Washington Friends of Farms & Forests helped coordinate an educational program about biotechnology in agriculture with the League of Women Voters.
About thirty people attended the March 25, 2010 event entitled, “Seeds of Change” held in Olympia. Two speakers compared their perspectives of the advantages and disadvantages of heritage seeds, genetically modified seeds and reused seeds.
Understanding the available science and technology is critical to solving the challenges of feeding the world. The intent of the program was to help the public better understand the use of biotechnology in agriculture as well as the perspective of seed savers. David Mitman spoke about the advantages of planting and saving natural seeds. Douglas R. Jones spoke about providing ample food, fiber, and now fuel, for a growing population.
There was great interest in the topic and it drew much interaction between the speakers and the audience. In the Q & A section the speakers were asked about problems that stretch beyond seeds. One man, whose family still lives in Northern Africa, was concerned about the diminishing availability of water around the world. Jones described to him some of the drought tolerant traits that scientists are trying to enhance in some crop seeds. Another woman was concerned about nutritional discrepancies between seeds and biotech seeds.
Throughout the night both speakers tried to remind the group, and perhaps one another, about the common ground they share. Both men are farmers who are concerned about the sustainability of farming in our changing society.
Mitman explained that some types of high-tech plant breeding are just a version of what he does through seed saving. Jones encouraged the audience to read a book entitled “Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food” by Pamela C. Ronald and R. W. Adamchak. The book illustrates how biotechnology and organic methods can be used hand in hand to produce impressive results. Mitman also commented that the audience was only getting the tip of the iceberg in the hour-long presentation. He encouraged the audience to research the issue on their own to get a more comprehensive picture. Washington Friends of Farms & Forests did distribute educational material to those that wanted it.
Jones of Meridian, ID farmed with his father and brother in Southern Idaho for 35 years. Jones served 20 years in the Idaho House of Representatives, and 10 years as chairman of the Agricultural Affairs Committee. He became Executive Director of Growers for Biotechnology in 2009.
Mitman is President and cofounder of South Sound Seed Stewards. Mitman is also a volunteer at Mother Earth Farm in Orting, which raises food for the Emergency Food Network and supplies produce to the Pierce County food banks. He was raised on a working farm in Pennsylvania and has been a gardener ever since.
According to USDA, in 2008 49.1 million people in the US live in food insecure households. This is an increase from 36.2 million households in 2007. In 2008, 4.1 percent of all U.S. households (4.8 million households) accessed “emergency food” from a food pantry one or more times. There are more than 1 billion underfed people across the world. One child dies every five seconds due to hunger-related causes, according to the United Nations. Projections put the Earth’s human population at as much as 10 billion by 2050, up from today’s 6.7 billion.
Washington Friends of Farms & Forests educates the public and decision makers about the science and technology necessary to produce safe, abundant, economical food, fiber and landscaping and to maintain a healthy, productive and safe environment for our agricultural and urban communities.