The GMO Disconnect
You don’t have to buy into GMOs,
but you shouldn’t fear them, either.
Of all the food questions we face, genetically modified organisms – or GMOs as most know them – tend to be the most confusing … and controversial. At its worst, the technology is thought to be unnatural, something created in a lab. At its best, it’s an innovation that revolutionized the way farmers grow crops.
So let’s talk about what GMOs mean for our food and what they mean to our farmers. There’s a lot more you might want to know.
"As a registered dietitian mom who shares your concerns, I’d..."
"I’m an Illinois farmer answering questions about GMOs."
"It's cool and hip to be non-GMO, but why?"
Some say GMOs are safe, some say GMOs are unsafe. Who should I believe?
Food brings out the emotional eater in all of us, especially when it comes to the topic of genetically modified foods (aka GMOs). As parents, we want to feed our families healthy foods, but does healthy mean GMO-free? With all of the conflicting headlines, healthy has become so confusing and quite frankly, downright scary. As a registered dietitian mom who shares your concerns, I’d like to help you become more than a headline reader. Rather than rely on the Food Babe or the food industry, here is where I go to get the facts about GMOs – both pros and cons - from reliable sources. I encourage you to check them out so that you can get the full story and make the right call for feeding your family.
“No substantial evidence of a difference in risk to human health between current commercially available genetically engineered (GMO) crops and conventionally bred crops.”
GMO 101: The View from Our Farm
Questions are being asked about GMOs and their safety, so I’m answering some of the questions I get as an Illinois farmer.
What are GMOs, and why do we plant them on our farm?
Some would argue gene modification has been happening for centuries, resulting in seedless watermelons, seedless grapes and chocolate cherry tomatoes. Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are plants that contain a single gene from another organism so that the plant can do something it couldn’t before.
List of GMO Crops Today
- Alfalfa (for animal feed)
- Sugar beets
- Rainbow papaya
- Ranger Russet and Atlantic potatoes
- Arctic Apples
- Select varieties of squash
If you’ve got a garden in your backyard, you probably know how easy it is for pests to damage your fruits or vegetables. It’s the
same with our farm. Prior to using a genetically modified seed, one insect, the European corn borer, caused serious losses for corn farmers. Plant
scientists found a naturally occurring soil bacterium (Bt -bacillus thuringiensis) that is toxic to the corn borer, selected the gene and inserted
it into corn DNA. Now, instead of spraying the crop with a chemical multiple times, the plants fight the bug themselves. Organic
corn farmers who don’t use GMO seeds can also have problems with the corn borer. They can use an approved Bt insecticide on their farms. The same result
is achieved, but using different farming methods.
Another crop we grow is soybeans. You may have heard of Round-up Ready soybeans. They are soybean plants that can tolerate being sprayed with Round-up, a chemical meant to kill weeds. But why would plant scientists make such a thing? To use fewer chemicals. On our farm, we’ve reduced our application of herbicides (chemicals that control weeds) by half. Fewer chemicals being applied means less traffic in the fields, less fuel, less soil erosion . . . all beneficial for our farm.
We also plant non-genetically modified corn and soybean seeds. Planting a variety of hybrids and using a variety of farming methods like tilling the soil
in different ways, crop rotation, weather analysis and weed control by simply mowing grass on the outer edge of a field can help control the number
of pests. Pests, including insects, weeds and disease, have been evolving for years. With or without genetically modified seeds and pesticides, they
will continue to evolve. So farmers must ready their tool belt, and genetically modified seeds are one of many tools we’re using today.
Are we told what to plant by “BIG AG”? Are GMOs safe? To find out how Katie answers these questions read her full blog here.
GMOs and Information Snake Oil
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."
The one on the left then said, "Huh, interesting."
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 targeted packaged marketing. 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 - a biotech research company.
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 hope I can share my knowledge with other Moms for the greater good of our farmers and our families.
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