Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was getting lots of appreciative applause and head nods from the packed hall at the Community Food Security Coalition conference today, held in Des Moines, Iowa. He described the USDA's plans to improve school nutrition, support local food systems, and work with the Justice Department to review the impact of corporate agribusiness on small farmers. But then, with time for only one more question, I was handed the microphone.
"Mr. Secretary, may I ask a tough question on GMOs?"
He said yes.
"The American Academy of Environmental Medicine this year said that genetically modified foods, according to animal studies, are causally linked to accelerated aging, dysfunctional immune regulation, organ damage, gastrointestinal distress, and immune system damage. A study came out by the Union of Concerned Scientists confirming what we all know, that genetically modified crops, on average, reduce yield. A USDA report from 2006 showed that farmers don't actually increase income from GMOs, but many actually lose income. And for the last several years, the United States has been forced to spend $3-$5 billion per year to prop up the prices of the GM crops no one wants.
"When you were appointed Secretary of Agriculture, many of our mutual friends--I live in Iowa and was proud to have you as our governor--assured me that you have an open mind and are very reasonable and forward thinking. And so I was very excited that you had taken this position as Secretary of Agriculture. And I'm wondering, have you ever heard this information? Where do you get your information about GMOs? And are you willing to take a delegation in D.C. to give you this hard evidence about how GMOs have actually failed us, that they've been put onto the market long before the science is ready, and it's time to put it back into the laboratory until they've done their homework."
The room erupted into the loudest applause of the morning.
Secretary Vilsack knew at once what kind of crowd he was dealing with. Or so I thought.
He said he was willing to visit with folks, to read studies, to learn as much as he possibly can. He pointed out that there are lots of studies, not necessarily consistent, even conflicting. He said he was in the process of working on a set of regulations and had brought proponents and opponents together to search for common ground. And he was looking to create a regulatory system with sufficient assurances and protections.