This may seem like a strange comparison, Nature vs.Man, but that is how I tend to think of many decisions. What does that mean? Simply that my default setting about decisions that affect human health is to fall on the side of those found in nature (i.e. real whole foods, herbs, essential oils) instead of items that have been created by man to satisfy a need (processed foods, pharmaceuticals, chemicals). This was the perspective I took with me last Saturday when entering Monsanto Research and Development headquarters in St. Louis,MO. My premise was that I was aware of the dangers of GMO seeds and that corporate greed was endangering many people's health unbeknownst to them. It was an easy conclusion to arrive upon when my fear lead me to believe that a group of board of directors was driven by material desire for maximizing profits and GMOs were the result of that effort. It seems like an effortless conclusion to assume that plants as found in nature are in fact providing a benevolent service to people in the way they nourishes our bodies. Nature vs. Man....divinity vs. materialism...that's a win for nature. What I found out after spending the day touring the facility, meeting with employees and engaging in a lively panel discussion with Monsanto's top toxicologist, biochemist and PR representatives was quite surprising.
While touring with other women as part of the Illinois Farm Families City Mom's group we learned that a substantial portion of Monsanto's business model is devoted to cross breeding of different plant species. For example, corn seeds found in India have evolved with different traits than those found in Indiana. The seeds in India have drought resistance qualities because of the environment with which its survival of the fittest model adopted (nature) and seeds in Indiana may in fact have a superior size and taste preference. Monsanto has been able to track the DNA structure of these seeds to identify where beneficial components are found and then cross breed literally thousands of seed variations each year.These seeds are studied and designed to maximize yields in hundreds of different locations. New technology of cross breeding (man) allows farmers to determine based on the soil mineral content, temperature, expected moisture accumulation and such which seed will yield the most effective crop fortheir land. Speaking of maximizing crop yield, in addition to staying profitable as many multi-generational farm families strive to do, the increased demand for corn and soybeans in particular riseevery year as world population expands. At Monsanto we learned that the percentage of land devoted to agriculture on our planet is about 37% with 11% being used for crops. This is a small portion considering world population is expected to reach 9 billion before 2050. Nature vs. Man...seems like a little synergy provides a win/win, no artificial technologies and expedited the process of evolution...I'll call this one a tie.
The next phase of our tour focused on the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) technology that is so widely debated. First, I'll give a little background on GMOs and my particular concern about how it potentially impacts human health. A GMO seed is one that has been genetically modified to include an additional Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) protein in the DNA structure of the seed. There are only a handful of seed in which genetic modification takes place currently and the two most predominant types are corn and soybean. This is a natural insecticide that is produced by the bacterium Bt and has been used as a way to control insects. Let me repeat that, Bt originates from a natural bacterium (nature). This bacterium literally explodes the digestive track of insects that consume it because the insects do nothave adequate digestive enzymes to break the amino acid structure apart. My concern about the insertion of Bt protein into the seeds that humans consume (man) is that as this bacterium has been proven to destroy tiny organisms like insects, it seems reasonable that Bt would also have the capability to destroy tiny microorganisms in our gut, many of which are essential for healthy balance of our human microbiome and strong immune function. Science now proves strong immune function is the key to combating virtually all chronic health concerns. Luckily, I was able to highlight this specific concern to the Monsanto panel. I was pleasantly surprised to learn from Dr. Donna Farmer that the area of amino acid protein structure has been tested for over 12 years. In addition as new medical scientific evidence emerges Monsanto is required by federal regulation to continuously test for safety every few years. Next year in fact there is an extensive immunological study that will be completed pertaining the effects on the human microbiome. These studies show that mammals have a digestive enzyme that enables the Bt protein amino acid structure to be broken down and therefor threat of killing our good gut flora is removed. Where does this leave the nature vs. man count? At face value this seems like another win/win....natural Bt insecticide (nature) combined as a biotechnical mechanism promoting crop efficiency (man). More on this later.
Another aspect of the tour at Monsanto was very fulfilling for me to experience in person. This was the passion and authenticity of each employee that we met. It was obvious to me that these people feel strongly about their role in offering creative solutions to meet the increasing demand for our world'sfood supply. Also, the authenticity that someone who has spent over 30 years in the medical and toxicological fields of study is in fact completely comfortable eating GMO foods herself and for her family speak volumes. Interacting with Monsanto employees provided a tremendous shift from my assumptions of corporate greed to one of compassionate motivation for a cause. These people had passion about their contributions to agriculture. It was amazing to experience how my feelings of fear had lead me to conclude negative intentions on the part of Monsanto and that once I applied conscious and reflective intention to educate myself, that fear was diminished.
After the tour was complete I have been reflecting on the information learned and how it assimilates to me. One aspect of the GMO discussion that I believe has potentially serious implications, is in the instances when a person has a compromised lymphatic system. You see the science behind the safety of GMOs is reliant on the fact that humans have a digestive enzyme that is capable of breaking apart the Bt protein amino acid structure. However many people’s lymphatic system does not function optimally, so even though humans do contain this enzyme if it is not being released into the digestive system and therefore able to neutralize the effects of Bt on healthy gut flora, the cycle of negative immune function begins to cascade into a myriad of health conditions. The good news is this is all within our control! By making empowered decisions to choose whole veggies, legumes and fruits as a large staple of our nourishment we are automatically boosting healthy gut flora, promoting detoxification and lymphatic support and aiding our digestive systems all in one conscious approach. However, the reverse is also true, when a person is not reflective in their choices about diet the tendency is to turn to convenience processed items. Unfortunately these items are the ones that have a disproportionate amount of GMOs (soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, canola oil, etc), are destructive to healthy gut flora, diminish the detoxifying ability of lymphatic system and suppress the immune system.
Overall, I feel blessed that I was given the opportunity to lean into my fear about GMO safety and learn more information. This reinforced a message that has become so instrumental in my life today....take a moment to provide conscious thought regarding your choices in life and strive for balance. As noted above a balance between nature and man when applied with intention seems to be a win/win in life.
Travel expenses within St. Louis and lunch courtesy of Monsanto.
Mt. Prospect, IL
Amanda is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2014 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the Field Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers. (City Moms formerly known as Field Moms.)