The Pew Research Center recently polled Americans on their concerns about genetically modified foods. Predictably, given the popular consternation around GMOs, a considerable plurality said they had concerns: 49 percent worried about the effects of GMOs on our health; the same number believed that GMOs would harm the environment.
But McKay Jenkins, a journalist who spent several years researching GMOs, says both of these concerns fundamentally miss the mark. In his new book, “Food Fight: GMOs and the Future of the American Diet,” Jenkins makes the case that it’s not GMOs we should single out for criticism — it’s the industrial agricultural system that they power.
After all, Jenkins points out, genetic engineering has thus far been limited to America’s largest commodity crops, such as corn and soybeans. (According to the Department of Agriculture, 92 percent of U.S. corn acres are planted with GM varieties; for soybeans, it’s 94 percent.) Both corn and soy are typically grown in vast Midwestern monocultures, doused with nitrogen fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. They also supply the vast amounts of corn syrup, soybean oil and cheap livestock feed needed to power both the fast food and processed food industries.
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