Slowly, but steadily, the anti-GMO forces are winning. For evidence, look no further than the decision by General Mills to make its original Cheerios non-genetically modified.
Social media has become the dominant public relations weapon, and the anti-science crowd used it to effectively target Cheerios over the past year.
The ramifications may seem rather insignificant. Cheerios are mostly made from oats, and oats aren’t a GM crop. The switch just means that the corn starch has to come from non-GM corn and the one gram of sugar per serving has to come from sugar cane rather than sugar beets.
However, this is a big deal for a large company churning out a large number of products in a competitive marketplace. New sources for these ingredients must be found, and they have to remain segregated within the production process.
The consumer is always right and increasingly consumers are fearful, non-scientific and accepting of conspiracy theories. Big business is bad, you can’t trust government agencies, natural has to be better and the old ways were always healthier.
Consumers with an open mind who are willing to listen to both sides of the argument end up not knowing what to believe. Just in case there’s any credibility in what the anti-GMO zealots are saying, they typically decide to err on the side of safety and caution.
When anti-GMO activist Mark Lynas changed his mind and admitted he had been wrong about GM food, it was a glimmer of hope that perhaps reason would eventually prevail. Alas, the overall tide of public opinion is shifting to the side vacated by Lynas.
For now, most GM labelling proposals have been defeated, but the proposals will just keep coming.
Recently, the island of Hawaii banned genetically modified crops with the exception of papayas. Genetic modification has saved papaya farms on the island from a devastating disease, but that wasn’t enough to stop the majority from be-lieving GM has to be evil.
Groups such as Green America and GMO Inside are hailing the Cheerios decision as a major victory, noting this is the top selling cereal in the United States. But of course, they want General Mills to go even further and make all Cheerios non-GMO.
To its credit, General Mills is defending the safety of GM food. According to the company, the switch to non-GMO in original Cheerios is simply “because we think consumers may embrace it.”
Still, the anti-GMO crowd is no doubt emboldened. It is proving that fear can trump facts, and even big companies have to be mindful of public opinion.
So what are the practical implications for farmers?
Most of Canada’s oats are exported to the United States. General Mills helps fund variety research work in Western Canada. If original Cheerios becomes a big hit, that could increase the demand for oats.
If you’re hoping GM wheat will someday be approved, prepare to be disappointed. Unless the world be-comes extremely hungry, it isn’t going to happen with wheat, pulse crops or any other crop in which the technology hasn’t already been adopted.
Expect more marketplace disruptions, such as the recent rejections of U.S. corn shipments by the Chinese because of a GM trait that hasn’t been approved in China.
Expect demand for Clearfield canola to continue increasing. It’s non-GMO.
It’s difficult to predict how quickly the anti-GM wave will wash over our cropping practices, but make no mistake. The wave is coming.
Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]