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Don’t be Fooled by the Myth Makers!

Isabella Blair, Portland, Oregon

Week 11: Sunday, November 18th, 2018

The anti-GMO and “buy local” movements have been present since before I can remember. In the past, I have been convinced by the media and the people around me that buying locally sourced foods is the most ethical and the most healthy way to go. One of the key benefits, I have been convinced to believe, is that buying local is the best way to avoid GMOs. So for me, these movements have pretty much gone hand in hand. My understanding of these movements, however, have never really accounted for the environmental costs and benefits of local food and GMOs.

The local food movement can be observed in the increasing use of the “local” argument in advertisement for local businesses and in the myriad of farmers markets that are increasing in number. I even see certain foods in Fred Meyers that the store labeled as “local” on the price tag, and they happen to be more expensive. Here’s one website that promotes buying local in Portland: Portland Buy Local.

I used to love shopping at the upcountry farmers market on Maui, where I grew up. It was the perfect Saturday morning stop on the way to the beach where I could acquire pretty affordable fruits and talk to some of the vendors and customers that I knew. It was a place where people could connect and spend time with their community.

While this is a very pure view of the buy local movement, I have come to learn that it is not so perfect. Eating food from local farmers is not always the way to go. Now, I was not perfect, and I did not try to be. I only ate local food when it was convenient for me.

The buying local argument is often coupled with the anti-GMO argument. Reading Mark Lynas, “The Truth about Genetically Modified Food,” I learned that the anti-GMO movement is kind of like a conspiracy theory. He says, “If we reject data-driven empiricism and evidence as the basis for identifying and solving problems, we have nothing left but vacuous ideology and self-referential myth-making.” Lynas claims that the movement is actually a huge public misunderstanding that has become widespread.

According to the Pew Research institute, 88% of scientists say that GMOs are safe, while only 37% of US adults agree. There is a huge disagreement between scientists and the public. This is because the public is often unaware of the benefits of GMOs, such as increased land productivity, reduced carbon footprint, and less greenhouse gases, and are only exposed to the radical claims about GMOs, such as the concern for “foreign” DNA effects on health, that are not backed by science at all.

The appeal of getting to know your farmers.

Photograph by Pexels.com

 

This week in environmental studies, we explored plenty of misconceptions about the ethics of global food consumption. We had a debate in class in which supporters of the “Buy Local” movement argued with supporters of “Global Agriculture.” The age-old “local” argument of the environmental cost of transporting food was proven wrong because the greenhouse gas emissions from food transportation are actually minuscule compared to other costs. While buying local is better for the local economy, it can hinder the global economy. Many farmers around the world are dependent on their global consumers. Global agriculture can be more accessible to disadvantaged communities, as there are not always farmers markets near these communities. Globally sourced food is often more affordable than local food. Local food production is often less efficient in terms of land use, which can lead to a higher biodiversity loss.

I do believe, however, that there are many issues with the global agriculture system. There are many problems to be solved such as the regulation of the animal industry. While I argue that we should not go crazy over buying purely local foods, I see the logic in trusting your local community farmer over an unknown global farmer. I believe that the best approach to this topic is to buy both locally and globally sourced food. Do not buy into the purist mentality by feeling bad for your decisions like I did! And do not let yourself be convinced by the preachers of the anti-GMO movement. Do your own research, don’t let the media play you like a fool.

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