In the wake of Monsanto ruling, Ky. Ag Commissioner weighs pros and cons of genetically modified food

05/20/2013 11:18 AM

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in favor of seed giant Monsanato over an Indiana farmer is expected to have a ripple effect on the future of farming and technological advances in science and medicine.

The court unanimously ruled that farmers could not reuse patent-protected genetically modified soybeans to create a secondary line of seeds without paying the corporation. In essence, a patent extends across a self-replicating line of products.

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer told Pure Politics his office was reviewing the decision in the case. But he said genetically modified food is a complicated issue in Kentucky both for farmers and consumers. On one hand, genetically modified food has a stigma and gives companies such as Monsanto control over a big part of the food chain, but it also has been a huge boon to agriculture.

“If you look at the advances we’ve made in agriculture, it’s been because the higher yields the more drought resistant plants and stuff. Those plants have been genetically modified,” Comer said.

By the numbers, Comer said it was staggering the amount of genetically modified food products grown within the United States.

“Eighty-eight percent of the corn planted last year was genetically modified. (And) 94 percent of the soybeans planted all over the United States were genetically modified, so this is something people have to realize,” he said.

Some consumers have become wary of genetically altered products reaching the market place and their plates.

“There’s a great concern by a large segment of the population – and its only growing – that there’s issues with the GMO’s. We’re looking at doing a program within the (Agriculture) department that would allow for labeling of non-GMO Kentucky Proud products,” Comer said. “We want to be very proactive in this, but it’s a very complex issue.”

While more restaurants are specializing in the farm-to-table style of dining, consumers do expect to pay a premium to know where and how crops and livestock were produced.

A main reason Comer said farmers have switched to producing genetically-modified seeds is simply economics.

“You look 20-years ago we were looking at corn that was yielding 80 bushels an acre — that would be a good yield. Now it’s not uncommon to have corn yield 170 and 180 bushels per acre,” Comer said. “That’s helped feed the world, that’s helped feed the livestock population. Most of the corn grown in Kentucky goes for livestock feed.”

Overall Comer said the department will do everything to help consumers reach farmers who are growing things organically. And he offered a critique of Monsanto’s problems with their public perception.

“I think Monsanto has the worst public relations I’ve ever seen,” Comer said.


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