What I Learned About GMOs from 9 Farmers, a Monsanto Employee and a Whole Bunch of Reading

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**Please don’t let the length of this post deter you! This is a very big topic.  If you just want the highlights I lit them up for you. If you want the details, I tried my best to provide those too.

This is me, enjoying an especially wonderful meal grown right here on earth.

This is me, enjoying an especially wonderful meal grown right here on earth.

I am not a farmer, scientist or businessperson.  I am a consumer. I am a mother. I am a citizen of earth.  As such, I believe I (we all) have a right to know what’s going on in agriculture and to have a voice for or against certain practices. That’s why it  concerned me when I began to see quotes like this from the Institue for Responsible Technology:

“It appears there is a direct correlation between GMOs and autism.”  –Arden Anderson, MD, PhD, MPH

And this from The Daily Paul:

We know that GMO consumption has been linked to a host of serious conditions…

I was reading one such article (honestly I can’t even remember, specifically, what it was about or how I came across it) recently that used the word, “obviously.”  As in, “Obviously GMOs are going to be the death of us all.”  (That’s not what it said, I’m sure, but that was the gist.)  It was if a little bubble burst in my mind.  I snapped a little.

IF IT’S SO FREAKING OBVIOUS WHY IS ANYONE USING IT?!

I really want to understand!

Because my family tends to lean toward the “natural living” side of the aisle I follow a lot of blogs and Facebook pages that cover topics like herbal medicine, organic farming and sustainable energy.  The people and groups that put these pages out have been, pretty much across the board, VERY outspoken against GMOs and biotech in general. But I want to look at both sides of the issue. So I went in search of farmers. This is a picture of the county in which I live:

image from airphotona.com

image from airphotona.com

It is not very hard to find farmers around here.  The major crops near me are corn, soybeans and tomatoes.  Since 93% of soy and 88% of all corn grown in the US is GMO (source) I’m guessing I know quite a few folks that use biotech. I sent out a plea.  In addition to posting my questions on this blog, I sent out emails and a Facebook request to my friends.

I eventually received input from 8 “conventional” farmers, 1 “homesteader” who grows her food naturally, though she is not certified organic, and 1 Monsanto employee.

One response I got said, “Why not just do a Google search?”

I have done dozens of searches.  The problem I’ve run into is that the majority of the results that come up are posted by those with a vested interest/political agenda that runs toward one side or the other and they don’t seem objective in the least.  Many (not all, but several) of these use terms like, “evil, ignorant, intolerant, backward, controlling and greedy” when describing the other side.

MP900262287I thought of the farmers I know.  Unlike people in most professions, many of them have been working in their current profession since they were toddlers.  They have grown up with their fingers in the earth.  They are college educated in the science and art of agriculture.  The farm is not just where they work.  It is where they are born, live and die.  It is their home. They pour countless hours into caring for their fields and their animals.  Their personal wealth is deeply invested in the equipment and tools of their trade.  These are not men and women who are going to read a flashy advertisement and say, “Oh, look!  We can buy these new-fangled seeds that cost 4x more than the old ones and we’ll never have to weed again and now we can all just sit around eating bonbons and watching Toddlers and Tiaras!”  Are farmers looking to make money and make life a little easier?  Sure. Aren’t you?  But if 8 out of  10 farmers are using any given product you can bet that there is a very good reason!

Then I thought about the folks working for the biotech companies.  These people have a true passion for solving some of the most serious problems facing the human race.  When I was a young girl I can remember everyone making a big deal about the world population reaching 3 billion.  We are now right at the threshold of 7 billion with the UN forcasting a population in excess of 10 billion by the end of this century.  That is a whole big world to feed!  Especially when you consider that the climate is changing, creating new problems to be solved. Is there corporate greed? Well, sure. That seems to be a given that no one disputes.  But I think there are thousands of scientists and businessmen working in biotech who are truly dedicated to using science to make life better and more sustainable for us all.

It is not fair for either side to dismiss the other.

Keep in mind that they are all eating these foods and feeding them to their families as well.

Nor is it fair for either side to dismiss the concerns of the citizens of this nation.  Yes, people can be terrified easily as this great illustration  shows.  However, individuals are justified in questioning how new technologies will affect their health and environment.  History has proven time and again that big business will NOT offer up full disclosure or pull a harmful product from the market at a cost to themselves.

I’ve tried very hard to cut through the hype and the propaganda and the political posturing and find the solid ground beneath.  Here is the good, the bad and the big gray in between that I found  that seem important for consumers to understand:

THE GOOD STUFF ABOUT GMO

Farmers use GMOs because they are concerned about the environment and want to have the lowest possible impact.

Farmers must make a certain number of “passes” through their field each year.  The ground must be tilled, fertilized, planted, weeded, sprayed for insect and disease control, harvested, etc.  An average diesel powered tractor gets about 3 MPG.  That is a whole lot of fuel being burned.  How many resources go into creating that fuel? Shipping it?  How much greenhouse gas is released from using it? Biotech seeds are engineered to have the insecticides and herbicides that are crucial to the best possible plant development already tucked inside their genetic makeup.  This means that there are less passes of the tractor and fewer toxic chemicals being dumped onto the earth.

While some argue that herbicide use will be increased in the overall population (lawn care, gardeners, etc) because of the evolution of “super weeds” all of the “conventional” farmers that I spoke with first hand said that GMOs significantly reduce their chemical usage and they LOVE not exposing themselves, their workers, and the consumers of their food to these poisonous chemicals. It also means that farmers don’t have to keep tilling up the earth (or at least they don’t have to as often) to get the unwanted stuff out and put the needed stuff in. By tilling less farmers are reducing top soil erosion.  Erosion and nutrient depletion are serious concerns and the farmers I heard from see GMO as a possible solution to these problems – or at least a step in the right direction.

Farmers use GMOs because they are cheaper.

Again, based entirely on the farmers I heard from, engineered seeds are a cost savings.  The seeds themselves are significantly more expensive and it is illegal to save them from one crop to be replanted the next year.  In some cases that can’t be done anyway but, despite these facts, farmers feel that the overall amount of money saved in other resources such as insecticides and labor costs, make them a good financial choice.

Remember, farmers are in business too.  They need to remain profitable just like any other business.  They use all of the same modern profit and loss tracking tools that other businesses use and they make choices accordingly.

Farmers have more choices than ever before.

Some of the anti-GMO folks out there would have you believe that the average American farmer has been reduced to nothing more than a serf by the big biotech companies.  The farmers I spoke with strongly disagree. It is NOT true that farmers are being forced to use products made by Monsanto or any other particular company.  Nor are they under contract to use any particular chemical (ie. RoundUp) on their GMO crops.

Biotech manufacturers do design their seed to be most effective used with certain chemicals that they produce and so they will “highly recommend” their own products.  If you read the back of your shampoo bottle you will likely see that hair care companies do the same thing.  “For best results with this shampoo we recommend you also use our conditioner and styling products.”

If you are curious about the details of the Monsanto/farmer contract here is a great link for you to follow.

Several of the farmers I heard from used the phrase, “I have more tools in my toolbelt than ever before.”  100 years ago if you had harmful insects you went out and picked them off, one at a time.  50 years ago you could pick them off or spray them.  Today you can pick them or spray them or use engineered seeds that chemically resist them.  That’s over-simplified, but it’s the general idea.  The more choices that are available the more empowered farmers are to achieve maximum efficiency.  None of them thought that “designer seed” was the great magic solution to every farming problem.  They simply view it as one of many ways to solve certain problems that are inevitable.

GMOs produce higher yields.

I have seen some anti-GMO blogs that say this isn’t so and they have very impressive and complicated-looking charts explaining why but every single farmer I spoke with (including those that expressed some concern about using biotech for various reasons which I will get to) said that they had a higher yield with GMOs.

Higher yield isn’t all about more money in the pockets of farmers.  This video does a great job of explaining how much land is available for growing all the food for all the people on earth.

THE BAD & THE BIG GRAY IN-BETWEEN

GMOs may be linked to a variety of health problems in animals and people.

When new technology that sounds “sci-fi” comes out people are always a little leary.  We’ve all seen “I am Legend,” and “Jurassic Park.” We recognize that these movies are fiction but what makes them frightening is the very true reality that things can go wrong.  There is a law of unintended consequences.  You can’t make, “one little change” in nature.  It just isn’t possible.

Keeping that in mind, people have questioned the wisdom of genetic manipulation since the days when it was just a dream of the future.  When it became reality there was serious concern despite over a decade of research regarding the safety of GMOs.  But something unpleasant truly hit the fan in early 2011.

Dr. Don Huber has long been considered one of the nation’s leading experts in plant pathology with more than 50 years of experience and over 100 scientific papers published. He has held prestigious posts within academia and the US government and he wrote a letter to the secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture warning of some very serious concerns he had about “the discovery of an electron microscopic pathogen that appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals, and probably human beings.”

Dr. Huber’s letter spread like wildfire around the globe.  He was not the only one expressing concern.  There are a wide variety of scientists saying, if not the same thing, very similar things.  Here is one link that gives the entire content of Dr. Huber’s original letter as well as information from others.

One part of Dr. Huber’s letter stated:

The pathogen may explain the escalating frequency of infertility and spontaneous abortions over the past few years in US cattle, dairy, swine, and horse operations…

Here is something I found very interesting.  Around the time all this happened, about 2 years ago, these were some actual comments on blogs discussing Dr. Huber’s allegations.

“wouldn’t meat and dairy prices skyrocket if cows were dying and becoming infertile?”

From here in  2013 I can say, well… yes. We have seen that happen, as this link points out. Now, this link is old and there are dozens of factors ranging from weather to politics that can have an effect on food prices.  I’m just saying… meat and dairy cost more now than they did then.

Another commentor said:

Debunking this is like debunking the rumors that were spread that food safety bill was going to ban seed saving and force farmers to use Monsanto seeds.  (Feb. 28, 2011)

Said bill has been passed… sort of.  Farmers aren’t being forced to use Monsanto seeds (see “choices,” above) but seed saving has been banned and biotech has, just in the past month, been granted power over the authority of the court that no business has ever had in the history of our nation.

So the crazy conspiracy theorists of 2 years ago were right, at least in part.  It makes me think about the old saying, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

But here’s where it gets gray:  

Dr. Huber never put any evidence behind his study.  At least, not the kind of evidence that makes it difficult for other scientists to disagree with his findings.  As far as I can find, he continues to stand by his statements but he still hasn’t convinced the majority of his peers.  In her post, “Extraordinary claims… Require Extraordinary Science,” Anastasia Bodnar discusses all of this and she concludes with this:

Why would a reasonably well published scientist suddenly throw away everything we know about the scientific method to make claims about biologically impossible organisms with no evidence? Why is so little evidence presented and why is the evidence that is presented given as anecdotes instead of hard science? Most importantly, why would he make claims without going through the peer review process to ensure that his claims would be at least vetted by his peers?

Why, indeed?

Monsanto responded (see full response here) to Dr. Huber very quickly, standing behind the safety of their product, as you would expect.  And they provide on their site links to Purdue University Extension Science, Iowa State University, and Ohio State University.

Feel free to slog through all that, if you like, but here’s the gist.

From OSU:

Based on the number of acres I’ve walked, the samples we have received, the talks and literature I have attended and read; and our own research here at the OARDC, this statement just isn’t true.  I cannot document that there has been an increase in over 40 diseases in this state, nor in the north central region since 1998 when roundup ready soybeans were first widely planted in Ohio. 

From Purdue:

…evidence to support these claims has neither been presented to nor evaluated by the scientific community. The claim that herbicides, such as glyphosate, can make plants more susceptible to disease is not entirely without merit. Research has indicated that plants sprayed with glyphosate or other herbicides are more susceptible to many biological and physiological disorders The claim that plant disease has “skyrocketed” due to glyphosate usage is also unfounded.

And I may as well take this moment to mention that Biotech got this endorsement from the head of the European Union’s Chief Scientific Adviser:

“There is no substantiated case of any adverse impact on human health, animal health or environmental health, so that’s pretty robust evidence, and I would be confident in saying that there is no more risk in eating GMO food than eating conventionally farmed food,”

So then, why, you may ask, is all this included under “bad?”

Well… because as this site, and this site, and this site, and this site, and this site, and this site,and this site, and this site, and hundreds of others (Admittedly a random sampling. Some I read very carefully.  Some, not so much.) are expressing at least some level of concern over a growing body of anecdotal evidence that people and animals eating GMOs are experiencing a variety of health issues ranging from increased allergies to respiratory problems to infertility.

Anecdotal evidence is not good science and it is not proof of anything.  But it should be enough to warrant serious ongoing investigation from the scientific community.

Two of the nine farmers I spoke with had anecdotal evidence that GMOs were causing negative issues on their farms.

We fed our hogs from our own GM crop and started seeing health problems we’d never seen before with spontaneous abortion and some major digestive problems.  We switched feed and the problems cleared up.  (I asked if the new feed was still GM, just a different brand, and did not receive a response at the time of writing this) We still grow GM on our farm but we have cut back.

When my father switched to Monsanto seed we thought it was great because it was less time intensive and yielded a higher profit.  Within 2 years we had experienced 100% colony collapse in our honey bees.  He blames it on the new plants and won’t grow them any more.  Our new hives have been unaffected.

Confused yet?

It gets murkier.

Beekeeping.com says that so far there seems to be no indication that GMOs negatively affect honeybees.  In fact, less use of insecticides may be helpful.

Insecticide-resistant GMOs is another situation Dr. Williams says. Plants may be modified to contain Bt toxin, proteinase inhibitors, and chitinases. The benefit of such plants is that they require little or no insecticide application, decreasing, or in some cases eliminating, chemical application altogether. In a similar argument paralleling that related to herbicides, it is suggested this is a potential benefit to honey bees because it minimizes their potential exposure to harmful chemicals. In addition, the materials mentioned above are generally far less toxic in general than so-called hard or synthetic insecticides.

But this article links the very effectiveness of GMOs in preventing milkweed to a decrease in habitat for pollinators (in this case, butterflies) which is causing them to die off.

According to this Ag Weekly article there are about 10 possible contributors to CCD, with the most likely scenario being that it is an interplay between several of them.  GMOs, pesticides and monocultures are only 3 of the 10.

Likewise, there is hearty debate over the existence of “super weeds,” the long term effects of GM on the soil, the ways that GM crops change the non GM plants around them and more.

I put all this under “THE BAD AND THE GRAY” because it seems obvious that the jury is still out on the GM issue.

In the mean time, these crops are being grown all around the world.

humanityinthemirror

Image from humanityinthemirror.com

We can not be CERTAIN that they aren’t harmful.

Crops have been naturally bred to enhance certain traits for a millennium or more but what we are doing in this generation – short-cutting the process –  has never been done before in the whole history of the planet.  Our understanding of genetics is vast and growing every day but there is still much to learn.

And we are throwing these modified seeds into an environment which is already toxic from a whole host of sources.  It is very difficult to establish a clear link between GMO and… say… autism, for example.  It is not difficult at all to see that the youngest generation is suffering from a myriad of health issues that were considered rare or even unheard of just 50 years ago. What has changed in 50 years? Our food has changed in a big way… but other things have changed, too.  So where does the problem lie?

The greatest concern that I have, after researching more on this topic than I have any other topic in a very long time is that history repeats. If you look at the history of DDT, Thalidomide, tras-fats, and countless other examples new science is not always good science and by the time concerns are proven to be valid massive damage has already been done.  Just because a product has been studied extensively doesn’t mean that we know everything there is to know about it – especially when people use that product over prolonged periods of time.

Further, the new legislation protecting Biotech from legal action gives these companies unprecedented authority to move forward with their business despite what scientists find in the future.  This means that, assuming someone comes up with the millions (billions?) of dollars needed to host such a study and figures out a way to conduct it without interference from other environmental toxins and takes the several years needed to observe the test subjects and evaluate their findings and publish it and be reviewed by their peers and accepted by the scientific community and present those accepted findings to congress and let them debate about it and the US government deems there to be a problem… an entire generation or more will have been irrevocably affected.  The process will take decades.

Why can’t we just trust Monsanto to provide a product that is safe?  Here’s a quote from them:

A Monsanto official told the New York Times that the corporation should not have to take responsibility for the safety of its food products. “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food,” said Phil Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications. “Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.”  (source)

I don’t mean to put everything on Monsanto. They are a bit of a fall guy in all this.  There is good reason.  You can thank Monsanto for historical gems like PCBs and DDT which, while extremely effective in doing what they were created to do, were eventually deemed to be horrendously dangerous as well with the detriment far out-weighing the benefit.  In both of these cases and others Monsanto knew the dangers and downplayed them for decades but didn’t want to pull their product because it would have hurt their bottom line.

That said, they haven’t stayed in business so long or become so big by creating crappy products.  Nor are they the only game in town.  Pioneer, Syngenta, Dow Chemical, Bayer (yes, the drug company), Aqua Bounty, Mendel Biotech and dozens of others around the world are working to develop new biotech products, using genetic modification on crops as well as animals.

It’s not unlike McDonald’s in the fast food industry or Wal-Mart in retail. If McDonald’s disappeared tomorrow we would still be a chubby nation and if Wal-Mart were to close its doors forever there would still be big retailers preventing the revival of the “mom and pop” store. Therefore, when you hear things like, “Monsanto protection act,” keep in mind that if Monsanto were to go out of business tomorrow GMOs would still be around.

SO WHAT THE HECK ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THIS INFORMATION?!

You, as a consumer, need to be informed.

Be aware of legislation that is in the works.  Know why it is being proposed and don’t just fly off the handle in response to something that “seems” bad.  Remember all that stuff in the beginning of the article?  Farmers… the people who know the land the best… are widely in support of the use of biotech.  Ag science must move forward to meet the demands of the world.

Know what labels mean.  Big businesses of all types got big by doing several things well.  One of those things is marketing.  Clever advertisers know that people fear what they don’t understand and they will play on those fears.  One example that was pointed out to me is that there is an expensive brand of popcorn being actively marketed as, “Non GMO.”  What that label doesn’t mention is that, at this point, there is no GMO popcorn on the market in the USA.  In that case you are paying extra for the label.

Understand that, if your choice is between a “conventional” piece of produce and a “GMO” piece of produce you are choosing between one set of potential risks and another.  Most farmers would choose the GMO.

Organic is great and growing your own may be even better (all 9 farmers and the Monsanto employee I talked to agreed strongly on this point) but, when voting and putting forth your opinion, keep in mind that there are billions of people for whom that isn’t an option at this time.  New technology in hydroponics, “vertical farming” and more is great but still new.  Biotech is one aspect in the massive field of Ag Science.  That said, if you have concerns, be empowered!  Take your food destiny into your own hands!  Our family is doing this more every day and we find it deeply satisfying to feast on food we’ve grown and prepared ourselves.  There is more information available today than ever before about urban homesteading.  Heirloom seeds are being circulated at a rate much higher than 20 years ago, thanks to the internet.

Be aware that the market is driven by consumers.  If you cry about GMOs but you make no attempt to avoid purchasing them all that crying is just white noise.  For better or worse your dollars count more than your words in this country.

When it all comes down to it, I can’t say it better than Mike Haley who emailed me this comment:

The simple act of farming impacts the environment we operate in, both in positive and negative ways.  This is true for all types of farming large or small, conventional or organic.  I think its important we are constantly monitoring the effects our practices have on our environment and work towards ways that we can minimize any negatives while working to satisfy the needs of our customers.

or Katie Pratt who said this:

The gold standard would be for people to develop an appreciation for the places and people who raise their food and an appreciation for food in general.  

A few notes:

I would like to take a moment to send out my sincerest thanks to the men and women who took the time to answer my questions and help me sort through all of this information. It was clear in speaking/emailing with each of you that you have all given this subject a great amount of thought and want what is best for us all.  I hope that I presented the information you shared fairly and accurately.

If you would like to know more about GMOs and, like me, find the mountains of rhetoric and propaganda online to be intimidating, here are a few links in addition to those already mentioned that were passed on to me by those closest to the debate.  They were very helpful!

“I Occupy Our Food Supply Every Day” by Brian Scott

Monsantoblog.com “New Pathogen Claim Spreads Like Wildfire” by Janice Pearson

G is for GMOs & Why Do Farmers Plant GMO Crops?” by Janice Pearson

GMOs are Unnatural? And Other Thoughts On Biotech

It is my most sincere hope that this post is helpful to someone and that it can generate a conversation that is productive.  Along those lines, I would love it if you would comment, debate, agree, disagree, add, edit and question.  I only ask that you be polite.  As always, here in LHM land where I am queen, mean spirited name-calling and excessive foul language will result in your comments being deleted.

Are you, too, seeking to save the earth, promote world peace and raise productive citizens without expending too much effort?

Why not follow LazyHippieMama on WordPress, by email or Facebook to get all the updates.

If we work on our goals together, they may be a little easier to achieve!  

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65 responses »

  1. great post! Once question I have its your references to new legislation that protects biotech. I am guessing you are referring to the infamous Monsanto Protection Act. What I gathered from reading three legislation was that this is more of a farmer protection act because what it does its protects a farmer from having to tear up his crop if the seeds her used were approved for use at time of planting but then later pulled from the market. without this security farmers across the country would be at a huge risk of losing everything in one growing season because of a ruling made by a judge based off of poor or good information. Nonetheless if the crop was still banned the farmers wold not be able to grow it the next growing season. Perhaps I didn’t see the entire bill?

    • Mike, That was the way I understood the bill as well. If you missed something in the bill then I did as well. On another note, Elizabeth this was a very well thought out post and I appreciate how you approached the subject. My family and I are one of those small farmers that plants a Variety of GMO and non-GMO corn and soybeans. Thank You for taking the time to research the topic and be open to discussion.

      • Andrea, thank you so much for visiting the site and for your kind words. I hope my response to Mike’s comment answers your question. Again… I readily admit I may have gotten it wrong, but that’s what I understand of it and a few of the sources I got my info. Again… it’s one of those gray areas. Funny how much of life falls into that category! 🙂

    • You’re right. It does protect the farmer in that way and here is a great link for anyone who wants to know more about why many farmers are 100% behind HR933 (also referred to as “The Monsanto Protection Act” or “The Farmer Assurance Act” depending on which side of the debate the writer tends toward): http://cei.org/news-releases/greens-falsely-sow-seeds-doubt-farmer-assurance-provision.
      However, I have also read several things like this: http://www.alternet.org/what-monsanto-protection-act-and-how-did-it-sneak-law that speak out very strongly against it from a legal and political standpoint.
      The second link provides the complete text of the bill.
      I read the whole thing.
      By the end my eyes were glazed over and I may or may not have had a little line of drool running from the corner of my mouth. It is possible that I have digested too many new words and concepts this week and hit the wall because it may as well have been written in Chinese. 🙂
      What I gather is that, while it does provide good protection for farmers, it also gives biotech firms massive power. If I understand correctly (and I may not, I admit), if someone were to provide conclusive, peer-reviewed evidence that biotech poses a serious health or environmental risk and they took that evidence to court and the court says, “You are right. That seed is dangerous,” the ruling basically has no effect what-so-ever in practical terms. It may set into motion a series of actions that COULD result in the seed being banned in the future but the process would take many years. In the meantime the continued manufacturing, marketing, sale and distribution of the product would be permitted without restriction.

      • Thanks for liking into this further and for the link! looks like I have more reading to do now!

        btw, I admire your dedication to spring through all the propaganda that is circulating on all sides of this debate!

  2. oh. my. goodness! that was long! (I feel like you are speaking directly to me when you apologize upfront about the length of a blog post btw. lol) But so very full of useful information! I’m so thankful for you to have gone through that much time and effort to pull info in from both sides in an effort to bring us all some unbiased info on a topic that is in such hot debate right now. Of course I love my family,and I want them to be as healthy as possible, so I tend to err on the side of caution and go organic when I can. I’ve noticed recently as well that some manufacturers are voluntarily labeling their products as non-gmo, and I try to support them as well. but does that mean, that I never buy gmo food? not at all. unless you have incredible willpower ( and quite a bit more money than we) there is no way to avoid it completely. I am hoping that there will be new legislation passed that will require all gmo’s to be labeled. Then the biotech companies can keep on doing what they do, and the farmers can still make the best choices for themselves, and we as consumers can choose for ourselves and our families what to eat.

    • It was twice as long as my next longest post! :). I’m glad you found it useful. My family tends to go local organic as much as possible too but, like you say, there are few people in the nation that are in a position to do that all of the time.
      I was 100% behind labeling legislation prior to writing this. Now I am 100% in favor of SMART AND CAREFUL labeling. Consumers DO have a right to know, but many don’t understand. Several examples (like the popcorn) were given to me of how labels could be misleading in the hands of clever advertisers to the detriment of the farmers and the consumers.
      Having said all that, I would think that, if I were a food manufacturer, I would take note that there are millions of people asking for these labels and I would put my own clever advertising team to work pro-actively designing one that tells my target customers exactly what they want to know (or what I want them to know).

  3. This is a great read for anyone, Elizabeth. You’ve clearly spent a great deal of time looking at many angles here, and I certainly appreciate you taking the time to talk with me personally on the matter.

    I have to nitpick one thing. When you said “On one of his blogs he discusses the corn yield in 2012 – the worst drought year the US has experienced in this generation and how it compares with the yield from banner years in the pre-biotech era… long story short, biotech came out ahead.” I didn’t try to imply in that article that biotechnology is the sole cause of yield improvements. In fact with corn it’s the breeding of hybrids that can withstand high populations of corn that have led to much of our gains. Now there are drought tolerant varieties on the market (about a year late to market unfortunately) and most have come about through more traditional breeding and selection methods. To my knowledge the only GMO drought tolerance trait is from Monsanto. I think for the sake of this conversation people understand we are referring to GMO as inserting specific genes into a plant and not including traditional breeding techniques.

    Now for the good part. I’m going to share this post you’ve written and quote you in saying something you may have worded better than I’ve heard from any farmer. You said it so well and it resonates with me because it’s true. “The farm is not just where they work. It is where they are born, live and die. It is their home.”

    • Thank you for all of your help and for your kind words. I apologize for the error. I will take that paragraph out until I have a chance to correct it. I did want to include a lot more information about the difference between hybrids and GMOs but I realized I was on the verge of a book-length thesis so I had to cut back.

      • I end up cutting my posts back a lot too. I have to blurt everything out on the screen while the thoughts are fresh, then I try to read it back with a non-farm eye as best I can. I don’t think you need to delete the paragraph, just the implication it’s GMO that is the overriding factor in yield bumps.

    • Thank you! I know some of it is controversial…. that’s what got me frustrated in the first place. Trying to get past the controversy to what lies beneath. I really appreciate how many people have been willing to take part in the discussion with me.

  4. Kudos! Kudos! Kudos Elizabeth. Obviously, we won’t and maybe shouldn’t agree on all points listed, but as I said to you before, I so appreciate your effort to seek another opinion and be willing to sift through all sides of the story. That is rare in the food conversation. Thank you for asking the farmer. Ditto as to Brian’s point . . . you described us well.

    • I’m so glad you think so! It was very important to me to be fair to all of the honest, hard-working people that are directly involved in the use of this technology. It’s easy to be hateful toward a big faceless entitiy that seems set on greed but when you see that there are passionate, caring, loving people on both sides of most issues it allows real dialogue and progress.

  5. Wow! All I can say is that I’m so impressed that this momma did her research and presented it so well. Totally rare in the issue of food talk circles nowadays. The farmer insights on this is awesome too since it is all too forgotten and ignored in theses discussions. For every meal that we sit down to eat, not only should we thank god for it, but thank all the hands that prepared it for us and really mean it. Thank you to all the farmers who bring our food to our table! Excellent read!

    • Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words. You are right about being thankful… I think we all often forget how many hard-working hands and caring souls go into every single thing we consume.

      • As a fellow momma, another interesting topic to research is hard cheese production and GMO as well as labeling of it. If it weren’t for GE, we’d have to be slaughtering much more unweaned calves to get their stomachs to make cheese. No one would have ever thought that our beloved cheese has a GM component.

      • Cheese is one of those products my family consumes almost daily that I seriously know NOTHING about. I know it’s yummy and it comes in many flavors and it makes almost anything taste better and appeal to children. Maybe that should be my next project to research. 🙂

  6. Wonderful post! So much great info and resources all in one place. We love the benefits that GMO cottonseed has brought to our farms. Mainly the elimination of insecticides. We write about this on our blog Kissed A Farmer.

    Living out here next to the largest desert in North America, we depend on farmers all over the US to grow our food for us. Even though we don’t grow it ourselves, we are just as gratified after preparing a meal as someone who can grow their own food. (Maybe we do feel a little extra gratified when we wear a pair of blue jeans that came from a bale of our cotton.). We prefer to eat conventionally grown and GMO products because we trust the methods used in growing those types of food and don’t want to spend the extra money needed to eat special labeled foods. We respect other choices and realize that there needs to be many choices for consumers.

    • Oh my goodness! I LOVE the idea of having jeans from cotton I grew myself. Now I need to have a cotton farm! (When my husband reads that he’s just going to roll his eyes at me. LOL) I often think of the desert when people say, “if you don’t like it just grow your own.” We lived near Tucson, AZ for years. It would have been possible to grow our own but the effort and resources to do so would have been increadible unless we were willing to eat a very restricted diet. We don’t have that much will-power so we shopped at Basha’s and bought was there to be had. I agree 100% that having many choices is a wonderful thing, both for the producers and the consumers.
      Thank you so much for your kind words!

      • Right now, we have less that 18 months of water left for our small city of over 100,000 people. We would rather have water to drink than to have home grown tomatoes! So the concept and amount of resources needed to “grow your own” around here take on a whole new meaning!

      • No doubt. I always used to cringe when I would see people with lush green lawns. And the golf courses….. that a whole other big issue. Even here, in the midwest, I heard people saying their wells were running dry last year for the first time in a generation. Our resources are so precious and so easy to take for granted.

  7. Pingback: What I Learned About GMOs from 9 Farmers, a Monsanto Employee and a Whole Bunch of Reading | Ishtarmuz's Blog

    • You are very welcome. I’m so glad you took the time to visit the site and read and join in the discussion! I usually find that I lose folks with anything more than 1,000 words but sometimes there is just more that needs to be said. 🙂

  8. Elizabeth, I’ve spent a couple of years trying to genetically modify my head so I could figure the whole biotech thing out. You’ve made a valiant effort here. I linked your entry to a blog of mine about soybean fields in the BBT Era–Before BioTech, back when fields had character and a certain amount of nastiness, for better or worse. Thanks and good job on this article. http://cast-science.blogspot.com/2011/08/gmo-soybeans-roundup-weeded-out-bean.html

    • “character.” hahaha! Yes. I have seen those. My 8 year old thinks it’s funny when you see corn stalks and random flowers popping out of the soybean fields. Thank you very much for your kind words here and on your blog. 🙂

  9. The data on Bt and the honeybee really disprove a link between CCD and Bt/Gm crops. The two most relevant papers
    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0028174
    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0001415

    My bet is we’ll find they’re sensitive to the neonicotinoids, but the reports that CCD can be cleared from affected hives by sterilizing the hive are suggestive of a biological pathogen as well. The Bt link though, to both honeybees and lepidopterans (see the USDA studies) is basically myth at this point too. One also has to be clear, that apis mellifera, is just one of about 20,000 species of bee. The monoculture of the Western honeybee has created a situation in which an agricultural practice is threatened, but bee and other insect-pollinators as a whole are not, as CCD appears to only affect our preferred industrial pollinator. We may also benefit from developing more than one breed of honeybee for this purpose.

    Good article.

    • Thank you for all the info and for the kind words! I did read several things that agree with you – especially your point that “We may also benefit from developing more than one breed of honeybee for this purpose.” Thanks also for including such great links for anyone wanting more information on this topic. I’ve learned in the last week that CCD and the study of the pollinators as a whole could be a library unto itself. I saw everything from corn syrup to alien abductors being blamed. I don’t doubt that you are right about the neoniciotinoids and/or a biological pathogen… but the alien theory is way more fun to read about! Just kidding! 🙂 Thanks again!

  10. Pingback: Genetic Modification: What’s the big deal? | Farm, Foodie & Fitness

  11. Pingback: GMO food labeling drive has biotech industry biting back

  12. Thank you for taking the time to do the research necessary for this article and then write it so concisely. It was quite informative.

    My husband and I have a very small farm and sell our products at the local farmers’ market. We get questions about GMOs ALL the time. I am completely amazed at the truly bizarre things people have asked or told me about the food supply in this country. This article gives me some facts to share with our seemingly very confused customers.

    At some point, I hope to write something, perhaps specifically for our customers, to help folks see the whole “big picture”. I hope it’s okay if I quote you.
    Thanks!

    • I’m glad it was helpful for you! Please feel free to use anything you can. I am still not sold on the safety of GMOs OR the chemicals we put on foods. BUT… this project gave me a much better understanding of the “why” and it did lay to rest at least a few of my concerns. It also gave me a massive amount of respect for the farmers who spend their lives sorting through all of this information in order to make careful and informed choices. It is SO MUCH more complicated than most people realize!

  13. I was sure I had stopped by and commented on this post…. I know I shared it on Twitter and all. Thanks for looking into things to see if things match up. It is a really complex topic and with all the rhetoric it is hard to sort through the fear and find out the truth. Thanks for everything and please feel free to shout if you have more questions. And I’d love to have you toget a chance to see it. ur our offices in St. Louis. A lot of this makes more sense when you

  14. Pingback: Are the Findings of Dr. Don Huber Alarming or Alarmist? | The Farmer's Life

  15. For those that are looking for more research and answers that clearly show the Dangers of GMO’s:

    Institute for Responsible Technology, Jeffery Smith; Very comprehensive site.
    http://www.responsibletechnology.org/gmo-dangers/Everything-You-Have-To-Know-about-Dangerous-Genetically-Modified-Foods-September-2009

    GMO Dangers
    http://www.responsibletechnology.org/gmo-dangers

    Genetically Modified Soy Linked to Sterility, Infant Mortality
    http://www.responsibletechnology.org/article-gmo-soy-linked-to-sterility

    Excess Cancers and Deaths with GM Feed: the Stats Stand Up
    http://permaculturenews.org/2012/10/17/excess-cancers-and-deaths-with-gm-feed-the-stats-stand-up/

    Farmer suicides rising in India as GM Bt cotton crops fail
    http://responsibletechnology.org/newsletters/12012011spillingthebeans.html

    How GMO foods alter Human DNA
    http://www.alternet.org/story/153737/how_genetically_modified_foods_could_affect_our_health_in_unexpected_ways

    Genetically Engineered Food Alters Our Digestive Systems!
    http://www.anh-usa.org/genetically-engineered-food-alters-our-digestive-systems/

    • Thank you, Brian! I will look into these. I would like to add one more. When I originally wrote this I searched for a long time for a big recognizable name (I was thinking along the lines of Johns Hopkins, UCLA, AMA, etc) that had a published peer-reviewed study linking GMOs to health issues in humans and I couldn’t find one. I found several smaller studies by groups less familiar to most Americans, but not a “big one.” Since then, MIT published their very disturbing findings. The research I did on this topic helped me to understand that there are valid reasons why many farmers choose to use biotech but I do remain concerned about their long-term effects. Here is a link to the MIT study: https://www.google.com/search?q=mit+study+gmos&aq=f&oq=MIT+&aqs=chrome.1.57j59j0j5j60j62&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

  16. I appreciate your dedication to inform yourself. However, I believe that you must continue to research not only GMO’s, but the history of biotech companies and specifically, Monsanto. As well as control of our meat supply by ConAgra. If you do not think that they are trying to create a monopoly with our food supply. Than you are foolish.

    More specifically to your post. If you believe the words against Dr. Huber from land grant universities that are largely funded by biotech companies and the government your are crazy. Also, Dr. Huber real focus is on the use of herbicides as evidence of a concern not on the GMO themselves. One of the reason Dr. Huber has not done more research on the topic is because funding at land grant institutions are not given out to those that question the government on school future employers of graduates. Dies that make any sense. Also, how about the new study done in France about GMO’s while not conclusive in size or results, it is alarming to me enough that I would like to see more in depth research done.

    Finally, what GMO’s have done that is the most harmful. Is destroy millions if years of natural plant genetics. Now that Gmo’s have been out for so long there will almost no pure none GMO feeds again in the plant varieties of plants that have GMO. Example. There a almost no sweet corn seeds left that is not contaminated with the GMO BT gene.

    Study the bigger picture not just the simple issue of GMO,s in our food

    • Thank you for these insightful comments. When I started looking into this topic what I found was that it is SO HUGE it is truly mind boggling. At one point I was literally trying to draw myself a chart of the ties between Monsanto and the US government. The average consumer (including me) has NO IDEA. I started to include some of that information and the length and depth of the post became unmanageable. But you are right…. I do need to (and have) continue to research and I can’t stress enough to others that I think they should do the same. Any way you approach it: health, environment, politics, economics, this issue may be among the biggest, most tangled up, debates of the current generation. I hope that folks like yourself continue to help push it into the mainstream. Only when we are all better informed and open to real discussion will real progress be made.

    • The words against Huber are from independent scientists that don’t owe squat to any company. I fall right into that category. I criticize anyone that uses their authority to argue a scientific point and does not bring evidence. He never published this. If unpublished, not science. Science has rules.

      And absolute BS on “destroy millions of years of natural plant genetics”. I urge you to learn about plant biology, evolution, selection and breeding. Humans have altered plants for 20,000 years, making selections and crossing genetics that would never happen naturally. NONE of the major fruit/veg crops are from North America.

      You also are COMPLETELY wrong about “there is almost no sweet corn seeds left that are not contaminated…” That is completely wrong. I can send you as much as you want. There is little if any GM sweetcorn down in our area. We know because the spray planes have to hammer it with insecticide.

      Sorry to rain on your parade, but your claims are just wrong.

      • I have to agree with him on the “plant genetics.” Yes… people have been manipulating plants for thousands of years but there is a difference between cross-breeding and genetic manipulation. If we bred animals the same way it would be the difference between a Liger (made from 2 kind of big cats, would never happen in nature) and a giraffe-dog (2 entirely different types of animals, CAN’T happen in nature). Maybe that’s a subtle difference but, sometimes, those subtle differences are very very important. Maybe not. But what if?

  17. A generally good article, but you are wrong about companies being able to run wild in the presence of evidence that shows harm. That legislation puts decision-making power in the USDA, not in the hands of activist judges. If something is harmful, companies, farmers and consumers want to know.

    I also strongly disagree with the following: “If you look at the history of DDT, Thalidomide, tras-fats, and countless other examples new science is not always good science”. For every DDT you show me I can show you tens of thousands of drugs that have improved the human condition. For every Thalidomide I can show you technologies in electronics, communications, engineering. For every trans-fat there are countless advances in health care. Not to mention space shuttles and Mars rovers.

    You also might note that your fears are mostly from old products where science found problems and adjustments were made.

    The sick pigs and Huber are in the same category. Give me evidence, not anecdote.

    I enjoyed your article and it was well written. I’m glad you cited Anastasia and Biofortified. I’ve followed the field for 25 years. This is good technology. To date, no hard health issues. Maybe that will change, but probably not. We understand the engineered genes and their products long before they are deployed.

    Contact me anytime if you have questions. kevinfolta@gmail.com I’m grateful that you are trying to learn more about this important topic.

    • Thank you for reading and for your insightful comments.
      I agree with you about science. It’s a great thing. Without science we couldn’t be having this discussion online and I wouldn’t be learning anything about this topic! My point is that sometimes science comes up with something that seems great at first but turns out to be far worse than the problem it was supposed to solve. Not always. But sometimes. And you are right that scientists monitor themselves and find the problems, etc BUT the folks behind big business are not always so quick to act on the warnings of scientists. I have no idea – this is merely a guess – but I’d bet that, somewhere along the line, a long time before the FDA pulled Thalidomide from the shelves, there was a scientist with a picture of a mutated rat saying, “you can’t keep giving this to pregnant women. Look what’s happening!” When a problem like that comes to light the process to get something off the market is laborious and full of red tape.
      I hope that you are right about the safety of GMOs. I remain concerned. The recent MIT study was far from reassuring and, some of these researchers are saying that the health effects are cumulative over generations. If that is the case, it is my grandchildren that will be paying the price and by then it will be too late to reverse what we have done. So I hope… I hope you are right.

  18. I would like to know if the farmer’s families are sufferring any ill health or consequences from living so close to all that round up spraying? What are the fertility rate, birth defect rates etc. The USA must have these figures somewhere.

    • I imagine it would be very hard to track. For instance, where I live I am in a village of about 4,000 people. These people live on “city” lots, on residential streets, with small lawns, etc but we are surrounded on all sides by fields. Crop dusters fly over our town all summer. We get our water from the same river that flows right alongside the farms. And how would you distinguish farm run off from the run off of people spraying roundup on their lawns and gardens? I’ve seen 2 of my neighbors do that, just this past week. Plus, because this area is swampy, the village has big sprayer trucks that drive through town “fogging” for mosquitos 2x a month all summer long. It’s a toxic soup! And our little village probably isn’t so different from most of the towns in the midwest. There are areas that have problems… Clyde, OH has been experiencing a massive surge in childhood cancer rates. I don’t think they have pinpointed it to any one chemical but there has to be some sort of link to something we are doing. I just don’t know….

  19. Thank you, this was indeed very helpful to me in trying to wade through the mostly biased information online on this subject. Kudos to you for doing all the research! I have passed it on in hopes that friends will read it and maybe see that there really are two sides to the issue.

  20. Pingback: Beginners Guide to Real Food & Natural Living | Lazy Hippie Mama

  21. I really appreciate you taking the time to research this article. I see so many reactionary pieces that this was a true breath of fresh air. As someone who worked for a major poultry breeder for more than 25 years I have great appreciation for genetics and it’s applications. Still, I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of gene patenting. Especially when it’s applied to foodstuffs. There in lies my major objection to GMOs. At the same time, all too often the hyper reaction of some GMO opponents seems just a little too self serving to me. That being said, I understand that it’s rare when the issues surrounding a controversial topic are simply black or white. It’s really nice to see someone attempt to find a balance on this issue.

  22. Pingback: The October Daily: What I’ve Learned About Blogging So Far | Lazy Hippie Mama

  23. Pingback: The FDA Outlawed Trans Fats and That’s Why We Avoid GMOs | Lazy Hippie Mama

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  25. Thank you so much for diving into this subject headfirst! It was very informative. I personally avoid GMOs if I can, because of the unknown consequences. It’s easy to forget that there are two sides to every story, and talking directly to the farmers gives this post a unique perspective.

  26. This is a really great post and lots of great information. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been wondering a lot of this myself and haven’t had the time to research it. Thank you for sharing both sides as well.

  27. Great post! I have not been a fan of Monsanto since I watched “Food Inc” and other movies like it. Here’s what I’m wondering: I wonder why 26 countries ban GMO’s and why Monsanto has been the defendant in countless lawsuits (including ones for false advertising in Brazil, the U.S., U.K., and France). I wonder why they put pressure on the “little guy” if they don’t use Monsanto seed. I don’t trust the company–and when someone shows you who they are over and over again (For example, how many Superfund sites have they left as part of their legacy?)–why should you believe they are anyone different? They started their company with the artificial sweetener saccharin–which everyone knows is a contributor to cancer. Then, they branched out to DDT and Agent Orange. They care about their bottom line, not our health and well-being no matter how much they try to sell us on it.

  28. Oh, Monsanto. I don’t know how those people sleep at night. I try to be as GMO-free as possible. Anything genetically modified sounds like a horrible idea in my opinion. It’s a shame that our country strives on making more stuff to make more money. It’s all greed. Our poor kids are innocent in all of this mess we have created over the years. I plan to always live where I have a yard to grow food and be as natural as possible. I love that more grocery stores are jumping on board with having a natural section!

  29. I enjoyed this. I shared it because I really appreciated both sides of the argument. I have been preaching about voting with your dollars for a long time. Glad I’m not alone. Such a hard topic! You did a great job with it!

  30. Pingback: The Evidence May Show That GMOs Are Safe But I Still Avoid Them | Lazy Hippie Mama

  31. While reading your article… When I came to the part toward then end about reading the labels and how you would be basically paying more for popcorn labeled “non GMO” needlessly since there is no GMO popcorn…. Well… I guess I’m a little confused at why that seems ridiculous to label popcorn “non GMO” considering popcorn is simply popped CORN. And corn as you know has a high probability of being GMO. So a lot of popcorn would in fact be GMO. Right?

  32. This is the website of scientist Dr. Mae-Wan-Ho, Institute of Science in Society, in the UK
    http://www.i-sis.org.uk
    Perhaps this better explains the need to preserve the
    sovereignty of all seed – and plants!
    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Global_Assault_on_Seed_Sovereignty_through_Trade.php

    Another recent independent GMO rat feed study by Egyptian researchers, summary given by scientist Dr. Mae-Wan-Ho
    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/CaMV_35S_Promoter_in_GM_Feed_that_Sickened_Rats.php

    Phase II clinical trials on children have been conducted with unapproved experimental GM rice enhanced in pro-Vitamin A that has the potential to cause birth defects and developmental abnormalities Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Prof. Joe Cummins
    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/goldenRiceScandal.php

    Heard of GMO Mosquitos?
    They may come to a city near you too – Florida?
    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Will_GM_mosquitos_Increase_Risk_of_Disease.php

    Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and others spoke out against GMOs at inception 1994:
    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/goldenRiceHazardsGMOs.php

    GMO Disinformation:
    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Global_Status_of_GM_and_nonGMs.php

    A GMO REPORT:
    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Ban_GMOs_Now_-_Special_ISIS_Report.php

    NOTE, my point: “Peer reviewed” studies are hand picked – not all studies are selected for peer review… hmmm…. does that sound like objective science?? What might obviously influence this?
    Did you know peer reviewed studies are sold? A rather large source of revenue.

    Much of these decisions for the proliferation of GMO production have been made by officials behind “closed doors”, which is against the people and illegal.

    Reminder: There is MUCH about genetics that is not known – look at what they used to think junk DNA was. See Bruce Lipton on gene expression.

  33. Oh! Forgot these..
    How about these HUNDREDS of cotton farmers…
    Did you ask them??
    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/farmersSuicidesBtCottonIndia.php

    …Or these South Asians?
    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Bangladeshi_Bt_Brinjal_trial_fails.php

    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Dont_Grow_Bt_Brinjal.php

    …ARGENTINA:
    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Pesticide_illnesses_and_GM_soya.php

    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Pesticide_illnesses_and_GM_soya.php

    DANISH:
    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/GM_Soy_Linked_to_Illnesses_in_Farm_Pigs.php

    ANSWER to your question of WHY are GMOs used?
    Deception, lies, misinform!
    It’s called marketing! Except that today we are a generation of entrained somnambulists! We’re EASY!!!!
    But here’s the “scientific regulatory” excuse: ‘Substantial Equivalence’ :
    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Substantial_Non-Equivalence.php

    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/defendiSeralini.php

    • I apologize for the delay. I have been focused on another project this month and my poor blog has been a bit neglected. My hope with this article was to share that there really are two sides to the GMO debate. I tried to share several articles and links that show the dangers – the reasons why my family avoids GMOs as much as possible. But I was curious to know why, if it is so obvious that they are so bad, anyone would use them. The farmers I spoke with are not money-grabbing evil geniuses nor are they morons, easily duped by advertising ploys. If I were in their shoes I would make different choices, but speaking with them at length helped me to understand some things I’d not previously considered. Thank you for taking the time to share these new studies. I will certainly check them out and continue to research and read as more information comes available!

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