Facts the media should report about GMOs

by James Kamuye Kataru

As the GMO debate rages across Africa, there are incidences of deliberate misinformation generated by the anti-GMO campaigners and spread by parts of the media which is expected to moderate explosive issue without bias. However, not all media houses have been drawn into this game. Some are balancing their reporting with facts and avoiding the spread of unfounded fear.   

Shirts promoting the GMO FACTS not FEAR campaign in Kenya. Photo credit: Kataru Concepts

According to a quantitative study by the Alliance for Science titled; “GMO MISINFORMATION IN THE KENYAN MEDIA”, 376 GMO articles were published between October 2022 and January 2023. 151of these (amounting to 40% of media coverage by volume in Kenya) contained unchallenged negative misinformation about GMOs. A grim 3% of articles contained pro-GMO misinformation.     

These findings provide fodder for the pro-GMO campaigners, enough oil to fuel their engines and go full throttle feeding the masses with bare “GMO facts and not fear”. This should rope in the media, opinion shapers, and people with ability to influence. There is absolutely no excuse to allow the continued misinformation because in the long run, it will deny the deserving an opportunity and most benefits accrued from GMO technology.   

Somebody might ask “what good benefits are there about GMO?” which prompted me to outline the following according to an article by corteva on debunking GMO myths;  

Facts about GMO

GMO doesn’t mean unsafe, is precisely bred, and poses no more threat to humans and the environment than conventional crops. GMOs are no more likely to cause allergic or toxic reactions, are thoroughly tested before release to the consumer, are used to produce more crops on less land and many more. (Refer to article for more information https://www.corteva.com/resources/blog/plate-wise/debunking-gmo-myths.html).

There is an endless list of good facts about GMO technology which the media needs to exploit and present consumers with knowledge so they can make an informed  decision on which way to support. Another question the society keeps asking is “how beneficial is GMO to society?” to which I answer in the following ways;

GMO crops on average use less pesticide hence lowering the cost of production to the farmer. For example, Bt eggplant grown in Bangladesh has reduced pesticide use by an average of 59%.

They can also  lead to  increased food supply lowering the costs and increasing shelf life. This means households can get a steady supply of nutritious rations daily. For example, apples and potatoes have been genetically modified so that they do not brown when exposed to the air.

Some GMOs, increase animal growth which can increase availability of food providing sufficient proteins and important vitamins. For example, salmon has been genetically modified to grow twice as fast as wild salmon.

GMO technology gives us foods with desirable traits like reducing risks of cancer causing chemicals in certain foods. For example, Irish potatoes have been genetically modified to reduce the amount of acrylamide produced during high temperature cooking. Acrylamide is a chemical that has been linked to cancer.

Crops that are tolerant to herbicides help in controlling weeds without damage to crops since farmers do not need to till the soil. This also helps maintain soil health and cuts all other costs involved in mechanical and manual tilling. Another point the media should focus on is whether humans should be concerned about GMOs. This has elicited strange passions with misinformation taking center stage. Instead of sending fear to consumers, the media should provide some of the following facts in reaction to pertinent questions raised, e.g;

Are GMO foods safe to eat?

The answer to this is “YES”. Before GMO crops and foods are released for sale, they are carefully studied to ensure they are safe just like any food we eat. A good example is the International Potato Center-CIP led research project in Kenya where several GMO potato varieties are under research for a number of years and will only be released to farmers and consumers after certification by the national biosafety authority which regulates GMO technology in Kenya.

The media should also consider using the following facts and help consumers understand the benefits of GMO technology;

GMO saves lives through medical research, a good example being the story of insulin which I covered in a previous blog titled “GMO gave us the revolutionary insulin drug that’s saving lives”.

GMOs benefit consumers to access tasty and nutritious food.

GMOs help protect the environment due to reduced use of pesticides, herbicides, and minimum tillage.

GMOs  can provide stable sources of food stocks helping in the fight against hunger, malnutrition and increasing food security.

In a nutshell, the media has its “in-tray” full with facts about how good GMO technology is. There are more bare facts than fear that could improve the consumers understanding of the technology, the foods, crops, animals, and all that’s involved. Twisting facts to cause misinformation doesn’t help. It only serves to deny a generation an opportunity at the best servings life can provide.

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