Nutrition MythBusters Discussion Series addresses organic vs. conventional food debate

Organic farming specialist Bob Whitney speaks at the Nutrition Mythbusters Discussion Series Monday in Fudge Auditorium. Lilly Yablon | Photographer

By Cole Gee | Reporter

The inaugural Nutrition MythBusters Discussion Series featured the debate between conventional and organic farming while shedding light on the misconceptions surrounding genetically modified organisms. Held Monday in the Fudge Auditorium in the newly built Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center, the event is the first part of a longer series.

Moderated by Dr. Leigh Greathouse, the panel included Dr. Jourdan Bell, a conventional farming specialist; Dr. Dan Hale, a livestock and meat specialist; Michelle Miller, a conventional farmer; Dr. Donna Nickerson, an Indigenous gardener; Ron Rabou, an organic farmer; and Bob Whitney, an organic farming specialist.

Conventional farming relies on the use of GMOs and pesticides in order to grow food, whereas organic farming relies on traditional and natural farming methods. The use of GMOs and other chemicals can be a turnoff for consumers, and due to effective marketing and promotion, many believe organic farming is inherently better because it doesn’t use such products. However, Miller said it’s not so cut and dry.

“Pesticide-wise, you know, natural, synthetic or man-made — it doesn’t really do much or say much in terms of toxicity,” Miller said. “Snake venom is natural. Poison ivy is natural. But if you’re looking at what synthetic pesticides exist for farmers nowadays and you compare it to around 40 and 50 years ago, we’ve made huge leaps and bounds. And ultimately, I think that’s what everybody wants.”

As the self-proclaimed “GMO girl,” Miller said a lot of the public’s fear of GMOs comes from a lack of knowledge about how they work. According to a study done by the National Science Foundation in 2016, 79% of Americans believed GMOs were potentially dangerous to the environment, with 18% saying they’re not and 4% saying they had no idea.

Rabou said this irrational fear of GMOs is not only detrimental to the nation’s food supply but also affects people’s health. He said many consumers are passing over healthy and safe products due to the fact that they are not labeled as “organic,” which in turn severely limits their diets.

“Not eating fruits and vegetables because they’re not organic does way more harm than eating fruits and vegetables that were completely doused with levels of chemicals,” Rabou said. “You’re going to do more damage to your body by not eating it than you are to actually eat it.”

The panelists ultimately emphasized the importance of informed consumer choices. Both conventionally farmed and organically farmed food have their positives and negatives, and the panelists said they wanted the audience to leave with the idea that people should be able to freely decide what products they want.

“If you can take anything from tonight, remember this: The American farmer, conventional or organic, produces the most plentiful and healthy food supply that has ever existed in the history of the world,” Rabou said. “You have the opportunity to decide which of those products you want. It’s safe, healthy and the most plentiful that the world has ever seen. What more could you want from American agriculture?”