If you are at all involved in a local food movement or love your local farmer or are one of the millions across the country who care about what’s in your food, it’s difficult to get away from all the talk about GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) these days and the evil Monsanto, or Monsatan as some like to say. This past Saturday, May 25, was the world-observed March Against Monstanto. Connecticut and Maine Legislatures are working to pass bills that would require GMO’s to be labeled. There is the infamous Monstanto Rider that was snuck into the most recent extension of the Farm Bill. Lots of people are up in arms about this company’s bully tactics.
But there still may be some folks who are wondering what the big deal is. Or maybe you don’t like not knowing what’s going on with your food but don’t really understand why GMO’s are so bad.
Here are some of the basics:
The most common genetically modified crops are corn and soy. At least 80% of all corn grown in the US is a GMO variety. About 90% of all soybeans grown are GMO. The vast majority of these crops go to feed livestock in factory farm settings or to be used in processes foods. Other crops that can be GMO varities are alfalfa, canola, sugar beets, zucchini and yellow squash, and papaya. The Non GMO Project has more info.
The first problem is that genetic modification is different than plant breeding. Plant breeding occurs naturally as a part of nature’s workings. Genetic modification of the kind being done to crops like corn, soybeans, squash, tomatoes, and others does not.
Plant breeding is similar to dog breeding – plants are selected for specific traits and bred to enhance those traits. It’s also not unlike cross-pollination that happens when you plant several varieties of hot peppers together. Each pepper has it’s own mystery level of heat!
Several years ago, I had a conversation with a sweet potato farmer who told me about a project he was involved with that was taking a variety of sweet potato and breeding it back with morning glory (the two are closely related in the plant world) to strengthen the sweet potato against a specific disease. Apparently the variety of sweet potato was having trouble with a particular disease, so researchers were taking undiseased or less diseased plants and breeding them to renew the strength of the variety. While this may sound a bit unnatural, the methods used to make this happen were all natural processes.
|Photo from www.noble.org.|
Second, because of the proprietary nature of genetically modified crops, unbiased research on the possible “unexpected effects” or the long term effects of genetic modification on crops, crop production, soil health, environmental impact, or our bodies isn’t really possible. We just don’t know enough to know what the problems could be. Some believe that the increase in digestive issues and other illnesses are linked to genetic modification of crops. But we just don’t know for sure.
local farms that do not grow GMO seeds or purchasing all certified organic products that are not allowed to contain GMO products.
Labeling would be a really great way to allow consumers to make their own decisions. But that has met with its own resistance from Big Ag and Big Food companies.
So, there is a start to some of the problems with GMO’s. Stay tuned for more about the use of fertilizer and herbicides and GMO’s, bully tactics employed by Monstanto, the consequences of cheap food, and more....