Food blogger will challenge anti-GMO rhetoric at Olympia discussion

Organizers of a presentation in Olympia want to shatter perceptions about genetically modified organisms – known as GMOs – in the food supply.

The topic of GMOs has attracted intense opposition and controversy. Anti-GMO activists regularly protest these food products, along with agricultural companies such as Monsanto, over concerns about health effects and crop contamination.

However, the anti-GMO crowd has been referred to by some media outlets, such as Slate.com, as being the “climate skeptics of the left.”

An Olympia group called The Center for Environmental Modernism is embracing another side of the food movement. Group co-founder Max DeJarnatt said technology is a solution - not a problem - for the food industry. He said anti-GMO activists spread fear and ignore the science behind genetically engineered food.

DeJarnatt believes biotechnology makes the planet more sustainable in a time when there are fewer farmers. He said Olympia is ripe for leading the local and national conversation with a progressive agenda that leads to more practical food policies.

“Everyone’s idea of genetic engineering is a syringe in a banana,” DeJarnatt said. “I want to live in a generation that isn’t confused about available technologies. I want to help shift the paradigm.”

DeJarnatt and group co-founder Marco Rosarie Conrad-Rossi have organized an event with an “anti-anti-GMO” point of view. Portland-based food blogger Marc Brazeau will present “Moving the Food Movement Forward: How Good Science, Smart Policies and Community Organizing Can Change the American Food System.” The discussion runs 6-8 p.m. Sunday (June 29) at Traditions Café, 300 Fifth Avenue Southwest, Olympia.

Brazeau is a former chef and union organizer who writes about food on Realfood.org. At the June 29 discussion, Brazeau will bring charts that illustrate research in areas such as the yield of corn farmers, for example, or compare the metrics between conventional and organic farmers.

“Food is something we consume every day, and yet it’s the one product that everybody thinks should somehow be exempt from the rules of economics or corporate influence or technology,” Brazeau told The Olympian, citing an analogy. “Nobody’s demanding that we switch over and get all our cars from local artisanal car manufacturers.”

Over the years, Brazeau has discovered the potential of technology to reduce the environmental footprint of farmers while maintaining the nutritional integrity of food, he said. Many farmers are able to produce higher yields because their crops are more resistant to insects and pesticides, for example.

“I found out I was misinformed and didn’t know what I was talking about,” Brazeau said of the time when he sympathized with the anti-GMO crowd. “The problem is, none of this fits on a bumper sticker.”

Several states are addressing GMOs at the ballot box. In 2013, voters failed to pass Initiative 522, which would have required labels for genetically engineered foods in Washington. According to the AP, Oregon is currently taking steps to become the first state to map fields with genetically engineered crops and “mandate preventive measures.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the most widely adopted genetically engineered crops are soybeans, cotton and corn.

Tacoma resident Nanette Reetz of the local Moms Across America chapter attended the March Against Monsanto, which was held May 24 in Olympia. Reetz also traveled last month to Washington, D.C., to lobby the Environmental Protection Agency to revise its requirements for GMO-related safety studies.

Reetz said companies like Monsanto have deep pockets that prevent the public from learning about the negative health impacts of GMOs. Monsanto also produces the herbicide Roundup, which anti-GMO activists say is poisoning the food supply.

“We’re the moms that have put our children on organic foods and taken them off genetically modified foods and have seen improvement,” Reetz told The Olympian. “I’m not anti-science by any means.”

Reetz said she supports the idea of GMOs “in the right hands” by companies that don’t put profit margins first.

“This is all being done for greed. It’s not being done to feed the world,” she said. “Our economic food system is completely broken.”