What’s that you say? There’s a rally on Market Square today? What’s the cause? Oh, they are marching against GMO foods…

gmo feed hungry peopleToday, Saturday, May 25, (2014 event is taking place on 05/24/2014), 2015 event is taking place on 05/23/2015) thousands of people across the globe are organizing a March Against Monsanto. The group claims in a mission statement that GMO foods are not sustainable and cause harm through increased risk of cancers, infertility, and birth defects. The group believes that chemicals produced by Monsanto, like glyphosphate (Roundup), are poisoning our environment. This group strongly dislikes government and FDA support and approval of GMO foods and the recent, as they call it, Monsanto Protection Act. This groups wants to unveil the truth about GMOs, boycott Monsanto, and increase research on the harm caused by consuming GMO foods. You can read more about the desires of this event on the March Against Monsanto page. I’ve included the links to the MAM page, because you’ll find it through an easy google search and we might as well learn what everyone has to say about it.

I think that it is great that we have the freedom of speech and choice in this country. But at the same time I believe that activists rallying against Monsanto would be  better off to direct their attention to better efforts. Monsanto is a company that has responded to the demands of consumer markets. They are one of many companies supplying seeds through the use of biotechnology to help farmers produce more crops with fewer inputs and have a smaller impact on the environment per unit produced.

If these concerned folks really want to make a stronger impact against GMO, there are a few more productive steps that could be taken: stop purchasing food and products from organizations that do not support your beliefs, support local food sources, grow your own food, and take time to have an open mind and respect others’ choices. Most of us could benefit from doing a little more research and hear out both sides of the issues. There’s good science and there’s bad science, we need to learn how to identify both.

What do farmers and agriculture have to say on the issue? Here is a run-down of a few topics and several perspectives that have been shared with me this week. I trust these individuals for information and I hope you’ll take time to hear out their $0.02.

What is a GMO?

Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMO, are foods or plants created with the use of biotechnology. Janice Person has a great discussion and explanation of GMOs on her blog that is well worth a read. Her blog also points out a definition of GMO from the USDA Agriculture Research Service.

The term “genetically modified organism” (GMO) was originally used by the molecular biology scientific community to denote a living organism that had been genetically modified by inserting a gene from an unrelated species. Incorporation of genes from an unrelated species does not occur in nature through sexual reproduction and thus, various types of sophisticated technologies are used to accomplish this. These types of plants are generally called “transgenics”. Transgenic technology has been used in over 40 species of plants including corn, cotton, tomatoes, potatoes, soybeans, tobacco, rice, cranberries, papayas, raspberries, chrysanthemums, gladioli, petunias, poplars, spruce, and walnuts. In crop plants, the technology has generally been used to incorporate insect resistance or herbicide tolerance. More recently, transgenic rice strains having high vitamin A or high iron content have been developed. In the future, transgenic plants may be used as “bioreactors” to produce large quantities of inexpensive pharmaceuticals, polymers, industrial enzymes, as well as modified oils, starches, and proteins. via ARS : What are GMO’S?.

Image via library.cshl.edu
Image via library.cshl.edu

Do farmers have a choice to plant GMO crops?

Quite simply, yes they do have a choice whether or not to plant GMO crops. No one is railroading these farmers or forcing them to plant only GMO seeds. Farmers take into consideration several factors and spend time studying on which seeds they want to plant. Thanks to biotechnology, there are many varieties of seeds out there that help farmers produce a better crop despite harsh conditions from drought, pest invasion, and weed competition.

  • Jenny Dewey, South Dakota, takes a look at several of the factors farmers take into account when choosing the seed varieties for their next crop. Read more in Do Farmers Have Choices?
  • Brian Scott, Indiana, has actually taken time to share his Monsanto cropping agreement with readers and explains how it impacts his farming decisions. Read more in I Occupy Our Food Supply Everyday.
  • Suzie Wilde, Texas, walks us through some of the decisions and choices her husband makes when selecting the next year’s cotton seed varieties. Read more in Hybrid & GMO Cottonseed Varieties leading the polls.

Does the use of GMO crops reduce chemical use for farmers?

A concern for many people is the sustainability of our environment with the use of current farming systems. Personally, I think the word sustainable is overused and often taken out of context. For farmers, sustainability of their environment often means maintaining their environment and leaving it in better shape than they found it for the next generation. The use of biotechnology and GMO seeds actually allows farmers to use fewer chemicals with more precise application to prevent weed and pest competition with their plants. These technologies also allow farmers to take better advantage of soil conservation and water conservation practices.

  • Oregon blogger, Julee K, recently asked Suzie Wilde of Texas to share about her use of gmo cotton. Turns out the use of bt cotton crops has allow the Wildes’ farm to significantly reduce the use of pesticides on their farm. Read more in Kiss The Boll Worm Goodbye!
  • Farmer Brian Scott answers the questions about glyphosphate (Roundup) use on his farm. He explains how herbicides are used on corn and wheat crops in Long-Term Glyphosate Use Effect on Wheat

What do farmers have to say about the safety of using GMO crops?

I believe that using GMO foods is safe. There have been several stories released about scientific studies showing increased risk of infertility and cancers in mice and humans, but several of these are poorly executed science. As a person working in research, there are several things to look for in good peer-reviewed science. Was the experiment large enough to show a difference? Was there a control to compare what is normal under those circumstances? Was the study designed properly to show a statistical difference?

Many folks with the anti-gmo movements claim that biotechnology hasn’t been around long enough to really know about the potential long-term effects to determine if they are safe. But they haven’t been around long enough to say they are dangerous either. I have no concern in eating gmo foods. I have no concern in feeding my livestock GMO corn and then eating that meat, milk, etc. Neither do many of the farmers I talk to.

Here is a group of Q&As from farmers about the safety and use of GMOs that have been shared with me recently.

march against monsanto 2015

How does Monsanto feel about anti-GMO activism?

So how does the company in the center of this controversy feel about the issues? I know several folks to have or do work for Monsanto either as scientists or by working directly with farmers. They really are great people, a joy to be around, and they love their jobs. They’re not of the opinion that they work for the ‘devil’ as some folks propose and they don’t go to work with the intentions of taking over the global food supply by force as some fear mongers want us to believe. Monsanto is one of many companies working to help farmers improve the tools in their belt to better handle the challenges we face when growing food, crops, livestock, and many other things that feed a growing global food supply.

  • BlogHer blogger and mom, Aimee Whetstine, recently asked several Monsanto female employees how they feel working for the company. Read more in Listening to the Women of Monsanto.
  • A recent article from the Genetic Literacy Projects, encourages readers to take a closer look at the Monsanto Protection Act. Read more in Separating the facts from the fury.
  • What do Monsanto employees stand for and what do they want to achieve? The Monsanto blog addresses these questions and shares several links in a post today. Read more in What Monsanto Employees Stand For.

I have yet to ever plant my first gmo crop seed, but I do trust the farmers, their experience, and the knowledge shared in the links above. I don’t want to stand on a pedestal today and tell you what you should or shouldn’t eat. I am 100% in support of food choices and I am stoked that Farmers’ Market season is here and that I have the opportunity to gather a huge assortment of fresh meats and vegetables right outside my office every Wednesday.

If you want to make a choice to not support genetically modified organisms or biotechnology, that is your choice. But please make that an informed choice, based on good science, and realize there are two sides to every story and often the extremes on either side are the most vocal in the spotlight.

Updated: Additional Perspectives and Information

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