Path Home Shows 2014 Show Archive March 2014 Show 1413 Jayson Lusk - Conventional Wisdoms

Jayson Lusk - Conventional Wisdoms

Jayson Lusk, author of "The Food Police," shares his views on genetically modified organisms.
Jayson Lusk - Conventional Wisdoms

Jayson Lusk - Conventional Wisdoms

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Jayson Lusk

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Show 1413: Jayson Lusk - Conventional Wisdoms
Air Date: March 30, 2014

 

Transcript

Rob McClendon: Well, Jayson Lusk is no stranger to controversy. Lusk is the author of “The Food Police: A Well-Fed Manifesto About the Politics of Your Plate,” a book where he takes shots at many of the conventional wisdoms currently held about nutrition and agriculture. And his latest targets are GMOs and those who oppose them in our food supply. Earlier, I sat down with the Oklahoma State University agricultural economics professor here in our studio. So what has changed in the past decade that you think now it’s time that we really address this issue?

Jayson Lusk: Well, I think there are several things. One is there’s a lot of really interesting and exciting research going on, both by food and agribusiness companies, but also by non-profit groups and by universities all across the U.S. So there are a lot of really interesting traits that are being developed that have a lot of promise in terms of biotechnology. Biotechnology, by the way, is not the solution for all the problems; you know, it’s important not to overhype it. But I think it does have the potential to provide advantages to some producers and consumers. So I think that’s one thing. There’s been more technological research that’s come about. Another thing is, you know, we’ve been growing this stuff since the mid-’90s now in corn and soybeans, so it’s been a long period of time and there’s a lot better understanding of the consequences both at the farm level and at the consumer level. We have known for a long time due to all kinds of research, whether it’s animal feeding trials or what not, that there really isn’t any evidence of adverse health consequences from biotechnology. But I think 20 years of eating experience has also partially changed that. And again, we’ve seen very widespread acceptance of these technologies among other farm commodities. So I think it’s a combination of those things, and also when you look at wheat in particular there have been changes that I think have made people perhaps a little more open to the idea. And one of those things is we’ve had a recent drought so thinking about varieties that are more hardy, more tolerant to drought and low water conditions, I think, is something that’s gotten people thinking. And moreover, if you look at the amount of acreage that’s planted to wheat in the United States, it’s really declined quite dramatically over the last 20 to 30 years. And there’s a big combination of factors for why that’s true, but I think it’s also caused people to think a little bit about what is it that has made other commodities like corn and soybeans and, especially in Oklahoma, canola, relatively more attractive. And what is it about wheat that can maybe keep it in terms of maybe making it relatively competitive?

Rob: And in many ways, you know, so goes the U.S., so goes the world. And while you talk about the hardiness traits and the drought tolerance, you know, here we’re really talking about profitability when we talk about those things. But when you go into other parts of the world we’re talking about food security, about them even having the crop to feed themselves.

Lusk: That’s exactly right, and I mentioned early on, one of the fears with some of the genetically engineered varieties is how our importers are gonna react, the people buying the stuff. But if you look at the major importers of U.S. wheat, you know, some of the biggest ones are in countries like Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa actually represents one of the biggest importers. And these countries are deeply concerned about food insecurity. And we’ve seen a lot of political unrest in those countries. And I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that some of that political unrest came about because of high food prices in 2008 and 2011. So these countries are deeply concerned about being secure, a steady supply of food that’s not too expensive that people in those countries can eat. And so I think that it’s important for these countries to be able to have access to technologies that make food less expensive. And I think those attitudes are also gonna carry over to our trading partners. And by the way, if we in the U.S. were to adopt a genetically engineered wheat variety we probably wouldn’t be the only one. It’s not as if we’re the only country producing wheat. Canada is probably working on it. I can bet there are people in other countries like Australia and elsewhere who are probably thinking about these same issues. And if U.S. producers want to remain competitive in a world market, one of the things they have to do is have some of the best knowledge available, also access to some of the best technologies available.

Rob: And ultimately this could be good for our rural and actually our entire economies here in the southern Plains.

Lusk: I think that’s the idea. Again, if you look at corn and soybeans, the fact that 90 percent of acres are planted in biotech variety, you know, behind every one of those acres there was a farmer making a decision. Which of these varieties do I plant? And sometimes, you know, you hear arguments that, you know, genetic engineering hasn’t delivered on all these great promises. And maybe that’s true. In some cases it was overhype, but at the end of the day you’ve got farmers making decisions. And at least in their eyes, you look at the decisions they’ve made, they’re telling us when they’re voting with their feet and with their dollars they think they’re getting something out of that biotech variety. Whether it’s time savings, whether it’s the ability to remove the downside risk of yields or the ability to convert to no-till practices, I think that when you look at the choices farmers have actually made, we can see that they perceive that there are a lot of advantages.

Rob: Well, certainly an interesting opinion piece in The New York Times and one that I think will, has, started some debate. Thank you so much.

Lusk: Thank you. Appreciate it.