WILLMAR, Minn.-Fear fueled by misinformation-and not science-is a driving force in the anti-GMO movement that could harm agriculture and make it difficult to feed a growing world population.
That was the message delivered Tuesday during the sixth annual Ag and Animal Science Conference at the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar.
Standing on a stage in front a large screen that said "I believe the non-science movement is the greatest threat` to global food security," Robert Saik encouraged agri-business leaders to "stand as a voice of reason" regarding genetically modified organisms, such as corn and soybeans.
"We need to change the conversation from no GMO to know GMO," said Saik, an agrologist, founder of Agri-Trend Group and author of a short book called The Agriculture Manifesto.
Saik said the anti-GMO push, which is putting pressure on politicians, regulators, restaurants and food processors to ban GMO foods, is not only bad for farmers it's also bad for consumers who are paying two to three times as much money for non-GMO foods.
"Fear sells. It's just that simple," he said.
That movement could also have a worldwide impact..
"First-world activism and elitism is hurting the poorest people on the planet," Saik said.
"We should celebrate genetic engineering because it'll solve problems for people around the world," Saik said. "GMO is not an ingredient. It's a process."
Saik, who is from Alberta, said he and his son are in the process of producing a movie to put a positive message on the science of genetic engineering of crops to counter a "bias" that GMOs are "bad."
He said most people are "waiting to hear a counterpoint" on the GMO discussion and farmers need to tell their story about how they raise their crops and animals so consumers have facts, and not just emotions, about the food they eat.
The conference, which attracted agri-businesses, producers, educators and investors, also featured Holly Butka, the global consumer engagement representative for Monsanto, which produces GMO seeds that are grown on many American farm fields.
Butka said farmers need to "take a deep breath and join in the dialogue" when discussions about food production get raised by people who have concerns about farming practices.
With fewer people having a connection to farms and the reality of agriculture, Butka said efforts need to be made to "bridge that divide."
Butka and Saik made reference to public concerns about GMO foods with the intent to debunk those concerns as myths, but there was no one at the conference to present an anti-GMO perspective.
Concerns about GMO foods expressed by some organizations include potential links to health effects, like increased food allergies and irritable bowel; risks to organic farmers whose crops could be contaminated by pollen drift from GMO fields; and risks to the environment by creating super weeds that are resistant to herbicides.
"GMO sounds like something that should be scary," Butka said. "If I believed those things I'd be scared too."
Butka said families care about the health of their families and they care about food they eat that communication can help remove the "fears about GMO foods and let farmers keep a valuable "tool in the toolbox" for their business.
Butka said there are currently eight GMO crops that are currently being grown for commercial use-- corn, soybeans, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets, canola, papaya and squash.
A GMO apple that doesn't turn brown when cut and a new GMO potato that doesn't bruise and will retain fewer harmful chemicals than regular potatoes when fried are expected to be on the market soon, she said.
While some may consider that "frankenfood" Butka said it will reduce food waste and create healthful food options.
Joanna Schrupp, project manager for MinnWest Technology Campus, said the conference is an opportunity for area businesses to collaborate with the network of campus enterprises with the goal of helping agriculture and animal science grow.