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Farmer’s Daughter: New York PTA misguided on GMOs


What do the penalties of passing a stopped school bus, sign language as a second language, and the availability of genetically modified foods in school cafeterias all have in common? These are all issues, among others, that the New York Parent Teacher Association will vote upon at its upcoming annual convention.

Ahead of the statewide convention in November, the New York PTA has released its Proposed Resolutions for 2016. Among the resolutions this year is a proposal aimed at taking any genetically engineered foods, or foods with ingredients containing GMOs, out of school cafeterias.

The statement reads:

Genetic modification of foods for humans and food production animals is an extremely complex issue that involves agricultural practice, the chemical industry, environmental quality, health and nutrition. Some research suggests an association between GMO and GE food consumption with grave health hazards, such as tumor development, kidney and liver toxicity and even death in laboratory and food production animals. Other research suggests environmental hazards, such as killing off of beneficial microorganisms and pollinators and contamination of water supplies. Other developed countries have opted to ban the sale and production of GMO/GE foods. Until GMO and GE food safety is conclusively supported by good science, NYS PTA proposes acting with caution and keeping these products out of school provided food and drinks.

The proposal, which comes from the Nassau Regional PTA, also includes a number of scientifically wrong “whereas” statements meant to justify the proposed action, including that the process of creating these crops creates “unstable combinations” of plants, animals, bacteria, and viruses. Frighteningly, if the proposal is passed at the annual convention in New York, it could be headed to the national PTA.

Interestingly enough though, it seems the proposal would be completely moot upon passage. It calls for products created through biotechnology to be kept out of school cafeterias “until GMO and GE food safety is conclusively supported by good science.” The National Academy of Sciences, a highly respected group of independent scientists, conclusively found that genetically modified crops are just as safe for consumption as their non-GMO counterparts. Let’s also not forget that before any of these crops become commercially available, the company developing the modified crop spends millions of dollars on research to convince the EPA, FDA, and USDA of its safety. Therefore, it seems overwhelmingly clear that the proposal’s standard has already been met — GMOs are safe for human consumption and that determination is conclusively supported by good science.

USDA, Flickr
USDA, Flickr

It also begs the question: Why now? Genetically modified soybeans have been commercially available for production for almost 30 years. While a proposal such as this might have seemed legitimate when these biotech crops first entered the food supply, it just seems odd now. Except that the political climate is finally ripe for such action. After years of priming the pump with false studies, scary headlines, and social media graphics, those opposing biotechnology finally feel as though the climate is right for such a ridiculous proposal. All the years of fear-mongering on the technology is finally paying off.

But consider just how unrealistic this idea is on a practical level. Non-GMO or organic food fetches a premium market price. Sourcing all cafeteria food for the New York public school system from certified non-GMO or organic food products would substantially increase the cost of school meals. Unless residents of the state are willing to cough up a lot more money in taxes, that cost is going to have to come from somewhere else in the budget. We constantly hear that our public schools need more money for supplies, up-to-date textbooks, and classroom equipment. Teachers are paid too little. Our facilities need repairs. But instead of spending money on things that can actually help enhance the educational environment and experience, the New York PTA is considering spending money on something that will make absolutely no difference in nutritional quality or food safety.

Perhaps the money would be better spent purchasing new science textbooks for the New York PTA board members.


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