My Biotech Thanksgiving


The Kleckners are having a biotech Thanksgiving this year–but that shouldn’t surprise you. Just about every other American is having a biotech Thanksgiving as well.

All the food on my dinner table will owe something to agricultural biotechnology. We’ve improved our turkeys to produce more white meat than dark, our corn has benefited from gene transfers to better protect our environment, and there wouldn’t even be such a thing as a cranberry if farmers hadn’t created one long ago through careful plant breeding.

Biotechnology is what enables us to break our bread. Come to think of it, bread depends on biotechnology, too. Although we’re still a few seasons away from biotech wheat making its way into the supermarket, a loaf of bread is produced with enzymes and oils that are biotech derivatives.

About 70 percent of the food carried in the typical grocery store owes something to biotechnology–everything from gravy to stuffing. That figure will only increase in the years ahead.

Mashed potatoes are another Thanksgiving favorite at my house. The potato industry is working on biotech enhancements that we can all look forward to. Earlier this year, researchers announced the discovery of a gene in a wild Mexican potato that protects against blight–the terrible disease responsible for the famine that killed millions of people in Ireland back in the 19th century. They added the gene to another kind of potato and created a plant that resists deadly fungal infections.

We’ve come a long way from the first Thanksgiving, held in 1621 after the Pilgrims harvested their first corn crop in Massachusetts. They had lived through an exceedingly difficult year, with about half of their number perishing.

They were so grateful to have survived in the New World that they held a Thanksgiving celebration and invited the Wampanoag Indians to join them–and the Wampanoag were glad to do it. They had a tradition of autumn feasts in their own culture.

This year, farmers like me are thankful for another season of growing and ripening. We’re thankful for the ability to put food on our tables. And we’re thankful for all the things that make it possible: the soil, the weather, the machines–and, of course, the biotechnology.

It never ceases to amaze me that some people consider biotech foods controversial. There is no scientific evidence suggesting that they’re anything but perfectly healthy.

I don’t know how to put it more plainly than this: If I had even the slightest doubt about biotech food, I wouldn’t eat it myself. And I surely wouldn’t feed it to the Kleckner clan on Thanksgiving. I’ve got four of my five kids, their spouses, and nine of my eleven grandchildren coming over. Do you really think I’d feed them something that wasn’t safe?

It’s important for consumers to understand that biotechnology is a process rather than a product. Genetically modified corn is not different from other kinds of corn–it doesn’t taste different, look different or have a different effect on our bodies. The seeds are just produced in a slightly different way.

Something tells me the Pilgrims would have planted biotech corn if it had been available to them. The Plymouth Colony barely managed to scrape by those first few years–and a crop failure would have meant total disaster for them.

We’re blessed to live in a time of abundance today–most Americans probably wouldn’t even notice a crop failure in Massachusetts. And that’s a very good thing, made possible by outstanding technology and extensive trade networks.

We may not share the exact same challenges as the Pilgrims, but we do face plenty of problems that the Pilgrims probably never could have imagined. I doubt that they ever thought farmers would have to worry about how to feed a planet with a growing population of 6 billion people.

But let’s not look too far ahead today. Thanksgiving is a time for looking back–and giving thanks for our biotech cornucopia.

Dean Kleckner

Dean Kleckner

Deceased (1932-2015)

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