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Jerry Ploehn, Published June 08 2013

Letters: Biotech crop advances vital to feeding the world

Farmers in the 11 counties of northwest Minnesota harvested almost 73 million bushels of corn in 2012. That’s an increase of 28 million bushels compared to 2011. Corn is making its way north in Minnesota; and the majority of it is grown using biotechnology and genetically modified seed.

Genetic modification of plants – or GMOs – has received increased attention. Consumers are asking more questions about their food these days, and as farmers, it’s important we’re there to answer them.

If farmers don’t provide the answers to questions about food, others likely will, and they might not be accurate.

A couple of the prevalent myths about GMOs are that they are unsafe and are grown in laboratories. Both are untrue.

GMO crops are safe to eat and do not harm the environment. I plant GMO corn and soybeans developed using biotechnology. My family eats GMO foods like corn flakes and dairy products from cows fed with GMO corn. If you don’t want to take my word for it, you can take the word of the scientific community and regulatory agencies.

GMOs are exhaustively assessed to ensure they are safe and provide nutritional value by the World Health Organization, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Food and Drug Administration agrees with the scientific consensus that GMOs pose no new health or environmental risks.

Farmers and nonfarmers will remember April as one of the coldest and snowiest on record. Planting was delayed.

Extreme weather conditions come with the territory if you’re a farmer. But no matter what Mother Nature throws at us – extreme heat, long winters, floods and droughts – the world needs to eat. The demand for food locally and throughout the world is growing along with the population, and because of population growth, there is less land for farming.

Thanks to biotechnology, crops are better able to withstand extreme weather conditions, resulting in higher yields, reduced costs and affordable food prices for families. It’s also good news for the environment. According to a recent study by PG Economics, biotechnology has reduced insecticide use in the United States by 42 percent, and decreased the environmental impact associated with insecticide use by 38 percent since 1996.

Genetic modification and biotechnology are not new. While the process today is much different than in the past, farmers and gardeners have been genetically altering plants and seeds for centuries. Extensive field trials and practical applications have resulted in a greater understanding of both genetic and ecological mechanisms.

GMO crops are not grown in labs. They are grown on family farms like mine.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 88 percent of the corn crop planted in the United States this spring will be genetically modified. I wouldn’t use GMO crops, and neither would so many of my fellow farmers, if the science and research didn’t prove their safety.

I understand how terms like GMOs and biotechnology could sound scary to people who might not fully understand what they mean. Spring planting season is finally here, and as farmers take to the fields to plant this year’s crops – including an increasing amount of corn in northwest Minnesota – it’s important that the consumers who will be buying what farmers grow understand how advances in biotechnology help provide the food, fiber and fuel that benefit the entire world.

Ploehn is a corn and soybean farmer in Alpha, Minn., and on the Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council.