Organic Farming Threat: Gentically Modified (GMO) Alpha Crops
Ok. I hadn’t yet dedicated a post to GMOs, as the topic is so complex and is among one of the most controversial issues in our modern society.
Recently, I have learned more about another negative impact of GMOs and I wanted to just report how this news can affect organic farmers and thus, the organic agricultural system . The more I read, the more infuriated I became… but before I tell you about it, let’s do a brief (well, the topic is so expansive but I will try) overview on GMOs.
First, what does GMO stand for?
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism.
GMOs are organisms that have been created through the gene-splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering, or GE). This relatively new science allows DNA from one species to be injected into another species in a laboratory, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.
In essence, it is taking one (or more) genes from one species, and adding it to another, in an effort to create more desirable traits (in a crop).
The different terms for plant crossbreeding have been inaccurately interchanged, misused and grouped together. It is a complex topic, but you can read about the different types here and here and here.
An interesting point to know about GMOs: some of the studies that biotech companies used to plead their case to the FDA that GE Crops are “safe” “did not compare conventional breeding with GM, but gamma-ray-induced mutation breeding with GM. Thus, Batista and colleagues compared two highly disruptive methods and concluded that genetic engineering was, in the cases considered in their study, the less disruptive of the two methods”.
The most familiar is Monsanto’s Round Up Ready Seeds and Round Up Ready Pesticide. By modifying (wheat, corn, soy, cotton) crops can be more resistant to Round Up Ready Pesticide, thus they can spray (higher) amounts on it for pest control, without having to worry about harming the crop itself. It was suppose to reduce the amount of pesticides sprayed, but some crops have become Round Up Ready resistant, causing conventional farmers to spray more onto the crops. Thus, creating “superweeds”
Did you know that Monsanto strictly enforces that farmers must buy their (GE) seeds every year? To ensure this occurs, Monsanto requires you to sign document that farmer won’t reuse seed and if in violation, will be sued.
Not having in-dept knowledge of the agricultural process, I read several articles and found this post to have some great points.
Saving seeds from harvests to use again from year to year is the traditional way that farms and gardens were maintained for centuries. The process of open-pollination and replanting seeds from crops is the most natural thing in the world. As a farmer, it’s a no-brainer; one of your biggest business inputs—seeds—is already in your hands when you harvest your crop. In addition to that, though, the process of saving seeds from the best performing crops to plant again the next season is a form of reproduction through natural means that allows the plants to adapt to their local conditions over time. In other words, farmers would save natural heirloom seeds (as opposed to GM seeds) from the most suitable (i. e. biggest, healthiest, sweetest) plants and plant them again the next year. The saved seeds would gradually evolve over several growing seasons to cope with local conditions like the soil, moisture levels, and temperatures. The evolution of these seeds helped them perform better and more reliably in the conditions to which they had adapted (Wikipedia). Most of us know something about Darwin’s theory of evolution…well, there you go. Seed saving is a form of natural selection. Key word: natural.
Our modern agriculture system, on the other hand, is anything BUT natural. The seeds sold today by Monsanto and other industry giants are seeds that have been hybridized and cloned in science labs, artificially cross-pollinated to have specific characteristics, like higher yield or uniform color (Wikipedia). Monsanto’s infamous “Roundup Ready” crops exist because the company found a way to alter the DNA of the seeds to allow them to withstand certain chemical herbicides (SourceWatch). Does that sound natural to you?
The built-in sterility of GM seeds prohibits seed saving practices, instead forcing farmers to buy new seeds each year from Monsanto. This effectively negates the evolutionary process of crops adapting to local conditions. The constant use of crops that haven’t been allowed to adapt to local conditions has caused a huge number of problems. We’ve already talked about the health consequences of our diets of these unnatural, genetically modified foods. We’ve also discussed how the increased yields advertised by Monsanto don’t meet their promises (in large part because the seeds are not adapted to local conditions), and the effect that has had on farmers in the U. S. and across the world. But what effect does the conventional food and seed system have on the environment?
Pro-GMO supporters proclaim that GM food will help feed more people by producing more yields…
What the company doesn’t mention when touting the effects of its technology is the price paid by others for its profits (which were $1.48 billion in this latest quarter, up 22 percent from a year ago). According to the CFS, “From 1995-2011, the average cost to plant one acre of soybeans has risen 325 percent.” Roundup Ready soybean seeds were introduced in 1996. The costs of planting other crops have skyrocketed as well, as consolidation in the seed business has left 53 percent of the global market in the hands of three corporations: Monsanto, DuPont (DD), and Syngenta (SYT). In that period prices shot up 516 percent for cotton, and corn seed prices rose by 259 percent. (Seventy percent of the corn and cotton grown in the U.S. is Roundup Ready, according to The New York Times.)
Roundup itself has been linked to rising food prices, or at least the potential to drive costs up. In 2011, the journal Weed Science highlighted the growing phenomenon of glyphosate resistance, whereby overuse of Roundup creates aggressive, herbicide-immune super-weeds, which have to be deracinated or treated with even more toxic chemicals. If such plants continue to spread across farmland, labor costs could rise and yields decline, making grain more expensive.
This document is 123 pages, but is worth the read… I will include a few interesting blurbs:
Contrary to popular belief, the FDA does not have a mandatory GM food safety assessment process and has never approved a GM food as safe. It does not carry out or commission safety tests on GM foods. Instead, the FDA operates a voluntary programme for pre-market review of GM foods. All GM food crops commercialised to date have gone through this review process, but there is no legal requirement for them to do so. Companies that develop GM crops are allowed to put any GMO (genetically modified organism) on the market that they wish, though they can be held liable for any harm to consumers that results from it. The outcome of the FDA’s voluntary assessment is not a conclusion, underwritten by the FDA, that the GMO is safe. Instead, the FDA sends the company a letter to the effect that:
- The FDA acknowledges that the company has provided a summary of research that it has conducted assessing the GM crop’s safety
- The FDA states that, based on the results of the research done by the company, the company has concluded that the GMO is safe
- The FDA states that it has no further questions
- The FDA reminds the company that it is responsible for placing only safe foods in the market
- The FDA reminds the company that, if a product is found to be unsafe, the company may be held liable. 15 Clearly, this process does not guarantee – or even attempt to investigate – the safety of GM foods. While it does not protect the public, it may protect the FDA from legal liability in the event that harm is caused by a GM food
So, What Are The Top Genetically Engineered crops? I have seen different stats but according to The Non GMO Project these crops are at the most risk for being GMOs:
- Alfalfa (first planting 2011)
- Canola (approx. 90% of U.S. crop)
- Corn (approx. 88% of U.S. crop in 2011)
- Cotton (approx. 90% of U.S. crop in 2011)
- Papaya (most of Hawaiian crop; approximately 988 acres)
- Soy (approx. 94% of U.S. crop in 2011)
- Sugar Beets (approx. 95% of U.S. crop in 2010)
- Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash (approx. 25,000 acres)
ALSO high-risk: animal products (milk, meat, eggs, honey, etc.) because of contamination in feed.
Ah, Alfalfa! That is why I started this post. The ruling to allow genetically modified alfalfa actually occurred in Jan 2011. But recently, the decision by the USDA to approve deregulation of genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa has been upheld by the federal Ninth District Circuit Court
Alfalfa? Who eats that? Cows. Who eats Cows? Humans…
Alfalfa is grown mostly to make hay fed to dairy cows and horses. More than 20 million acres are grown in the United States; it is the nation’s fourth-largest crop by acreage, behind corn, soybeans and wheat, with a value of about $8 billion. About 1 percent of alfalfa is organic.
Here’s the thing. The crux of organic farming is animals are feed a grain-free diet (as nature intended). The majority (if not all) of conventional animals eat grain (mostly corn) diets.
This article explains the benefits of grass fed beef. 10 excellent points were made, but here are two:
- The problem is, as organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) recognize, the “overuse and misuse of antibiotics in food animals” is a major source of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are affecting humans, a major public health crisis. Increasingly, bacteria are resistant to multiple antibiotics, leading to infections that are difficult to treat and sometimes impossible to cure, require longer and more expensive hospital stays, and are more likely to be fatal. At the same time, the development of new antibiotics has slowed to a trickle. In some cases, there are now few or no antibiotics that work to treat drug resistant bacterial infections.
- A ruminant’s gut is normally a pH-neutral environment, best suited to a diet of cellulosic grasses. It is not well suited to a diet of corn and other grains, the primary fare of feedlot cattle. High in starch, low in roughage and a poor source of calcium and magnesium, corn upsets the cow’s stomach, making it unnaturally acidic. Not only is this harmful to the cow–giving it a sort of bovine heartburn or, worse, making it very sick–but it allows a whole range of parasites and diseases to gain a foothold, including the pathogenic E. coli 0157:H7 bacterium. Making its first appearance a little over 25 years ago, E. coli is now found in the intestines of most U.S. feedlot cattle. As Michael Pollan explained in “Power Steer,” a 2002 New York Times Magazine article, “By acidifying a cow’s gut with corn, we have broken down one of our food chain’s barriers to infections. “Interestingly, this process can be reversed, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist, who discovered that switching a cow’s diet from corn to hay in the final days before slaughter reduces the population of E. coli in its manure by as much as 70 percent. Such a change, however, is considered wildly impractical by the cattle industry (see 4 below for reasons).
So, Organic farmers rely on grass and hay (made from alfalfa) to feed their animals. If you watched the posted video, you can hear the farmers concerns and how this ruling can seriously affect farmers.
Not sure if you caught the anchorman’s comment: ‘farmers could lose business with organic customers like Whole Foods’. Well, that is a tad misleading since Whole Foods actually signed off on this movement. I never thought that Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s were GMO free. But, I was surprised to learn that “2/3 of WFM’s $9 billion annual sales is derived from so-called “natural” processed foods and animal products that are contaminated with GMOs. – See more at: http://www.thedailysheeple.com/usda-forces-whole-foods-to-accept-monsanto_052013#sthash.rJjWLLI1.dpuf”
Well. That is a good reminder not to fall for label claims, such as “natural” and “free-range”. I suppose the topic of misleading labels could be an entirely different post…
But, back to GMOs, alfalfa and pubic awareness. I agree with one of my friends who said- until you can poll any person off the street and ask them to define the term GMO, the movement to demand labeling will continue to be a battle, fought by a small majority of groups.
What can we do? Take action. More awareness creates more public knowledge.
Check out http://occupy-monsanto.com/for more information on GMOs.
UPDATE: I think the bigger picture isn’t to get stuck on the debate of GMOs being safe or not, but to think about the unintended consequences of eating foods with high levels of glyphosate. More to come on that topic…