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Bill Nye Saves the World – And Examines the Safety and Sustainability of GMOs
Julie Kenney grew up on an Iowa farm. She and her husband Mark have two children and are the fifth generation to grow corn, soybeans and oats on their central Iowa farm.
By Julie Kenney
I heard a stat the other day that most Americans are two to three generations removed from a farm. So when most people walk through the aisles of a grocery store or sit down at their dinner tables, they don’t have the same experiences or access to information about how that food was grown as those of us on the farm do.
That’s a big reason why we host groups on our farm and make ourselves available to answer food- and farming-related questions. And when we do, it’s clear how much consumers are hungry for information about how food is grown.
New Netflix Series Examines GMOs
Most of the questions people ask fall into two categories: GMOs and sustainability.
They want to know that the food they feed their families is safe and that it’s grown in a way that protects the environment. That’s why when I heard the new Netflix series Bill Nye Saves the World was devoting an entire show to the safety and sustainability of GMOs, I hoped Bill Nye would talk to a farmer.
When his producers invited me to appear on the show, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add a farm perspective to the conversation.
I grew up watching Bill Nye the Science Guy. Bill Nye has a knack for boiling a complex topic down into simple terms we can relate to while keeping us entertained along the way. His take on GMOs is no different.
Although he was skeptical of the technology several years ago, after taking a closer look at the science, he has changed his opinion.
GMOs are safe. They just have an image problem.
Sharing Our Experience with GMOs
I shared how and why we use GMO technology on our farm during my appearance on Bill Nye Saves the World. On a panel moderated by the Science Guy himself, I was fortunate to sit with Dr. Robb Fraley of Monsanto and Dr. Fred Gould of North Carolina State University.
During our conversation, Bill’s questions for me weren’t much different than the ones we get on our farm. Do GMOs help improve yields and sustainability? Are we confident in their safety?
I explained that for us, sustainability includes the use of GMO technology.
For example, last year we planted one area of a corn field with seeds containing a GMO trait to protect against underground insect pests such as corn rootworms. We planted another area of the same field with seeds that did not contain the GMO trait.
We found that the plants that contained the GMO trait produced 25 percent more corn than the plants without it.
So what does that mean for sustainability?
In terms of yield, that’s 25 percent more animal feed or fuel we’re producing on the same amount of land. And, because the insect protection was already in the seed through GMO technology, we didn’t need to apply additional pesticides to protect the plants from these harmful insects.
That’s just one example from corn. GMOs also help us manage weeds more effectively in our soybean fields and help us reduce our tillage or disruption of the soil, which protects the water and the soil.
When it comes to the safety of GMOs, I told Bill Nye the story of several international visitors who have visited our farm in recent years.
I’m never sure what they expect to see on the farm, but they are often surprised to see our kids playing next to the fields with GMO corn and soybeans. They are also surprised to see that we’re so confident in the safety of GMOs that we eat foods that contain them ourselves and feed them to our families.
Focused on Continuous Improvement
I was proud to be on Bill Nye Saves the World and to give Bill Nye and his viewers a glimpse into the farm that has been in our family for generations.
I’m not sure if GMOs will save the world, but they have played a big role in helping us farm more efficiently and sustainably for the last 20 years or so. We look forward to using GMOs and other proven new technologies to continue to improve how we farm and grow food for generations to come.