Smith misses the mark with students: One student’s reaction to Jeffrey Smith’s speech on genetically modified food

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By Gabriella Levine

On Jan. 20, Jeffrey Smith, a leading opponent of genetically modified food, delivered the first speech of Union’s 2011 Environmental Science, Policy and Engineering Winter Seminar Series. Smith began his speech with the confident promise that he would persuade the majority of listeners to develop drastically different outlooks on genetically modified food.

Genetically modified food is derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which have specific changes introduced into their DNA by genetic engineering. GMOs can increase yields of crops without the risk of insect infestation and improve nutritional value.

They are now present in the vast majority of foods throughout America.

Smith proposes that we completely avoid GM foods, claiming that this essential boycott will manipulate companies and manufacturers to discontinue the distribution of genetically engineered food.

While I do believe that genetic engineering needs further research and experimentation in order to ensure flawlessness, I strongly disagree with Smith’s approach to the issue primarily because it is unrealistic and improbable.

Smith vehemently opposes all GM foods, classifying them as, “the most dangerous and radical changes to our food supply.”

Smith spoke of hazardous health effects associated with GM foods, such as allergies, toxins, or new diseases and nutritional problems. His claims are unproven and essentially theoretical since studies have not traced any pervasive health defects back to the consumption of GM foods in the United States.

GMOs cannot be removed or fully avoided because they have expanded to an interminable extent. A copious amount of GMOs are already in our food supply, at our grocery stores, and ultimately in our diets.

To shun genetically modified food would entail that we must avoid eating in general; unless, of course, we shop with the diminutive catalogue that Smith offered to those who attended the lecture. The guide is composed of non-GMO food from a limited list of brands that Smith claims are entirely free from the effects of genetic modification.

Professor Verheyden-Gillikin of the Geology department at Union acknowledges the flaws in Smith’s plan, noting, “if you want to eliminate GM food from one’s diet, you have to contain GM crops, but once you plant something into nature, it will naturally cross-pollinate. Therefore, you can’t certify that anything is GM free unless you test everything, which is unrealistic.”

Evading genetically modified food is not a solution or even an option, especially at Union. On campus, the Ozone café and O3 marketplace are the most popular dining services that offer organic food.

However, neither provides students with solely organic meal options, but rather a mix of organic, natural, and locally grown. These alternatives are not necessarily 100% certifiable because an organic brand does not guarantee that the product is devoid of the effects of genetic engineering.

Union’s Executive Chef Will Roy explains that “it is impossible to get all organic food and to avoid genetically modified food because it’s so integrated into our food supply.” Roy adds, “the process is too long and cumbersome, and even though the American people are all for organic options, convenience wins out in the end.”

Furthermore, Smith’s agenda is not even a priority for several students.

Yvonne Cakins, a chef at O3, reasons, “avoiding GM foods is not a student’s biggest concern. They come to O3 because the food offers superior taste, appearance, and quality.”

Smith attended Beuth House the morning after his lecture to address my class and join in Beuth’s breakfast of freshly made pancakes. He warily refused to eat the pancakes because they were composed of genetically modified ingredients.

My entire class attended the lecture the previous night. Smith was perhaps overconfident in stating that the majority of those who attended his lecture would think differently of genetically modified food and begin to reform their diets.

Most of the class, including the professor, did not turn down Beuth’s pancakes.

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