Opinion: Attacks against GMOs? Why I take it personally

I’m a farmer who likes to scroll through Twitter. Not long ago, a tweet popped up from a Manitoba farmer criticizing a local cheese maker for pasting Non-GMO Project Verified labels on some products.

It started a conversation that I’ve seen a hundred times online:

Should companies be able to market whatever and however they want seeking price premiums? Or should they be responsible for ensuring that claims or implications of superiority are supported by good science, not just buzzwords and fear marketing?

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I’ve been asked those questions many times. But as I thought about it this time, I realized it goes far beyond scientific evidence and company sales. The reason I get upset seeing these gimmicks is that I take it personally.

I have the same personal commitment to quality and integrity as tens of thousands of other farmers. It’s a passion that can last a lifetime – pride in what we do and sell. Farming isn’t simply a job. It’s about integrity and a commitment to do better, every day.

That means that I’m eager to back up everything that leaves this farm. Whether it’s a wagonload of soybeans, a truck full of corn or a tanker of milk, I stand behind all of it. The guilt would eat me alive if I ever felt a product from my farm hurt anyone.

That trust is why I feed my kids the same milk we ship for consumers. It’s why I look for Canadian canola oil grown using genetically modified seed. I reject meat at the meat counter if it claims to be hormone free (not possible) or antibiotic free (as is all retail meat).

Our corn and soybeans are mostly genetically engineered. If I didn’t use those, I’d need to till my soil or spray more often to control weeds.

Some worry about pesticides applied to GM crops. Almost every crop, whether it’s a GM or not, livestock feed or human food, gets sprayed with a pesticide. If we didn’t, weeds would rob nutrients from the crop, insects would feast, and fungal diseases and mycotoxins would damage yields and quality.

Farming isn’t easy and Mother Nature’s an uncertain ally. Something is always trying to reduce crop yield and quality. We fight to protect it and we are proud of what we have accomplished at harvest.

So where do the concerns come from?

Certainly not from the science community or government regulators, who have shown repeatedly that GM crops are as safe and that registered pesticides (including organic), when used as directed, represent minute risks compared to benefits.

Usually those concerns trace back to companies trying to sell alternatives. Just Label It is sponsored by Whole Foods, Stoneyfield Organics and others like it. Non-GMO Project Verified was started by two ‘natural food’ stores.

They’re building their businesses trying to portray me and my family as bad guys – for simply doing what’s best for our farm, community, family and customers.

Seeing a claim that defies what’s proven to be safe and effective is a gut punch to this family farmer and thousands like me.

Today’s food system is not perfect. That’s why we work to make it better through dozens of farm and agricultural initiatives. But how we did it 50 years ago isn’t better.

Andrew Campbell farms near London, Ont.

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