PITTSBURG — The Crawford County Farm Bureau hosted a panel discussion focused on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in the Crimson and Gold Ballroom at Pittsburg State University Tuesday.

The focus of the discussion was to inform local farmers, consumers and any other interested parties about how GMOs are used in agriculture and food production.

“We were encouraged to get more active in this area with agriculture education programs,” Crawford County Farm Bureau President Brandon Poland said. “We hope to accurately and efficiently inform the people here about GMOs.”

The program opened with a presentation by Dr. Tom Clemente, a professor of biotechnology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Clemente is also the director of the Plant Transformation Core Research Facility where his research focuses on genetic engineering.

Clemente explained how genetic engineering works and what benefits it has to offer. He said that nature has been using genetic engineering by itself for a very long time.

“People in the life sciences don’t really invent or make things,” Clemente said. “We discover things in nature, figure out how they work and exploit them.”

Clemente also discussed regulations on the GMO process. He said regulations are placed on the modifying process, when the process has been proven safe. He believes the traits introduced into organisms should be regulated instead.

“If nature adds genes to a soybean plant on its own, and we have no idea what traits are in there, it is fine and we can market it to the public,” Clemente said. “But if we clip out the specific trait we want and add it in, it will cost millions of dollars to get it approved for the market.”

After his presentation, Clemente was joined by Blogger Dana Zucker and Kansas Farmer Stacy Forshee. The three answered questions from the audience about “non-GMO” and “organic” labelling on foods, customer perception of GMOs and mandatory federal labelling laws that go into effect in 2017.

The panel was moderated by Kansas Department of Agriculture Secretary Jackie McClaskey. She was appointed secretary by Governor Sam Brownback in 2013 and grew up on a family farm near Girard.

— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at choener@morningsun.net or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.