I’m a farm girl, proud FFA Alumni and Farm Bureau member. I love working out, cooking, and having conversations about agriculture. I see things as part of a connected system, where we have to make choices about what we value and wish to maintain. I’m also an avid reader in my spare time.
GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) are something I have not talked about too much over the last few years. It’s just not something I felt comfortable going over, and with so many animal welfare topics to cover it was an issue I stayed away from. On our farm we grow some varieties of GM corn and soybeans. If things change where consumers do not want us to produce GM crops, that’s fine, but I think we are giving up some very real opportunities by throwing it out entirely. I’m not an “expert,” or a crop/biotech/biochemical scientist, but I am the user of GM technology, and a person who consumes some GM foods.
For those who don’t know, a GMO is created by taking a desired trait from one organism and putting it into another organism to give it the desired trait. For example, a corn variety that is drought resistant naturally may not have the stalk sturdy enough to support a large ear, so a plant geneticist will take the drought resistant trait and put it in the sturdy-stalked corn. If we get technical, cross-breeding for a desired trait is a type of genetic modification. The benefit of GMOs are that scientists can isolate desirable traits, and avoid less desirable traits when creating new varieties of crops. Common types of genetic modification include drought or flood resistance, disease resistance (fungal, bacterial, etc), and weed and insect resistance. These things allow farmers to produce a heartier, healthier crop that is better suited to their unique growing conditions. I am not a GMO expert, but I have learned a few things that I think should come into consideration as you make decisions about GMOs.
1. GMOs are medically important. One of the most innovative ways GMOs are being used is to produce insulin for diabetics. The insulin produced is reliable and consistent. If people ate more balanced diets, where more active, and less overweight, maybe there would be fewer diabetics, but until this happens GMOs will help those fighting the disease to control their health.
2. GMOs are generally regarded as safe by the scientific community. I often find that people have strong feelings about genetic engineering, and also about climate change. Studies from around the world generally agree that climate change is real. Many of the same institutions that back climate change, also back the safety of GMOs. Science shouldn’t just be used to support arguments when it’s convenient. Maybe the science is wrong. I don’t have the education, or time to really find out on either of these issues, so I am generally going to agree with the people who do. For those arguing that Monsanto has payed it’s way into positive outcomes in trials, consider the oil & gas industry with climate change, or even the tobacco industry on the carcinogenic effects of smoking. The companies in these industries are large and have a lot of lobbying power, yet they were not able to stop the tide of research that pushed for change in our practices for health, safety, and longevity. The same can be said about GMO research.
3. GMOs aren’t everywhere. The current list of GM crops available commercially in the United States are: corn, soybeans, canola, papaya, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets, squash, potatoes, and apples. All but the potatoes and apples were modified to resist a significant threat to the plant (fungus, disease, growing conditions, etc). The apples and potatoes are modified to avoid bruising during transport, which causes large losses between farm and table. Not every seed grown is genetically modified, and farmers have the option to grow non-GM crops. For farmers, GM crops are more of a risk management tool than an ideological point. Consumers have the option to buy non-GMO products. Now with labeling requirements, and different marketing campaigns by food companies you can fairly easily avoid GMOs in your food if that is what you choose to do.
4. GMOs are proprietary. This is a sore point for some, because the idea of food flow is something that a private business has control over is scary. I understand and can empathize with this way of thinking. However, the amount of time devoted to research, development, trials, and government regulations, as well as money that is put into developing this technology, it deserves a patent. GMOs are innovations to production systems, just like the assembly line, interchangeable parts, or other manufacturing processes.
5. GMOs hold tremendous possibility. Even if you choose to oppose GMOs in your own life, there are so many innovations that are awesome to think about. In bio-fuels: there is research on different algae modifications to produces abundant supplies of clean energy relatively inexpensively. In food crops: peanuts that don’t cause allergies, or rice that provides vitamins to people in poverty stricken countries that can’t afford a variety of different foods. Even in forestry: what about a modification that would prevent thousands of trees from dying due to Emerald Ash Borer, or the drought affecting the Redwoods, or even the Chestnut Blight that basically eradicated the American Chestnut? Maybe there are other ways to solve these problems, maybe there are practices we can take up to minimize the risk of any of these things, but there are tools that can help us combat these issues, so why not at least give the chance to use them?