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United Fresh GMO speakers draw crowd at event
By DOROTHY NOBLE
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sept. 16) — Overwhelming interest in genetic engineering drew a standing-room-only audience at the “GMO Debate and Impact on Fruits and Vegetables” educational session at United Fresh Produce Association’s Washington Conference last week.
Cathleen Enright, executive vice president, food and agriculture, Biotechnology Industry Association, pointing to the tremendous influence of social media, told the produce industry attendees, “You better get there.”
Enright said, “We’re 10 years behind.”
She reasoned that the biotechnology industry thought that science would prevail, and were shocked to hear that it did not happen.
Noting that the correct term is “genetic engineering,” she added, “Who would say GMO?”
The Biotechnology Industry’s website, gmoanswers.com, uses “GMO” because of public usage and recognition of the term.
Enright related a few illustrative comments received by the industry. “An orange would be cooler if it were made as large as a basketball,” for example.
Many anti-GMO activists equate the industry with increased pesticide usage.
Considerable public complaints say that “GMO working in pesticides is bad.”
“Big Ag” is often the real issue with the anti-activists, she said.
Enright stressed to her audience that there is a new business environment, and that it is not going to change.
Enright pointed out that in 20 years, which encompasses an entire generation, there has been no evidence of harm with genetic engineered crops.
She urged the group to become more involved in dispelling the myths about genetic engineering. “It crushes me to see the supply chain fight each other.”
Randal Giroux of Cargill Inc., stressed the importance of global food systems.
Giroux, who is vice president, food safety, quality and regulatory affairs, noted Cargill’s involvement in agronomy, innovation and performance in 67 countries.
Giroux said sustainability goals are becoming more significant, and suggested imparting an understanding of ecology, science and technology plus increasing transparency.
Customers are clamoring for the information, he pointed out.
The role of technology, and both benefits and standards are emerging. Customers are changing, he added, and so are their requirements.
Giroux listed safe and nutritious food, supplier traceability and regulatory compliance, new product processes with consumer-driven requirements, and responsible supply chain product stewardship as part of the emerging landscape.
Consumer trust and informed choices, he suggested, should include cooperation, dialogue and open markets.
“Technology is global,” Giroux said, emphasizing the inclusion of international markets.
In the ensuing discussion with the conference attendees, the non-GMO project was raised.
Enright drew laughter when she said the project includes salt, avocado oil and even plastic bags.
Enright noted, though, that the project was a marketing tool. She added, “I’m for market tools.” She also said she has nothing against organic production.
She also pointed out, “What’s natural? It’s whatever you want it be,” illustrating the lack of standards or definitions.
Reiterating 20 years of genetic engineering use with no problems including DNA protein issues, Enright recognized the difficulties of informing people, “what they have been reading for so long is inaccurate.”
She and Giroux stressed that a coordinated effort to counteract genetic engineering misconceptions is essential for the industry.