Arizona Agriculture: A $17 Billion Industry

Katie Aikins 2017

GMO:  For some, those three initials on a food product mean it should be avoided like the plague. Others, however, see them-the abbreviation for genetically modified organism-as a symbol of an improved product, one grown to provide more taste or nutrition or to be better able to resist disease and pests.

Katie Aikins, director of education for the Arizona Farm Bureau, will be in PebbleCreek at 10 a.m. March 12, to talk about how Arizona’s $17.1 billion agriculture industry uses GMOs and to provide a better understanding of the technology.

Scientists who work in agricultural biotechnology say genetic testing is nothing new. Farmers have been improving wild plants and animals through the selection and breeding of desirable characteristics for thousands of years, resulting in the domesticated plants and animals we know today. Traits, such as drought resistance, enhanced flavor or shorter growing time, are passed from one generation to the next through genes, the DNA that tells cells how to function.

What is new are the scientific techniques that allow scientists to identify and work with the genes directly, enabling improvements that are not possible with traditional crossing of related species alone.

However, there is concern about whether GMOs could introduce toxins and new allergens and cause nutritional changes and other unexpected effects. There is widespread support for labeling foods that contain GMOs.

An Arizona native who grew up in the equine industry, Aikins is responsible for the K-12 school programs to increase awareness of Arizona’s agricultural industry, as well as programs to inform the public on controversial issues in agriculture. She holds a Master of Science in agricultural education from the University of Arizona and has worked in both the classroom and the research side of agricultural literacy. 

Tickets to all Monday Morning Lectures are $4 at the door of the Renaissance Theater. 

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