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.
I visited my local grocery store last weekend, and was greeted by two ruddy-faced college-age young men, handing out samples of a new brand of tomato. The one on the right proudly announced the tomatoes were organic and non-GMO. I replied, "That's right, they are non-GMO because there is no tomato that exists that IS GMO!" He replied, "I know some of the tomatoes down at the (other local grocery store) are definitely GMO." I replied, "No, sorry, there are only 9 (and only recently 9!) crops that have commercially available GMO seeds, and tomato isn't one of them. You can look it up! It's true!" The one on the left then said, "Huh, interesting." I took a sample of the tasty tomato and bid them a good day to finish my grocery trip.
This interaction is indicative of a lot of the information on the Internet about our food - GMO, organic, gluten free, hormone free, antibiotic free - you name it - there are people selling "information snake oil" all over the place. And if it isn't snake oil, it's directed, targeted, smartly and colorfully packaged marketing. In my time as a City Mom, this has been my biggest takeaway. There are people like me who wish to be informed consumers who are misled, misguided, and misinformed. And, we are TRYING to be informed! It's so confusing to be a consumer today! Or, in the case of my young gentlemen friends with the tomatoes, they haven't even bothered to inform themselves. It's cool and hip to be non-GMO these days, isn't it? But why? I, for one, don't get the backlash, especially after gaining even more knowledge from the source at Monsanto a few weeks ago. It helped me really hone in on what is actually happening instead of being fogged up by the marketing and sensationalism of today's marketplace.
A GMO is a plant developed through a process in which a copy of a desired gene or section of genetic material from one plant or organism, such as the ability to use water more efficiently, is placed in another plant. Food scientists see one plant that can grow more efficiently with less water, and they isolate the gene with this quality and give it to other seeds without that quality. It allows crops, then, to be grown with less water. This allows for more crops to flourish with fewer resources. There are many other applications of GMO technology similar to this in the nine seeds that are commercially available (corn, soybeans, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets, canola, papaya, squash and potato). Examples of things that are NOT a result of a genetic insertion are things like seedless watermelon, grape tomatoes, wheat, broccolini, baby carrots, or the pluot. Those are created by cross breeding two plants for a desired outcome or selecting certain plants for a trait and then propagating that plant over others. This latter type of selection has been done for thousands and thousands of years. Often this type of crop selection is confused with GMO's and even given an GMO label by consumers - but in fact, it is not. And, as an aside, this second type of breeding is the current main focus of Monsanto.
GMO crops have been tested by national and international bodies such as the US Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization and the European Academies Science Advisory Council. None of these bodies (and countless others) have ever found one ounce of data to support there is any reason to not eat a GMO food (or one that has been selectively bred, for that matter!). But the marketers know if they slap a non-GMO label on something, people will buy it! It adds to consumer confusion, and the marketers don't care - as long as you're buying what they are selling! What are verifiable outcomes of GMO farming are things like resilience for changing climates with things like drought tolerant corn, creating more food on less soil to feed an ever-growing population, and providing nourishing food in developing countries.
In my time as a City Mom, I've become passionate about not falling for food marketing, encouraging people to do their own research and check their sources, and keep an open mind. I'm so thankful for these experiences, and hope I can share my knowledge with other Moms for the greater good of our farmers and our families.
Lake Bluff, IL
Amy 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.