crops was.
When the discussion turned to the debate over labeling GMO foods, MacDonald commented that it would not only add to costs, it would cause confusion at the supermarket. "People don't eat corn and soybeans – there are very few GMO foods available directly. (In meats) the protein in the (feed) crop is diluted out."
Restaurant owner Sopoko, responded to a question, "We do not hear concerns from customers. I have yet to be asked if we serve GMO foods."