GMOs are controversial, fueled by a lack of understanding and misinformation promoted around the science of genetic engineering in agriculture. Despite current evidence indicating that GMO crops are safe to eat, unfamiliarity with the science still sways the public opinion to think otherwise. Nutrition Expert Dianna Sinni shares her experience and learnings from her recent visit to Monsanto.
As a dietitian fully immersed in the world of food, nutrition, and health, I had the amazing opportunity to take a trip to visit the Monsanto headquarters with the Kansas Farm Bureau, Kansas Soybean Association, and Kansas Pork – three non-profit organizations working for and with farmers and consumers. I felt this trip was essential for me to cultivate a deeper knowledge of how food is grown in order to fully empower and educate my own clients.
Feeling honored, nervous, and a bit like a spy I headed into the Monsanto headquarters in St. Louis to dig a little deeper on some pressing food, environmental and biotech issues of today.
Before heading into Monsanto offices, almost every friend I told had an underlying negative tone about what I was going to see or hear. I even had my own set of personal biases coming in with me. It’s clear that the recent surge of polarizing media headlines have created a ‘great divide’ within consumers and eaters. Consumers distrust farmers, people are fearful of eating conventional fruits and vegetables, and many are grasping to fully understand what genetically engineered foods really are.
Our day at Monsanto began with an hour-long open-ended discussion with their engagement team, followed by a tour of their facility to see exactly what the company does. I was struck by how open, honest, and full of passion Monsanto’s employees were about what they do. They were not holding back or giving us canned answers, it was actually quite the opposite; they encouraged challenging questions and even let us film them for use on Facebook Live. This was not a company trying to hide or even trying to say what they thought we wanted to hear.
Here’s a little taste of what I learned:
It takes 13 years of research and development, including extensive safety testing, before GMOs can be cultivated or commercialized for market.
9-11% of Monsanto’s net sales goes back into research. Many studies are designed and implemented by outside parties where Monsanto cannot influence study design.
We can’t study everything.
In a perfect world, we would be able to isolate every chemical and possible health issue related to pesticides, herbicides and GMOs. But in reality, we can’t legally use human subjects to test out whether RoundUp is directly correlated to cancer or not. And we can’t fully test how glycophosphate interacts with every mineral or chemical it may come in contact with in the water, on our plants, and even in our bodies. There is A LOT of unknown despite the billions of dollars being used for research and safety testing.
Monsanto employees don’t have three heads, extra fingers, or wear HAZMAT suits every day.
They aren’t awful villains or trying to drive native species to extinction. They’re biochemists, scientists, dietitians, environmentalists, and above all – real people who care about their families, the Earth, and the food they eat.
Monsanto’s main focus isn’t on GMOs, but rather traditional plant breeding.
Who would have thought?! They’ve even created some fancy equipment to splice the tiniest of seeds for scientists to study plant genes.
Farmers have a choice.
Just like consumers choosing what to eat, farmers 100% get to decide what to cultivate. They don’t have to grow GMO crops or choose Monsanto seeds. They are not contracted to work with particular companies or specific crops. They choose what works best for their business. Many of the farmers we got to meet even stated that they all have deep connections to the land they work, having been in their family for generations, and do their best to honor the soil, their animals, and the Earth. Their passion for farming was truly inspiring.
Whether you’re against GMOs or for them, I think we can all agree that food choice is key. As a dietitian, I strive to educate my clients to make the best decisions for themselves and their families leaving personal biases and beliefs, whatever they may be, at the door.
While the industry isn’t perfect and we still have a long way to go in terms of sustainability, I’m appreciative of Monsanto for opening their doors for me to learn more about biotechnology and for the strides many similar companies are making to feed the world.
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Dianna Sinni, RDN, LD is a Registered Dietitian based in Kansas City, MO with a passion for all things whole grain, green, and homegrown. She focuses on empowering and inspiring others to take charge of their wellness through simple plant-based recipes and science-powered advice at Chard in Charge.