GMOs and biotechnology are among the most asked about topics on watchusgrow.org. Recently, a group of IFF City Moms, who have toured Illinois farms and wanted to ask additional questions about Monsanto, were given the opportunity to visit their Biotechnology Research Center. The tour was provided by Illinois Farm Families.
On Saturday, May 21st (March Against Monsanto Day) I was walking through the Monsanto Research Center in Chesterfield, MO., not outside of its gates.
Since participating in multiple farm tours with the Illinois Farm Families City Mom program, my outlook on farming and agriculture has changed - drastically. I flew into St. Louis with an open mind, yet knowing that I was about to cross the threshold of a company that I associated with trying to take over the world's food supply; a company that was sue happy with farmers, destroying entire communities in the process; a company that knowingly manufactured cancer causing chemicals; a company whose mutant plants were causing everything from allergies to autism...pretty much a visual picture of a skull and crossbones is how I would have described Monsanto.
I'm the person who got maybe 80 pages into the book The World According to Monsanto and couldn't continue because it was raising my anxiety level and messing with my sleep. I waited an additional month before I forced myself to watch the documentary. I was the person who "liked" the social media pages and groups that created the memes and posted the articles that perpetuated my misguided notions about not only Monsanto, but farming and agriculture as well.
Do you know what happened to me at Monsanto?
I was put at ease.
"Oh, but you saw a dog and pony show."
"Oh, but they only told you want they wanted you to know, not the truth."
"You're a fool!"
Sure, why not and yes to all of that. Because you know what, I know that those comments are going to continue to come.
Here's what I learned, though:
World Population vs. Food Supply
In 2011 (5 years ago), the world population hit 7 billion people.
The world population by 2050 is projected to hit 9 billion people.
Currently, farmers are not producing enough food to feed the current population. Let me say that again, THERE IS NOT ENOUGH FOOD BEING PRODUCED. Additionally, food is not evenly distributed leading to malnourishment and hunger.
What is Monsanto doing to help this?
"We are working to double yields in our core crops by 2030. These yield gains will come from a combination of advanced plant breeding, biotechnology, and improved farm-management practices."
Well, let's talk soybeans, shall we?
Monsanto is working on increasing the soybean yield from 3 beans per pod to 4 beans per pod. What exactly does that mean?
- 1 more bean per pod over 1 acre will equal
- 1 additional bushel at harvest
That means more food.
Let's talk drought tolerant corn.
Monsanto joined the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) partnership to bring drought tolerant and pest protected seeds to improve food security to more than 25 million people in Sub-Sahara Africa.
Here is a wonderful Q&A post that illustrates how this is impacting world hunger:
Q. World hunger is a growing concern. How many lives would you estimate that the WEMA partnership has impacted?
A. With the deployment so far of 367 tons reaching 36,700 farm-households in Kenya, if we assume an average of 6 people per household, the products in Kenya alone would have impacted at least 220,200 lives since the deployment to farmers started in September 2013.
Again, more food...
GMO Seeds - What I Thought vs. Reality
What I thought - probably like some of you, was that Monsanto was injecting individual seeds with questionable chemicals that would mutate the seed without ever taking my (or your) health or quality of life into consideration when doing so.
That's not the case, though.
First, let's start with what a GMO is:
"A genetically modified organism is created by taking a beneficial trait, like insect or disease resistance, from one living thing and introducing it into another to help it thrive in its environment. They are often referred to as GMO's."
-Farm to Plate: Learning How Food is Grown - Monsanto
"Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination. The technology is often called “modern biotechnology” or “gene technology”, sometimes also “recombinant DNA technology” or “genetic engineering”. It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between nonrelated species. Foods produced from or using GM organisms are often referred to as GM foods."
-World Health Organization
"...an organism or microorganism whose genetic material has been altered by means of genetic engineering."
-Random House Dictionary
How is the seed modified?
Through an agrobacterium transfer where the parent plants' DNA is modified with the gene they want to add and then the plants are propagated.
What GMO seeds allow for farmers is the ability to minimize damage to crops from weeds and pests. What this then allows the farmers to do is limit their use of herbicides and pesticides to improve their environmental impact, on all of us. It also leads to no-till farming which improves soil health and water retention. It also helps cut farm costs by reducing the use of insecticides on insect-resistant crops and water usage during droughts with drought-tolerant crops.
And, you know what? GMO's aren't every food. Currently there are NINE crops available commercially:
- Corn *Monsanto produced seed*
- Soybean *Monsanto produced seed*
- Cotton (used for oil) *Monsanto produced seed*
- Alfalfa (used for animal feed, not those yummy sprouts on your sandwich) *Monsanto produced seed*
- Sugar Beets (used to make refined sugar) *Monsanto produced seed*
- Canola (used for oil) *Monsanto produced seed*
- Squash *Monsanto produced seed*
- And, keep your eyes on rice - enriched with beta-carotene (Vitamin A), which should be coming to market soon. Why GMO rice? 30% of the world's population is deficient in iron according to the World Health Organization. Want more information, check out this link: Golden Rice Project.
I'm not sure about you, but that is not all the food that I eat, and I'm a pescetarianism. I don't think that I've ever had a papaya before in my life. I'm just saying, I'm not worried about this.
Roundup - What I Thought vs. Reality
What I thought - it's a cancer causing chemical that is poisoning not only humans, but the earth.
You too, huh?
Well, here's the deal, IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) is an agency that looks at cancer causing hazards. It does not evaluate actual human risk, that's what regulatory agencies do. In 2015, IARC claimed that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”. This classification (2A) is also held by those who consume red meat, work a shift that involves circadian disruption, and if you are a hairdresser or barber.
*Sidebar* I don't know about you, but I used to eat red meat, I worked the third shift, and I grew up in a beauty salon... and my mom used Roundup. And today, I'm okay. Just saying.
And, actually, Reuters did an investigation on how IARC confuses consumers. And, in May of 2016 the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) concluded that “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet." Oh, and here is what Monsanto has to say about it.
So, no. Roundup does not cause cancer. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization says so and so does the Wold Health Organization.
And, there were so many other really, really good questions asked while I was at Monstanto.
You actually need bees to pollinate crops. Monstanto is not killing them off. While on the tour, we learned that there are multiple factors contributing to the bee population decline including the varroa mite, pesticides, weather and disease. Here's some additional information to look at:
Monsanto does not have a militia. They also did not hire Blackwater. "What we did do was hire an organization called TIS as a consultant to understand some of the atmosphere in which employees were working. It's especially important in some of the global markets we are in to know what is happening. As a company we place travel freezes, etc."
To close out this very long blog post about my visit to Monsanto, I just wanted to let you know that it was not the very cool "Monsanto" salad shaker that swayed my opinion about them.
The tour and the Monsanto employees answering our questions did.
Here's a reference list of farmers and scientists who are blogging that Janice sent to me when I asked for additional resources to help debunk the loud "anti" voice that is out there. I wanted to pass it along as a resource for you. From my own experience, the "anti" voice is very loud. It fueled my negative notions of farming and agriculture prior to going on tours as a City Mom. Hopefully they will either give you a different perspective to think about, or help strengthen your beliefs about agriculture.
Her favorites in the farming community (and why):
Her favorites in the science community (and why):
- Bio Fortified is a group of scientists… sometimes it is too in-depth but I find @geneticmaize is a great resource to explain more on my level and she’s one of the founders
- Applied Mythology is a scientist who was in ag chemistry
- Science Babe is an off-beat scientist
- Groups like League of Nerds are podcasting about the topic
Travel expenses within St. Louis and lunch courtesy of Monsanto.
I'm No Scientist
GMO Questions Answered
Stephanie is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the City Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.