A few weeks ago I wrote about Norman Borlaug because it would have been his 100th birthday, and not only that, he was being honored by a statue of him erected at the US Capitol in Washington D.C. Today I would like to share with you an article that was written recently in The Progressive Farmer magazine, April 2014 issue. The article focuses not on Norman Borlaug but on his granddaughter, Julie Borlaug. This article is timely for much more far-reaching reasons than the anniversary of her grandfather’s birth. The article is timely because there is a lot of buzz right now about the issue of GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) of which Dr. Borlaug was one of the pioneers. Most of the buzz comes from the unfortunate reality that GMO’s have been misunderstood as to what they actually are. Julie Borlaug is working to correct this misunderstanding and the following expresses how she is seeking to do this:
Julie joined the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M in 2006 to work alongside her grandfather. He sent her to India, where she got her first real introduction into his world, experiencing firsthand people living in poverty and laboring in fields to try to produce enough food to feed their families.
Three years after Borlaug’s death in 2009, Julie transitioned into her new role as associate director of external relations. She hopes through her efforts and in honor of her grandfather’s legacy “we will all recommit ourselves to educating and training the next generation of agricultural scientists, who will continue Dr. Borlaug’s work to reduce world hunger and eliminate famine.”
But she also challenges everyone in agriculture to recommit to explaining to the public why innovation is so important to meet the world’s food security challenges.
Like her grandfather, Julie is an outspoken advocate of biotechnology. She’s frustrated about the ongoing debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Julie contends opponents of biotechnology have gained the offensive with arguments that are often emotional and tangled up with inaccuracies. Many of their points have nothing to do with biotechnology, she explains, but instead are “side issues,” such as their disdain for large corporations and big ag.
“Whatever source of their opposition to biotech, we need to ask these critics if they really want to bar the use of spectacular life-saving and life-changing innovations developed through biotechnology,” she explains.
Julie uses the example of Golden rice, a Vitamin A–enriched variety developed through genetic engineering. Many underdeveloped nations are Vitamin A deficient, resulting in the death of more than a million children under the age of 5 annually and blindness for hundreds of thousands.
“My question is, do biotech opponents really want to withhold this technology that so many can profoundly benefit just because of their ignorance and their hatred to something like big ag?” she asks.
To move beyond the GMO debate, Julie says it’s time to change the paradigm. That starts with engaging in new conversations that biotech critics will understand.
“We must remember we are talking to people outside the ag community who don’t understand our lingo,” Julie points out. “For years, those of us in the ag sector have been on the losing end of the argument partly because we thought we could win the day with science alone and with scientists doing the talking. To get them [the public] to understand the real realities of biotechnology, we can’t do it in scientific terms because they don’t care and they don’t understand.”
Now when Julie talks to groups, she makes her message more emotional and more personal. “I tell them what GMOs are not—they are not processed foods … they do not cause infertility … they do not cause obesity.”
All farmers have the right and option to choose whatever farming techniques as long as they’re safe, she adds.
“Biotechnology will not single-handedly erase hunger. We understand multifaceted, integrated solutions are needed. Farmers need a lot of tools, and biotechnology is but one.”
Norman Borlaug would be proud.
Maybe you have heard some things about GMO’s and have wondered what all the fuss is about. Maybe you have heard some things about GMO’s and felt “the fuss” has merit. I hope by reading Julie Borlaug’s words, you have gained a new perspective which recognizes that full engagement from all those involved is necessary in order to really understand what is at stake by using GMO’s. And that if you have had concerns about GMO’s, that Julie’s words have given you pause and sparked your interest in digging a little deeper.
Encouraging you in thought,