Welcome to the Peterson Farm Blog!

We are glad you are here! This blog was created for us to address the many questions people have about farmers and modern day agriculture. We hope that our blog will be a source of answers for people who are searching for the truth! Feel free to leave a comment or question and we will do our best to get back to you. Thanks!

Introduction: All I Do Is Farm (The Blog)

Greg Peterson: Advocate for Truth

  1. GMOs
  2. Family Farming, Industrial Farming, Factory Farming
  3. Livestock Production
    1. The Purpose and Necessity of Livestock Production
    2. The Welfare of Livestock Compared to the Welfare of Humans, Pets, Wildlife
    3. Animal Welfare: Beef Cattle
      1. Grass Finished Cattle Compared to Grain Finished Cattle
    4. Animal Welfare: Dairy Cattle
    5. Animal Welfare: Pigs
    6. Animal Welfare: Poultry
  4. Organic Food and Conventional Food (Coming Soon)
  5. Chemical Usage in Agriculture (Coming Soon)

The Peterson Farm Bros Beef With Chipotle

  1. Part 1: The Peterson Farm Bros Beef With Chipotle
  2. Part 2: The Definition of a Family Farmer
  3. Part 3: The Definition of a Humanely Raised Animal
  4. Part 4: The Definition of Ethical Behavior

The Purpose and Necessity of Livestock Production

  • Is it necessary to use livestock products for human use and consumption? 
  • Should I feel bad when I eat meat because an animal died to become that meat? 
  • Why can’t animals be set free to live as long of a life as possible?

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Livestock animals (Cattle, Horses, Chickens, Turkeys, Pigs, etc.) have been a huge part of human existence since the beginning of our civilization. Humans have used animals for meat, milk, eggs, labor, and clothing for thousands of years. But is it necessary to use livestock products? Must we kill innocent animals? Why can’t we just rely on fruits, veggies, and grains to feed and clothe the masses?

Livestock Infrastructure Produces Billions of Pounds of Food and Products

Meat, milk, eggs, and thousands of other food products come from animals. Animal products are found in a vast amount of foods consumed today. Furthermore, animal by-products are used extensively in almost every walk of life. While you may be able to avoid eating animal products, it is nearly impossible to avoid using animal by-products. The infrastructure of the livestock industry has allowed for thousands of products to be made affordably, efficiently, and sustainably.

If we did away with livestock products, we would have to reinvent the infrastructure of our food supply and product supply, which would prove to be extremely costly. Thousands of farmers would have their current farming methods they have developed over centuries taken from them. Technology is what has allowed 1 farmer to feed 155 people today instead of 27 people in 1950. Livestock technology is a huge part of that. If we were to abandon it, we would see a drastic decrease in food production.

Livestock Food Products Provide Essential Nutrients (And taste amazing!)

While it is entirely possible to consume a diet free of livestock products, it can be quite difficult. Many people in this world do not have the extra money, time, or discipline to spend on avoiding products from animals. Meat, dairy and eggs contain essential nutrients such as protein, calcium, potassium, B vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and B6), vitamin E, iron, zinc and magnesium. Again, the infrastructure of livestock production has allowed for these products to be low in cost, easily accessed, and (best of all) some of the tastiest products available.

Millions of Grassland Acres Would Go to Waste Without Livestock

Millions of acres of land are not suitable for crop production (due to slope of terrain, soil type, rainfall, etc.) and are therefore grazed by livestock animals. These animals help maintain the ecosystem of these grass acres and convert the grass into food for humans. If we took those livestock animals away, the millions of acres of grassland would become unproductive instead of providing billions of pounds of food each year. If our goal is to feed 9 billion people by 2050, this would be a huge step backward in reaching that goal.

Livestock Animals Roaming “Free” Is Not Plausible

Currently there are over 11 billion birds, 87 million cattle, 67 million pigs, and 5 million sheep used in U.S. livestock production today. Farmers breed these animals, feed these animals, and protect these animals. They are domesticated. The high majority of livestock animals would cease to exist if they were not utilized on farms in livestock production. If livestock production ceased, the amount of these animals living in the U.S. would be cut down unbelievably. No one would be there to take care of these animals, no one would be maintaining fences, caring for the sick, protecting them from predators, etc. Animals would either die out, live in the wild, or live in a zoo. In the wild, livestock animals would no longer be producing food, products, and labor for humans, they would become road hazards and would get into yards, gardens, and public places. They would be a nuisance. The reason these domesticated animals have survived over the generations is because of their importance to humans (their purpose).

Livestock Products Give Purpose to the Lives of Livestock Animals

If we were to stop using animal products, the purpose for the lives of these livestock animals would be removed. Eating and using animal products is the reason livestock animals are alive in the first place, even though theoretically the process takes their lives away as well. If you believe an animal like a cow, pig, chicken, or sheep deserves to have life, you must believe in the use of animals for humans, because without us, 95% of these animals would never be born in the first place. The question, however, is whether or not the quality of life for these animals is worth them being born in the first place, which will be addressed in the subsequent “animal welfare” blogs found on the home page.

Additional Resources:

Why eat animals? Animalsmart.org

The Welfare of Livestock Compared to the Welfare of Humans, Pets, and Wildlife

Humans: Many humans live extremely luxurious lives. However, there is more human suffering in our world today than many realize. There are 30 million human slaves still living in the world. 80% of those involve sexual exploitation. There are 3 billion people living in poverty. 1.3 billion of those people live on less than $1.25 a day. There are 870 million people who are chronically undernourished. Each year, 4 million women suffer from domestic abuse and 3 million children suffer from child abuse. 3.5 million people in the United States are homeless. Millions also suffer every day from diseases, injuries, emotional trauma, and mental illness.

Livestock: There are over 10 billion livestock animals in the United States. These animals (including the “factory farmed” ones) are provided with plentiful food and water. Livestock animals are never homeless, undernourished, or sexually abused. Most of their lives are spent eating, lying down, or sleeping. They are in most cases protected from predators, harsh weather, and each other (power struggles can result in injury or death). The goal of every livestock farmer is to minimize stress as it results in the greatest growth in production. So, while a few cases of abuse to livestock animals are reported each year, this practice is certainly not the norm, and would be considered extremely rare in every livestock circle. The majority of livestock farmers take better care of their animals than some parents take care of their kids. Disease, injury, and illness affect livestock animals in similar ways to humans, but farmers and veterinarians do everything they can to prevent these causes of suffering. As many are quick to point out, livestock animals are indeed slaughtered at the end of their lives, but today’s slaughtering methods are as humane as possible (no pain or stress to the animal) and provide food and products to millions of people around the globe.

Wildlife: Animals in the wild spend their entire lives hunting for food and water. They endure disease, injury, illness, and pain just like humans and livestock. They also must fend for themselves from the weather. Each wild animal (that is not on the top of the food chain) is at the risk of being ripped apart and eaten by predators and/or killed off by animals of the same species in power struggles. Human activity (Cities, roads, industry, etc.) threatens the existence of thousands of species each year. Millions of animals suffer and die in nature. The deaths of wildlife animals (excluding hunting) provide little to no benefit to humans in terms of food or products.

Pets: Most pets have extremely comfortable lives, similar to livestock. Food, water, health care, and protection from the elements are provided to pets. Pets spend most of their lives lying around in a stress free environment. However, 6-8 million pets are placed in animal shelters each year. 3-4 million of them are euthanized each year. The death of these pets provides little to no benefit to humans in terms of food or products.

In conclusion: We live in a world full of suffering. We should be doing everything we can to help to reduce and eliminate this suffering in every species around the world. However, we need to keep our priorities in check:

  • We should do our absolute best to take care of our pets, but they are more of a luxury than a necessity. (Their lives/deaths do not provide products to humans)
  • We should do all we can to protect the environment and ecosystems of wildlife animals, but how can we reduce the suffering that goes on naturally in nature? (The wild while natural and beautiful is also a gruesome, dangerous place)
  • Humans undergo the most suffering and abuse on the list. That is extremely sad to me. We should do our best to take care of our own and think of helping others more than we think of pleasing ourselves. Reducing human suffering should be of the highest priority!
  • Livestock animals, on the other hand, are among the creatures that undergo the least amount of suffering on this list. Yet so many people complain and point fingers at the treatment of these animals. Where is the uproar about human suffering? Why aren’t more people human activists? There are definitely ways we can improve our treatment of livestock animals and we should pursue those. However, to expect perfection in livestock production (or any of these categories) is unrealistic in an imperfect world. The use of livestock animals provide food, products, money, and labor to billions of people. Their lives (and inevitable deaths) are what many humans rely on to survive in poverty-stricken countries.

Most would agree that a human life is more valuable than any other life on the planet, but even if you disagree with that statement you must realize that if you want to reduce suffering here on the earth, it has to start with humans. It has to start with us!

Advocating for Truth: GMOs

By Greg Peterson

Readers,

Below is the outline for this comprehensive blog project. Please read this entire blog project in order. All comments should be posted on this page and should only be posted after reading the entire blog project. Thanks! I appreciate all of you being here.

  1. Introduction (Please read first!!!)
  2. What are GMOs?
    • Video: What do GM Crops look like? Are GM Crops “poisonous” or “toxic?”
  3. What are GMOs not? 
  4. Why do farmers use technologies such as GMOs and herbicides/pesticides? 
  5. My perspective on the safety and sustainability of GMOs 
  6. My perspective as a Christian on GMOs 
  7. Questions and comments from readers answered
  8. Additional Resources

Introduction

Hello everyone, my name is Greg Peterson and I am the oldest brother of the Peterson Farm Brothers. You might know us from our parody music videos about farming on YouTube. Most of our videos are entertaining in nature, and stick mainly to all of the positive things that are happening in agriculture today. Today, however, I am going to take some time to discuss one of the most controversial subjects I’ve ever been around, genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. I have spent months pondering and questioning what I believe about this subject of extreme complexity, and I think I am finally ready to start sharing some answers.

Now, stop! Stop! Before anyone starts throwing stones at each other, let’s get a few things straight before we begin:

  • As the title of this blog states, I am an advocate for truth. I am writing this blog for one reason and one reason only, to promote the truth about GMOs based on the knowledge that I have gathered in my lifetime. My desire is for every piece of information in this blog to be true and factual. Truth is my primary motivation. Which brings me to my next point….
  • I am not being paid by ANYONE to write this blog. This is of my own free will and is done under my own influence. My only agenda is truth. My parents taught me from a young age to stand for what I believe is the truth, no matter how much resistance or ridicule (I’m certain there will be some) comes my way. I am trying to approach this subject with as little bias as possible besides my own personal background of growing up on a conventional farm. I am concerned only with facts, evidence, and where the truth leads. I am not interested in being pushed around by people with a lot of money, regardless of which side of the debate they are on. Which brings me to my next point….
  • I am a 23-year-old family farmer. While I do have quite a bit of experience with the leaders in the agriculture industry from all of my travels as a Peterson Farm Bro, I am not an industry CEO. I am not a corporate businessman trying to earn your money. I am a simply a young person who is searching for answers, just like you. I hope to be the mediator between the leaders in the agricultural industry and the average American consumer. We have to start listening to one another instead of fighting. Discussing instead of arguing. I hope I can be that someone in the middle ground whom you can trust to bring honest, truthful answers. However, I am by no means perfect, and I am fully aware that I may make mistakes throughout this process. Feel free to let me know if I have made a mistake. Which brings me to my next point…..
  • Please, please, please try your hardest not to leave hateful, offensive comments about me or about this blog. Civilized human beings should be able to have civilized conversations, even about controversial subjects. Not only that, but civilized human beings should be able to remain friends despite disagreeing on a certain topic. To clarify, even if you disagree with what I have to say about GMOs, we can still be friends! You can still follow the Peterson Farm Bros! Think if you ended every relationship in your life that encountered a conflict of opinion. You would be left with no friends at all! Plus, it is always beneficial to stay friends with people who have different opinions than you. You can learn a lot from them! So let’s keep this conversation friendly, respectful, polite and without any “I hate you. I’m unliking your page!” comments. Thanks!

Alright, so now that we have all of that out of the way we can focus on the matter at hand. There is an abundance of misinformation out there on GMOs, especially on the Internet, and much of it is agenda driven from both sides of the argument. This means it can be heavily skewed one way or the other through methods such as photoshop, video editing, and twisting of words and data. Take everything you read on the Internet (including what I have to say) with a HUGE grain of salt! If you’ve never stepped foot in a field of GM Crops, never talked in person with real GM Crop farmers, or never spoken in person to any sort of GMO experts (from both sides of the argument) you are putting yourself at the risk of being misinformed by agenda driven information.

What I would like for everyone reading this blog to do is to try and put everything you’ve heard about GMOs aside and try to see if you can keep an open mind on the subject. We are first going to talk about some facts of GMOs. Facts. A.K.A. Truth. A.K.A. information that can be backed up by reliable proof. In other words, I don’t believe that this information can really be argued against.

What are GMOs?

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, will also be referred to in this blog as GM Food, GM Crops, GM Products, Genetic Engineering, and Biotechnology. Biotechnology in plant agriculture is the process of intentionally making a copy of a gene for a desired trait from one plant or organism and using it in another plant. Humans have been intentionally changing the genetics of crops since the beginning of their existence. In fact, every single fruit, vegetable, and grain that is grown by farmers today has been genetically altered (through hybrids and selective breeding) to produce better taste, yield, or disease/drought/insect resistance. While GMOs are slightly different than hybrids, they are simply the newest form of this type of technology and have been around since the early 1990s.

Comprehensive list of GM Crops in the USA

  •   Corn (88 percent of USA crop)
  •   Soybeans (93 percent of USA crop)
  •   Cotton (94 percent of USA crop)
  •   Canola (90 percent of USA crop)
  •   Sugar Beets (90 percent of USA crop)
  •   Papayas (75 percent of USA crop)
  •   Alfalfa
  •   Squash

Wheat is not a GM crop, but as mentioned previously has been significantly genetically altered since the beginning of human history. If you know a farmer that grows one or more of these crops, there is a very good chance they are a GM crop farmer.

List of GM products

While it is possible (difficult, but possible) to avoid GM foods, it is practically impossible to avoid GM products altogether:

  • Food for Human Consumption: GMOs are found in the majority of food products in the grocery store. (Aside from the organic food aisle) Link: List of GM Foods
  • Food for Animal Consumption: The majority of U.S. corn, soybeans and alfalfa grown using GMO seed (as mentioned above) are used for livestock feed. Unless the meat is labeled “certified organic,” the chance that the livestock had consumed GM Crops is very high. Livestock by-products also account for thousands of products you use every day. Link: Livestock By-Products
  • Other Uses: GM products are used in fuel for your automobiles, fiber for your clothes, medicines, road/building construction materials, printer inks, adhesives, etc. An average person has more than likely consumed GM food or used GM products every single day in the last year.

What do GM crops look like? Are GM crops “poisonous” or “toxic?”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nj79vecUZv4

What are GMOs not? (Debunking common myths)

Under researched

  • There have been over 2,000 independent, peer-reviewed studies done on the safety of GM Crops. Link: GMO Safety Study
  • There have been over 1 trillion meals consumed by livestock containing GM products. Not a single sickness or death has occured. Link: Trillion Meal Study
  • After reviewing thousands of studies, the following medical organizations support GMOs: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Medical Association, American Society for Microbiology, Australian Academy of Sciences, Brazilian Academy of Sciences, British Medical Association, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, European Commission, European Food Safety Authority, Federation of Animal Science Societies, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, French Academy of Science, Indian National Science Academy, Institute of Food Technologists, International Council for Science, International Union of Food Science and Technology, Italian National Academy of Science, Mexican Academy of Sciences, National Academies of Science (United States), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Royal Society (United Kingdom), World Health Organization
  • Click this link for: Over 600 published safety assessments

Different in Appearance and Nutritional Value to Non-GMO:

  • GM Crops are identical to non-GM Crops in appearance as well as nutritional value. When compared next to each other, there is literally no difference in physical makeup. Nutritional value of a crop can vary due to many factors, but if raised with similar methods and in the same location as a non-GMO counterpart, GMO crops show little to no difference in nutrition.
One side of this picture is GM soybeans, the other side is non-GM. Can you tell the difference? (Picture from Missouri farmer Austin Lawrence)

One side of this picture is GM soybeans, the other side is non-GM. Can you tell the difference?  (Photo from Missouri farmer Austin Lawrence)

Only produced by Monsanto

  • There are hundreds of seed companies that a farm family like mine can purchase GM seeds from. While Monsanto is the largest of all of these companies, by no means do they have a monopoly on the market. Farmers have absolute freedom of choice in the company they buy their seed from. GMOs ≠ Monsanto.
  • FYI, A full blog on my opinion of the Monsanto Company will be coming soon. But let’s leave Monsanto out of the conversation for now and focus strictly on GMOs. (Yes, it is possible to have a conversation about one without the other)

Banned in other countries

  • While certain countries have banned the production of GM Crops, most countries (Including the EU) at the very least allow imported goods to contain GM products. The reason GM Crop production has been banned in certain countries is not due to safety concerns, but rather because of negative public perceptions and emotions.

Owned by the seed company while in production

  • I have never met a farmer who feels like they or their crops are “owned” by a GMO seed company. Seed companies do require “stewardship agreements” of farmers to make sure they are not stealing a product the seed company spent millions of dollars to research and produce. In other words, farmers are not allowed to reuse their GMO seeds, but they do own the crops from the purchase of the seed to the sale of the grain. Check out this great blog from a fellow farmer, Brian Scott: My Family Farm Is Not Under Corporate Control

Causing farmers to commit suicide

  • This was a widely publicized rumor about farmers in India who were growing GM Crops and is simply not correct. Read more here: India Farmer Myth

Tumor Producing

  • This was a widely publicized study that claimed rats developed tumors after digesting GMO corn. The study was funded by an anti-GMO organization, was heavily criticized by the scientific community, and was eventually retracted. Read more here: Retracted GMO Study

Pesticide (chemical) Producing

  • The term “pesticide” simply means to get rid of insects and pests. It does not mean that a GM crop contains or produces synthetic chemicals. Take Bt corn for instance. Bt corn produces a protein called Bt. The Bt protein is toxic to bugs, because bugs cannot digest it, so they die. Humans, as well as livestock, can digest Bt proteins, so they do not die (or get sick). So no, you are not eating synthetic chemicals when you eat GMOs, and neither are livestock!

Increasing pesticide/herbicide use

  • GMOs are not responsible for the sudden rise of pesticides and herbicides, but rather the decline in usage since the initial rise. (See section below: Why do farmers use GM Crops?)

Why do farmers use technologies like GMOs/herbicides/pesticides? (Benefits) What are the risks? (Costs)

(By both Greg and Nathan Peterson) Nathan: In joining this conversation, I would like to mention that there is a lot of information here dealing with crop, soil, and weed science. A lot of this is information I have been taught in high-level college courses I have taken. Even after taking these classes, I still feel like I don’t know everything about these topics. That’s what the experts are for. There are experts doing research on the specific things we are discussing at universities (the professors who were teaching me) and research facilities (scientists) around the world. These are the people we should be going to with questions about GMOs, pesticides/herbicides, etc. Not celebrities, soccer moms, and “doctors” who are also talk show hosts trying to market their show. I would also like to clarify that farmers are not unintelligent; they usually know their stuff! They’re using information and products that have been tested and developed by individual scientists/professionals in each area of farming. A farmer is not going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a product without knowing how it works. So if you are not able to visit with a professor or a scientist, the next best thing would be to talk to a farmer, whose information base comes from personal, real-life experience, not Internet blog-reading experience.

Benefit #1: Farmers use technology to increase yield potential

The first and foremost reason farmers use GM crops is because they increase production. This is the same reason farmers and seed companies have been using traditional breeding for years. Hybrids and breeding are what are technically responsible for the massive yield increase we’ve seen over the last several decades, but genetic modification is what helps keep the plant from being eaten by insects or taken over by weeds. It allows the plant to reach its full potential.

When breeding for seed varieties, seed companies use plants that are most desirable. These are the ones that are able to endure through difficult circumstances like insects, disease, and drought. Seed breeding through genetic engineering is done in the same way, but geneticists are able to speed up the process. The traits that are currently being used for GM crops are traits that resist chemicals and/or resist insects. In both cases, the traits allow the crop to produce more with the resources they have. This is fundamental for increased food production.

Issue #1: We are (and will always be) experiencing issues with resistance

A common and very significant problem with this is that the insects have potential to become resistant to the resistant trait. In the same way, weeds can become resistant to herbicides. This is a concern and always has been a concern. Every farmer understands that diseases, insects and weeds are always changing, which is why we must keep improving our crops to keep up with them. Genetic engineering is simply the newest way to go about that. Resistance is a fundamental part of farming that is rooted in the imperfection of this world (This is explained in the “My Perspective on GMOs as a Christian” blog) and greatly affects the farming industry. That is why there is a lot of time and money going into it. However, the farming industry has dealt with problems since the beginning of time, and there have always been people ready to step up to solve them. This is the task that has been assigned to each one of us in the food industry! Finding solutions to problems.

Benefit #2: Farmers use technology to better protect the environment

This requires a brief history lesson: Farming is an industry that is always changing. Farmers in the early 1900s used to till up their fields completely, no matter what, plant their crops (usually the same crop repeatedly, otherwise known as monocropping), cultivate in between the rows while the crop was growing, harvest the crop, and till the fields again. This left the soil bare and exposed for most of the year and was a lot of extra work. Each heavy rain or plastering windstorm (these are defining weather characteristics of the weather we farm in) would result in vast amounts of topsoil being washed or blown away. Huge dust storms caused the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. Floods overwhelmed deltas with soil that could never be recovered. This was clearly unsustainable and quite frankly, an unethical way to treat the precious gift that is the earth. Farmers knew they must progress to better methods of raising crops. Tree lines were planted to slow down the wind, terraces and waterways were built to slow down and redirect runoff, and reservoirs were built to help contain floods. Farmers also started changing their tillage methods to leave residue on the soil for a larger part of the year. All of these new ideas shaped what is now known as “conservational farming,” a form of environmentally-friendly farming that is practiced widely across America, as well as many other countries, today.

In the late 20th century, a new method of farming was developed called “no-till.” The concept of no-till farming is to leave all residues on the soil throughout the year and never till it under. The idea is based off of how plants grow in natural environments. This type of farming not only protects the topsoil from wind and water erosion but also preserves the natural culture of the soil throughout the soil profile whereas tilling can disrupt it. Furthermore, root structure remains to give the soil more strength, water holding capacity, water infiltration, and higher organic matter content. It also promotes earthworms and microorganisms active in the soil. There is a lot going on below the surface!

No-till farmers spraying weeds at 10 mph with a 120 ft sprayer can cover a field roughly SIX times as fast as a tillage tool pulled behind a tractor going 5 mph and burn a lot less fuel as well. Herbicides are sprayed once or twice during a growing season with or without the crop already growing. This is so much easier for a farmer than the alternative: Tilling the soil 3-4 times prior to planting and cultivating between the rows after planting, which is difficult, slower and has to be done multiple times. As you can see, no-till farming can be of great value to the preservation of the environment!

(Side note: To be clear, farmers who do use tillage still use herbicides. Tillage is used for many different management reasons and is a completely viable practice. Whether or not a farmer decides to till is based on many different variables. We choose to no-till because of the contour of our land, the various weather factors we face, the amount of labor we have available, and the many advantages listed in the previous paragraph.)

Issue #2: Herbicide/Pesticide Usage is Required to No-Till Farm

However, you cannot practice no-till farming without the use of herbicides. See, without the practice of tilling the soil, a farmer has no way (unless by hand) to kill a crop’s number one enemy: weeds. It would require over 70 million people to hand weed the cropland acres in the USA alone (See below). Herbicides have allowed farmers to easily control weeds and practice no-till and conservational till practices.

Hand Weeding Commercial Crops

Benefit #3: Farmers use technology to reduce costly inputs like herbicides/pesticides

GMO technology can actually help reduce the amount herbicide/pesticides. Bt corn and Bt cotton resist the corn borer itself so farmers don’t have to spray multiple times (less pesticides). Roundup Ready GM crops provide better weed control that can be provided while the crop is growing. Glyphosate (The Roundup Ready herbicide) is one of the least toxic chemicals available for use, which is why it is so popular among farmers. Safer, more effective chemicals like Glyphosate are being developed as we speak. If farmers were not allowed to use GM crops like these, they would have to use more potent chemicals that are active in the soil for a whole growing season and spray multiple times instead of just once, regardless of whether the field was tilled. This is why we say that GMOs reduce herbicide/pesticide usage.

GMOs are not the only way to reduce herbicide/pesticide usage. Chemicals and fertilizer are some of the highest expenses a farmer has to spend to plant a crop, so minimizing the use of them is a very high priority. Whenever a farmer applies chemicals they are always diluted with up to 97% water content. This means that the amount of actual herbicide that is applied per square foot of plants is extremely small. It also improves the accuracy and consistency of the spray.

Furthermore, equipment manufacturers are continually implementing new machinery and computer technology to increase the precision and accuracy of chemical application machines (sprayers) to apply these products. This technology extends all the way from inside of the cab to the output at the nozzles:

  • Monitors in sprayers can be calibrated to spray specific amounts of chemical/fertilizer in each part of the field to prevent the slightest amount of over-application.
  • They also keep track of each individual field, knowing where to turn on/off the application in sections to make sure no area is double applied.
  • There are also sensors called “green-seekers” being developed that can, for certain applications, detect green (weeds) and spray only in that one spot so chemical is not wasted empty spaces of the field.
  • Nozzles are always being developed to better apply the spray solution in an ideal consistency to cover the plants but not drift from the desired application area.
  • There is also boom-leveling technology that has been developed to prevent drift by automatically retaining the sprayer booms at a certain height off of the ground.

Another tool that is being developed to decrease herbicide usage is cover crops. Cover crops are plants that are grown in between growing seasons to help keep the ground covered and hold/provide nutrients in the soil for the future desired crop. There are many potential benefits to cover crops, however, they are still being tested and experimented with. One benefit is that if the ground is growing something throughout the entire year, it can dramatically reduce the opportunity for weeds to grow. This, of course, then reduces the need to spray the weeds. Livestock can also graze cover crops. In this way, the livestock are controlling the weeds/cover crops for the farmer instead of herbicides. Cover crops won’t eliminate the need for herbicides completely but they could potentially lower the use of them quite a bit. Farmers and agricultural researchers will continue to learn how cover crops can be used in a cost effective and benefitting ways.

More and more farmers are adopting these technologies as they become more and more available and affordable. Conveniently, less chemical usage is best for the environment as well as for a farmer’s pocketbook so these technologies pay for themselves. It doesn’t make sense for farmers to use more chemicals than they have to, because they cost so much. Farmers and manufacturers continue to find the problems in chemical application and will continue to respond to finding solutions.

Issue #3: Herbicide/Pesticide use in farming is still very high. Large, Agri-Business companies are taking home most of the profit. The whole process caters to larger, more efficient farms and larger, more efficient businesses.

There is, of course, the issue of who is profiting from selling these expensive technologies (such as GMOs and herbicides/pesticides). It is true that the ones benefitting the most from these technologies are chemical companies and seed companies. I wish it was different, that the farmers were the ones taking home most of the profit. However, this is simply a result of the free market society we have in place. These companies have created products that help farmers grow more food with less inputs. Farmers are willing to pay these companies thousands of dollars for their products. That is why they are making a lot of money. There is no “buying out” of farmers happening, and farmers still have all sorts of freedom to choose what kind of crops to plant. If farmers want to make more money, we have to find a way to make our product appealing enough to consumers, so that they will spend higher amounts of money. That is essentially what organic farmers are doing. (Although I mentioned earlier that organic food at its core isn’t “better” than conventional food)

This system, along with many other variables, has resulted in less farms with more acreage. Does this mean that these farms are taking over family farms? Not necessarily. What I have seen in my travels is that most of the time it is the family farms becoming larger to adapt to the changes being made in the agricultural industry. Family farms still make up 96% of all farms in America, and that percentage doesn’t seem to be going down. (See: The Definition of Family Farming)

The free market system caters to larger, more efficient farms and larger, more efficient businesses. That is why there are so many successful businesses in America that are huge (Microsoft, Apple, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, etc). That is just how industry in the free market works. Keep in mind that a lot of the money these companies make is poured back into research of new products and new technologies. You can hate on this system if you want, but in my opinion, without these huge companies, our country (and other countries around the world) would not be as well off.

It is the same thing in agriculture. There are huge companies in agriculture with a lot of money (John Deere, Case IH, Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow) and it doesn’t always seem fair that they are making most of the profit. But these companies (as well as all of the other large companies I failed to mention) are responsible for most of the research, technology, and development that we’ve seen in the last several decades. GMOs cost millions of dollars and take many years to get approved. Who else has millions of dollars to fund this research besides these large agricultural companies? Farming has progressed so much in the last few decades. We’ve talked about all of the great things that are happening and why they are happening. We’ve also talked about the issues that are happening, and how we are working to solve them. Next, we will talk about the health, safety, and sustainability of GMOs.

My perspective on the safety and sustainability of GM Crops

My perspective on the safety and sustainability of GM crops is an opinion that I’ve formed based on the facts presented above. There is nothing wrong with having a different opinion than me! New information can change someone’s opinion, and I will try to keep an open mind about this if you do as well. I will now address the three main questions about GMOs.

Are GM Foods Healthy (Nutritious)?

In my opinion, the answer to this question is a resounding yes. As mentioned earlier in the blog, GM products are exactly the same in nutritional value and physical makeup as their non-GMO counterparts. The argument of whether or not GM products are “healthy” can’t really exist in my opinion, because they are literally the same thing (nutrition-wise) as non-GMO products. A nutrition label on an ear of GM corn would be exactly the same as the label on an ear of non-GM corn. Inserting a gene into a plant does not change its appearance or nutritional value. 

Now, please realize that there are going to be unhealthy foods containing GM products in them (Energy drinks for example). However, this does not mean that the raw GM products (like corn) in these drinks are unhealthy. It is the processing, cooking, and/or mixing of other ingredients with the GM products that can create an unhealthy food or drink. This is one of the main misconceptions I see with the organic food industry. While organic farmers work extremely hard and create nutritious, valuable food products, the original core products of organic food and regular food are the exact same in composition. It is the end product (as well as the production methods used to grow them) that separates the two in the grocery store. You can cook just as wholesome of a meal with GM products as you can with organic food products. But we’ll save that conversation for a separate blog post coming soon.

To summarize, if you are determined to find a reason to stop eating GM food, it should not be because you believe it is a less nutritious product (because it’s not), it should be due more to safety and sustainability concerns, which I will address next.

Are GM Foods safe?

As of today, all signs point to GMOs being safe to consume. There have been over 2,000 independent studies over the last 20 years on this topic. (Link: 2,000 Studies) As shown in the “Eating GM Crops from the Field” video, I have been around GMOs my entire life and I have never seen any indication of any type of danger associated with their production and consumption. I believe most (if not all) GM crop farmers feel the same way. Are there issues with GMOs? Yes, of course. Many of those were explained in the section above (Why do farmers use GMOs?). However, in my opinion, the evidence that *currently* exists does nothing but support the stance of GM foods being safe.

I do realize that this does not guarantee the absolute safety of GMOs. There are new tests on GMOs being performed every day and it may be that some day one of them will come back with a negative side effect. At that point, I would change my opinion on GMOs, because new evidence would show me that there is new truth to be believed. However, until then I will remain convinced that they are indeed “safe.”

I put safe in quotations because, you see, most of what we do in life isn’t safe.

For instance, is it safe to:

  • Ride in or drive an automobile? (Reckless drivers, malfunction)
  • Wear “safety” belts in an automobile? (Seat belts are not 100% effective)
  • To be outside? (Heat, cold, earthquakes, poisonous animals, etc.)
  • To be inside? (Mold, poisonous spiders, etc.)
  • To use medicine? (Side effects anyone?)
  • To use a cell phone? (Where are the long term studies?)
  • To fall in love? (Broken relationships can be detrimental to your health)

Hopefully you get my point. Nothing in this life is really “safe” and without risk. But we participate in these activities because we feel the benefits truly outweigh the perceived risks! Seriously, if you only worry about living “safe” all the time then you probably aren’t truly living. Life is full of risk. Every type of technology comes with risk. That includes GMOs. GM food has never been shown to be dangerous, but that does not mean the risk isn’t still there. I realize there are alternatives to GMOs that some people believe carry less risk, and that is where the organic food (non-GMO) industry comes into play. (Although there are still risks taken by consuming organic food as well) However, not every consumer can afford that choice. That is why one person’s beliefs should not determine another’s beliefs and choices. Every farmer and consumer should be allowed the freedom of what to grow and what to eat! (I talk about that more in the section below, “GMO labeling”)

Are GM Foods environmentally sustainable?

The decision of whether or not to eat GM products is up to you. It is your personal choice. If you choose not to eat them, you can purchase food from the organic aisle in the grocery store. I have no problem with that! Organic producers are some of the hardest working people out there, and I have a lot of respect for them. I just hope you know why you are making that organic food purchase. It cannot be because GMOs are “evil, unhealthy, toxic, poisonous, etc.” They aren’t. It should instead be because, in your specific situation, the possible risks of eating GMOs outweigh the outlined benefits. This is not true for everyone, and I talk about that more in the section below (“GMO labeling”).

What I do have a problem with is people trying to ban GMOs from being produced. Especially when they use false information to accomplish their agenda. (See: What are GMOs not? Debunking GMO Myths) Until there is sufficient evidence that GMOs are harmful to people or to the environment, farmers should be allowed to produce them and consumers should be allowed to consume them. First of all, because we live in a free country. Second of all…

Sustainability. Both for humans and the environment. The population of the world is expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050. To feed this population, it is estimated that we will need to produce twice as much food then as we are producing now. Available farmland is shrinking back each day due to issues such as urban sprawl. How are we going to sustainably feed this many people? There are 2 options (that I can see) to accomplishing that:

Option 1: Revert back to smaller farms and more farmers. I believe this is what believers on the organic side of things desire. It is definitely the most romantic of the two options. However, there are some issues with this option:

-You see, the amount of farmers and people who want to become farmers is declining each year.. The average age of a farmer is 55 years old and has been increasing for the last couple of decades. Where are the millions of extra farmers (that I think would be required to farm entirely organic) going to come from in 30 years when the older generation of farmers passes away? Farming is a very difficult job, and most people would rather be spending their time working weekdays 9-5, enjoying free weekends, and relying on others to grow their food.

-Another problem is that the current structure of the agricultural industry would have to be overthrown. It’s hard to explain this in detail as the agricultural industry is ridiculously complex, but transforming the operating systems, transportation, storage, etc away from large farms and technology like GM crops would cost trillions of dollars, huge government involvement, and simply isn’t something that could happen over a few years or even decades.

-Finally, a free market system like we have in the USA does not cater well to smaller farms. Just like in every other industry, it favors larger, more efficient farms that can produce food at a lower cost. It is also not possible to force farmers to downsize their operation and to grow their food organically. Farmers are never happy when they are told to change their operation after they have worked for decades to try and perfect it. I could go on and on with more issues. The point is that, in my opinion, option 1 is highly unlikely to ever happen. However, I have no problem with people trying to make it happen, as long as they go about it ethically. (This means no false, agenda-driven information, focusing on solutions and benefits to this option, not attacking Option 2. Remember, over 90% of farmers in Option 2 are family farmers like me. It makes me sad when people attack the farm families who are part of the foundation of our society.)

Option 2: Use technologies like GM crops to continue to increase yields, reduce chemical usage, and improve efficiency. The benefits of using technology to farm have been clearly outlined in this blog. Is there risk? Yes. But the risks that are possible are, *in my opinion* completely overshadowed by the benefits of technology. If GM crops are supported, they will provide a huge impact to farmers in underdeveloped countries in the future. They will be able to solve a lot of hunger crises throughout the world. (Link: GMO impact in underdeveloped countries)

The agricultural community is a community that has fought through many difficulties together and I believe we have the tools to solve this dilemma. However, we must be allowed to use those tools.

Conclusion: What then should we do?

Today, in 2014, we enjoy the safest, most abundant, food supply in the history of the entire world! Never before have we seen the amount of choices of food we have today and the ease of which it’s available. It’s quite amazing to be honest. But yet, millions of people spend their time complaining about their food supply. I don’t get it! I realize that farmers and agribusinesses should be held accountable and that questions should be asked about the safety and quality of food, but at some point thankfulness needs to come into play. Be thankful for farmers! Be thankful for choices! Be thankful for freedom!

For some perspective, picture in your mind your ancestors from the Great Depression, or the people from the original thirteen colonies of America, or even the people from ancient times. What do you think they would say about today’s food supply? I don’t think their first response would be negative. They would be blown away by the quantity, diversity, and availability of the food in our grocery stores.

People today (including myself) take so much for granted and complain about things we have. We repeatedly bite the hand that feeds us. A middle class person in America lives a more comfortable life than 99% of people in the history of humanity. Can’t that be enough? When are we going to be satisfied? When are we going to be thankful for what we have? I realize farmers and the food industry needs to be held in check. Asking questions is great! Attacking us based on false information? Not so great.

Farmers are working harder than you know every day trying to feed you. The least you could do is say thank you. Not complain about what they’re feeding you. (Asking questions and keeping us in check is not complaining) If you do feel we are making bad decisions, then you are absolutely free to grow your own food or buy from another type of farmer (organic). But I hope that you can understand that each farmer, no matter what the type, is doing the best they can, and we are making the decisions we feel are the right ones, not only for us, but also for the environment and for the consumer. That’s why we feed our families what we grow!

It’s Time to Find A Real Problem to Fight Against

Whether or not you agree with what I have to say about GMOs in this blog post, the real truth I want to get at here is that you really shouldn’t be wasting your time fighting against GMOs. (And to be honest, I shouldn’t have to be spending time defending why our farm grows them) Why has this become such a priority? Aren’t there bigger fish to fry? Here is a list of some of the real issues that I believe each and every one of us, including myself, should be investing more time and energy into stopping:

  • Human Slavery: There are 30 million human slaves in the world today. 30 million.
  • Poverty: 1 billion children are born into poverty. 22,000 children die each year because of it.
  • Hunger: 805 million people do not have enough available food to live a healthy, active lifestyle.
  • Abuse: 6 million children are reported to have been abused in the United States alone. 1 in 4 women will experience some type of abuse in their lifetime.

A lesser, non-proven issue? GMOs: Responsible for 0 deaths and 0 sicknesses since they were introduced.

Reading those statistics will probably make you feel sad. There are two things we should all do after seeing those. 1. Be thankful for what we have. 2. Stop wasting our time complaining and start doing something positive to help reduce some of those numbers! A song I think of when I write this is Matthew West’s “Do Something.”

The Reality of Sustainable Food Production

As human beings, we have to understand that this world is not perfect. Completely sustainable food production, while theoretically possible, is never going to be perfect either. Are GMOs perfect? No. Is it possible that someday we will find a better alternative? Yes. (Organic is a better alternative for a small population, but it is not the ultimate solution!) Until the day comes when we no longer need the technology, all types of farmers must continue to improve our methods of production. I believe GMOs to be better for the soil environment, better for farmers, better for poverty-ravished communities, and overall better for producing safe, high-quality, affordable food. That’s why I grow them, eat them myself, and promote the truth about them. In my opinion, the benefits outweigh the possible risks (for now)!

Thank you so much for reading. I will appreciate hearing feedback from all of you. Let’s get this conversation started and find some solutions to the real world problems we are facing today!

Additional Blog: My perspective as a Christian on GMOs

Click here to read: My perspective as a Christian on GMOs

Questions and Comments From Readers Answered

If GMOs are so good, then why not label them?

My immediate answer to that question is: I believe GMOs are “good” (not proven to be dangerous), so therefore I do not think they need to be labeled. However, I am pro-freedom of choice for consumers. I believe consumers should have freedom to avoid any type of food product if they want to, and so I am not necessary against the idea of labeling. However….

-Consumers today are very uneducated about a lot of things in the food production system. Many people google search their questions about food, health, etc. and rely on answers from random people on the internet to base their views upon instead of facts and true expert opinions. I would be all for labeling of GMO products if it meant that as a result consumers were educated (correctly) about what they are, why farmers use them, and what benefits/risks they impose. The problem is the average consumer has no idea what GMOs are and therefore would be scared of a label that says “genetically modified.” Marketing companies take full advantage of this. We need people to be educated about their food, not scared of it!

-Most of the labeling of today has nothing to do with nutrition. It has everything to do with marketing. Terms placed on labels are misleading and are designed to sell a product by making consumers think that the anything that doesn’t have that label is bad for them. If we were to put a label on every GMO food product, I think the same would hold true. Consumers would assume that “GMOs must be bad if they have to put a label about them. I better buy non-GMO instead.” Again, this is fear based marketing instead of fact-based education. I am all for consumers having freedom of choice! If you have been informed correctly with facts about GMOs and still want to buy non-GMO, go for it! However, I am not for consumers being scared into avoiding a product they know nothing about.

-Nutritional labels are supposed to show nutrition! Biotechnology (GMOs) is not dealing in nutrition. As mentioned earlier in the blog, GMO and non-GMO are the same in appearance and nutrition. Biotechnology is dealing with the technology used to grow the food. Are we are going to start labeling every single type of technology used to grow our food?

-Labeling of GM Products is so much more complex than people may realize. As mentioned in the “What are GMOs?” section of this blog, GMOs are found in so many products that labeling each and every one of them would be a costly (See: Cost of Labeling) decision.

-Labeling is desired almost exclusively by consumers who don’t want to buy GM products. It is a niche market. It wouldn’t make sense to label everything when only a small percentage of the population cares, especially when consumers are not well educated on them and there has been no proven danger. Instead of labeling all GM products, we are currently labeling all the products that are GMO-free, giving people who want this choice the option to choose it! This provides a compromise between anti-GMO agendas (get rid of all GM products) and pro-GMO agendas (no need to eat non-GMO). If we get to a point where the majority of consumers have been adequately educated on GMOs and still desire labels on everything, then I would be for labeling everything.

The (educated) consumer is always right.

Additional Resources

FAQ About GMOs

GMOs: An Introduction

600 Plus Safety Assessments on GMOs

Ex Anti-GMO Activist Mark Lynas On Why GMOs are Green and Sustainable

10 Truths About GMOs and Organics

This Is Why It Is Okay To Feed Your Family GMOs

Planting the Four Billionth Acre of GM Crops

GMO Facts and Fiction

Why do farmers use technologies such as GMOs and herbicides/pesticides? What are the acknowledged issues?

By Nathan Peterson and Greg Peterson

(This blog is part of a larger blog project entitled: Greg Peterson – Advocate for Truth: GMOs. Please read the entire blog project before passing judgement on anything you read here. All comments should be directed to the main page of the larger blog project.)

(Nathan) In joining this conversation, I want to mention that there is a lot of information here dealing with crop, soil, and weed science. A lot of this is information I have been taught in high-level college courses I have taken. Even after taking these classes, I still feel like I don’t know everything about these topics. That’s what the experts are for. There are experts doing research on the specific things we are discussing at universities (the professors who were teaching me) and research facilities (scientists) around the world. These are the people we should be going to with questions about GMOs, pesticides/herbicides, etc. Not celebrities, soccer moms, and “doctors” who are also talk show hosts trying to market their show.

I would also like to clarify that farmers are not unintelligent; they usually know their stuff! They’re using information and products that have been tested and developed by individual scientists/professionals in each area of farming. A farmer is not going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a product without knowing how it works. So if you are not able to visit with a professor or a scientist, the next best thing would be to talk to a farmer, whose information base comes from personal, real-life experience, not Internet blog-reading experience.

1. Farmers use technology to increase yield potential

The first and foremost reason farmers use GM crops is because they increase production. This is the same reason farmers and seed companies have been using traditional breeding for years. Hybrids and breeding are what are technically responsible for the massive yield increase we’ve seen over the last several decades, but genetic modification is what helps keep the plant from being eaten by insects or taken over by weeds. It allows the plant to reach its full potential.

When breeding for seed varieties, seed companies use plants that are most desirable. These are the ones that are able to endure through difficult circumstances like insects, disease, and drought. Seed breeding through genetic engineering is done in the same way, but geneticists are able to speed up the process. The traits that are currently being used for GM crops are traits that resist chemicals and/or resist insects. In both cases, the traits allow the crop to produce more with the resources they have. This is fundamental for increased food production.

The issue: We are (and will always be) experiencing issues with resistance

A common and very significant problem with this is that the insects have potential to become resistant to the resistant trait. In the same way, weeds can become resistant to herbicides. This is a concern and always has been a concern. Every farmer understands that diseases, insects and weeds are always changing, which is why we must keep improving our crops to keep up with them. Genetic engineering is simply the newest way to go about that. Resistance is a fundamental part of farming that is rooted in the imperfection of this world (This is explained in the “My Perspective on GMOs as a Christian” blog) and greatly affects the farming industry. That is why there is a lot of time and money going into it. However, the farming industry has dealt with problems since the beginning of time, and there have always been people ready to step up to solve them. This is the task that has been assigned to each one of us in the food industry! Finding solutions to problems.

2. Farmers use technology to better protect the environment

This requires a brief history lesson: Farming is an industry that is always changing. Farmers in the early 1900s used to till up their fields completely, no matter what, plant their crops (usually the same crop repeatedly, otherwise known as monocropping), cultivate in between the rows while the crop was growing, harvest the crop, and till the fields again. This left the soil bare and exposed for most of the year and was a lot of extra work. Each heavy rain or plastering windstorm (these are defining weather characteristics of the weather we farm in) would result in vast amounts of topsoil being washed or blown away. Huge dust storms caused the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. Floods overwhelmed deltas with soil that could never be recovered. This was clearly unsustainable and quite frankly, an unethical way to treat the precious gift that is the earth. Farmers knew they must progress to better methods of raising crops. Tree lines were planted to slow down the wind, terraces and waterways were built to slow down and redirect runoff, and reservoirs were built to help contain floods. Farmers also started changing their tillage methods to leave residue on the soil for a larger part of the year. All of these new ideas shaped what is now known as “conservational farming,” a form of environmentally-friendly farming that is practiced widely across America, as well as many other countries, today.

In the late 20th century, a new method of farming was developed called “no-till.” The concept of no-till farming is to leave all residues on the soil throughout the year and never till it under. The idea is based off of how plants grow in natural environments. This type of farming not only protects the topsoil from wind and water erosion but also preserves the natural culture of the soil throughout the soil profile whereas tilling can disrupt it. Furthermore, root structure remains to give the soil more strength, water holding capacity, water infiltration, and higher organic matter content. It also promotes earthworms and microorganisms active in the soil. There is a lot going on below the surface!

No-till farmers spraying weeds at 10 mph with a 120 ft sprayer can cover a field roughly SIX times as fast as a tillage tool pulled behind a tractor going 5 mph and burn a lot less fuel as well. Herbicides are sprayed once or twice during a growing season with or without the crop already growing. This is so much easier for a farmer than the alternative: Tilling the soil 3-4 times prior to planting and cultivating between the rows after planting, which is difficult, slower and has to be done multiple times. As you can see, no-till farming can be of great value to the preservation of the environment!

(Side note: To be clear, farmers who do use tillage still use herbicides. Tillage is used for many different management reasons and is a completely viable practice. Whether or not a farmer decides to till is based on many different variables. We choose to no-till because of the contour of our land, the various weather factors we face, the amount of labor we have available, and the many advantages listed in the previous paragraph.)

The issue: Herbicide/Pesticide Usage is Required to No-Till Farm

However, you cannot practice no-till farming without the use of herbicides. See, without the practice of tilling the soil, a farmer has no way (unless by hand) to kill a crop’s number one enemy: weeds. It would require over 70 million people to hand weed the cropland acres in the USA alone (See below). Herbicides have allowed farmers to easily control weeds and practice no-till and conservational till practices.

Hand Weeding Commercial Crops

3. Farmers use technology to reduce costly inputs like herbicides/pesticides

GMO technology can actually help reduce the amount herbicide/pesticides. Bt corn and Bt cotton resist the corn borer itself so farmers don’t have to spray multiple times (less pesticides). Roundup Ready GM crops provide better weed control that can be provided while the crop is growing. Glyphosate (The Roundup Ready herbicide) is one of the least toxic chemicals available for use, which is why it is so popular among farmers. Safer, more effective chemicals like Glyphosate are being developed as we speak. If farmers were not allowed to use GM crops like these, they would have to use more potent chemicals that are active in the soil for a whole growing season and spray multiple times instead of just once, regardless of whether the field was tilled. This is why we say that GMOs reduce herbicide/pesticide usage.

GMOs are not the only way to reduce herbicide/pesticide usage. Chemicals and fertilizer are some of the highest expenses a farmer has to spend to plant a crop, so minimizing the use of them is a very high priority. Whenever a farmer applies chemicals they are always diluted with up to 97% water content. This means that the amount of actual herbicide that is applied per square foot of plants is extremely small. It also improves the accuracy and consistency of the spray.

Furthermore, equipment manufacturers are continually implementing new machinery and computer technology to increase the precision and accuracy of chemical application machines (sprayers) to apply these products. This technology extends all the way from inside of the cab to the output at the nozzles:

  • Monitors in sprayers can be calibrated to spray specific amounts of chemical/fertilizer in each part of the field to prevent the slightest amount of over-application.
  • They also keep track of each individual field, knowing where to turn on/off the application in sections to make sure no area is double applied.
  • There are also sensors called “green-seekers” being developed that can, for certain applications, detect green (weeds) and spray only in that one spot so chemical is not wasted empty spaces of the field.
  • Nozzles are always being developed to better apply the spray solution in an ideal consistency to cover the plants but not drift from the desired application area.
  • There is also boom-leveling technology that has been developed to prevent drift by automatically retaining the sprayer booms at a certain height off of the ground.

Another tool that is being developed to decrease herbicide usage is cover crops. Cover crops are plants that are grown in between growing seasons to help keep the ground covered and hold/provide nutrients in the soil for the future desired crop. There are many potential benefits to cover crops, however, they are still being tested and experimented with. One benefit is that if the ground is growing something throughout the entire year, it can dramatically reduce the opportunity for weeds to grow. This, of course, then reduces the need to spray the weeds. Livestock can also graze cover crops. In this way, the livestock are controlling the weeds/cover crops for the farmer instead of herbicides. Cover crops won’t eliminate the need for herbicides completely but they could potentially lower the use of them quite a bit. Farmers and agricultural researchers will continue to learn how cover crops can be used in a cost effective and benefitting ways.

More and more farmers are adopting these technologies as they become more and more available and affordable. Conveniently, less chemical usage is best for the environment as well as for a farmer’s pocketbook so these technologies pay for themselves. It doesn’t make sense for farmers to use more chemicals than they have to, because they cost so much. Farmers and manufacturers continue to find the problems in chemical application and will continue to respond to finding solutions.

The issue: Herbicide/Pesticide use in farming is still very high. Large, Agri-Business companies are taking home most of the profit. The whole process caters to larger, more efficient farms and larger, more efficient businesses.

There is, of course, the issue of who is profiting from selling these expensive technologies (such as GMOs and herbicides/pesticides). It is true that the ones benefitting the most from these technologies are chemical companies and seed companies. I wish it was different, that the farmers were the ones taking home most of the profit. However, this is simply a result of the free market society we have in place. These companies have created products that help farmers grow more food with less inputs. Farmers are willing to pay these companies thousands of dollars for their products. That is why they are making a lot of money. There is no “buying out” of farmers happening, and farmers still have all sorts of freedom to choose what kind of crops to plant. If farmers want to make more money, we have to find a way to make our product appealing enough to consumers, so that they will spend higher amounts of money. That is essentially what organic farmers are doing. (Although I mentioned earlier that organic food at its core isn’t “better” than conventional food)

This system, along with many other variables, has resulted in less farms with more acreage. Does this mean that these farms are taking over family farms? Not necessarily. What I have seen in my travels is that most of the time it is the family farms becoming larger to adapt to the changes being made in the agricultural industry. Family farms still make up 96% of all farms in America, and that percentage doesn’t seem to be going down. (See: The Definition of Family Farming)

The free market system caters to larger, more efficient farms and larger, more efficient businesses. That is why there are so many successful businesses in America that are huge (Microsoft, Apple, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, etc). That is just how industry in the free market works. Keep in mind that a lot of the money these companies make is poured back into research of new products and new technologies. You can hate on this system if you want, but in my opinion, without these huge companies, our country (and other countries around the world) would not be as well off.

It is the same thing in agriculture. There are huge companies in agriculture with a lot of money (John Deere, Case IH, Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow) and it doesn’t always seem fair that they are making most of the profit. But these companies (as well as all of the other large companies I failed to mention) are responsible for most of the research, technology, and development that we’ve seen in the last several decades. GMOs cost millions of dollars and take many years to get approved. Who else has millions of dollars to fund this research besides these large agricultural companies? Farming has progressed so much in the last few decades. We’ve talked about all of the great things that are happening and why they are happening. We’ve also talked about the issues that are happening, and how we are working to solve them. Next, we will talk about the health, safety, and sustainability of GMOs.

Feel free to post comments on the main GMO blog: Greg Peterson – Advocate for Truth: GMOs

 

My Perspective on the Safety and Sustainability of GM Crops

(This blog is part of a larger blog project entitled: Greg Peterson – Advocate for Truth: GMOs. Please read the entire blog project before passing judgement on anything you read here. All comments should be directed to the main page of the larger blog project.)

Alright, now that we (hopefully) have some common ground in terms of the facts about GMOs, we can talk about the 3 biggest questions I know everyone has: Are GM foods healthy? Are they safe? Are they sustainable?

Are GM Foods Healthy (Nutritious)?

I believe the answer to this question is a resounding yes. As mentioned earlier in the blog, GM products are exactly the same in nutritional value and physical makeup as their non-GMO counterparts. The argument of whether or not GM products are “healthy” can’t really exist in my opinion, because they are literally the same thing (nutrition-wise) as non-GMO products. A nutrition label on an ear of GM corn would be exactly the same as the label on an ear of non-GM corn. Inserting a gene into a plant does not change its appearance or nutritional value. 

I’ve eaten GM food since I was a kid. Millions of people have eaten GM food since they were kids. In fact, there have been over ONE TRILLION meals containing GMO products consumed over the past 20 years with absolutely no negative health impact found. (Read more here: Trillion Meal Study) There have been zero instances of sickness or death. The debate on the “health” of GM products should be really put to rest, in my opinion. Inserting a gene into a plant does not change the “healthiness” of a food.

Now, please realize that there are going to be unhealthy foods containing GM products in them (Energy drinks for example). However, this does not mean that the raw GM products (like corn) in these drinks are unhealthy. It is the processing, cooking, and/or mixing of other ingredients with the GM products that can create an unhealthy food or drink. This is one of the main misconceptions I see with the organic food industry. While organic farmers work extremely hard and create valuable food products, the original products of organic food and regular food are the exact same in composition. It is the end product (as well as the production methods used to grow them) that separates the two in the grocery store. You can cook just as wholesome of a meal with GM food products as you can with organic food products. But we’ll save that conversation for a separate blog post coming soon

To summarize, if you are determined to find a reason to stop eating GM food, it should not be because you believe it is a less nutritious product (because it’s not), it should be due more to safety and sustainability concerns, which I will address next.

Are GM Foods safe?

As of today, all signs point to GMOs being safe to consume. There have been over 2,000 independent studies over the last 20 years on this topic. (Link: 2,000 Studies) As shown in the “Eating GM Crops from the Field” video, I have been around GMOs my entire life and I have never seen any indication of any type of danger associated with their production and consumption. I believe most (if not all) GM crop farmers feel the same way. Are there issues with GMOs? Yes, of course. Many of those were explained in the “Why do farmers use GM Crops?” blog. However, in my opinion, the evidence that currently exists does nothing but support the stance of GM foods being safe.

I do realize that this does not guarantee the absolute safety of GMOs. There are new tests on GMOs being performed every day and it may be that some day one of them will come back with a negative side effect. At that point, I would change my opinion on GMOs, because new evidence would show me that there is new truth to be believed. However, until then I will remain convinced that they are indeed “safe.”

I put safe in quotations because, you see, most of what we do in life isn’t safe.

For instance, is it safe to:

  • Ride in or drive an automobile? (Reckless drivers, malfunction)
  • Wear “safety” belts in an automobile? (Seat belts are not 100% effective)
  • To be outside? (Heat, cold, earthquakes, poisonous animals, etc.)
  • To be inside? (Mold, poisonous spiders, etc.)
  • To use medicine? (Side effects anyone?)
  • To use a cell phone? (Where are the long term studies?
  • To fall in love? (Broken relationships can be detrimental to your health)

Hopefully you get my point. Nothing in this life is really “safe” and without risk. But we participate in these activities because we feel the benefits truly outweigh the perceived risks! Seriously, if you only worry about living “safe” all the time then you probably aren’t truly living. Life is full of risk. Every type of technology comes with risk. That includes GMOs. GM food has never been shown to be dangerous, but that does not mean the risk isn’t still there. I realize there are alternatives to GMOs that some people believe carry less risk, and that is where the organic food (non-GMO) industry comes into play. (Although there are still risks taken by consuming organic food as well) However, every farmer and consumer should be allowed choices of what to grow and what to eat, and that is why I will now address sustainability.

Are GM Foods sustainable?

The decision of whether or not to eat GM products is up to you. It is your personal choice. If you choose not to eat them, you can purchase food from the organic aisle in the grocery store. I have no problem with that! Organic producers are some of the hardest working people out there, and I have a lot of respect for them. I just hope you know why you are making that organic food purchase. It cannot be because GMOs are evil, unhealthy, toxic, poisonous, etc. They aren’t. It should only be because you believe there is less risk involved in your purchase.

What I do have a problem with is people trying to ban GMOs from being produced. Especially when they use false information to accomplish their agenda. (See: What are GMOs not? Debunking GMO Myths) Until there is sufficient evidence that GMOs are harmful to people or to the environment, farmers should be allowed to produce them and consumers should be allowed to consume them. First of all, because we live in a free country. Second of all…

Sustainability. Both for humans and the environment. The population of the world is expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050. To feed this population, it is estimated that we will need to produce twice as much food then as we are producing now. Available farmland is shrinking back each day due to issues such as urban sprawl. How are we going to sustainably feed this many people? There are 2 options (that I can see) to accomplishing that:

Option 1: Revert back to smaller farms and more farmers. I believe this is what believers on the organic side of things desire. It is definitely the most romantic of the two options. However, there are some issues with this option. You see, there are fewer farmers each year and the trend doesn’t seem to be changing. The average age of a farmer is 55 years old and has been increasing for the last couple of decades. Where are the 10 million extra farmers (that I think would be required to farm entirely organic) going to come from in 30 years when the older generation of farmers passes away? Farming is a very difficult job, and most people would rather be spending their time working weekdays 9-5, enjoying free weekends, and relying on others to grow their food. Another problem is that the current structure of the agricultural industry would have to be overthrown. It’s hard to explain this in detail as the agricultural industry is ridiculously complex, but transforming the operating systems, transportation, storage, etc away from large farms and technology like GM crops would cost trillions of dollars, huge government involvement, and simply isn’t something that could happen over a few years or even decades. Finally, a free market system like we have in the USA does not cater well to smaller farms. Just like in every other industry, it favors larger, more efficient farms that can produce food at a lower cost. It is also not possible to force farmers to downsize their operation and to grow their food organically. Farmers are never happy when they are told to change their operation after they have worked for decades to try and perfect it. I could go on and on with more issues. The point is that, in my opinion, option 1 is highly unlikely to ever happen. However, I have no problem with people trying to make it happen, as long as they go about it ethically. (This means no false, agenda-driven information, focusing on solutions and benefits to this option, not attacking Option 2. Remember, over 90% of farmers in Option 2 are family farmers like me. It makes me sad when people attack the farm families who are part of the foundation of our society.)

Option 2: Use technologies like GM crops to continue to increase yields, reduce chemical usage, and improve efficiency. The benefits of using technology to farm have been clearly outlined in this blog. Is there risk? Yes. But the risks that are possible are, in my opinion, completely overshadowed by the benefits of technology. If GM crops are supported, they will provide a huge impact to farmers in underdeveloped countries in the future. They will be able to solve a lot of hunger crises throughout the world. (Link: GMO impact in underdeveloped countries)

The agricultural community is a community that has fought through many difficulties together and I believe we have the tools to solve this dilemma. However, we must be allowed to use those tools.

Conclusion: What then should we do?

(The following is repeated information from the “My Perspective on GMOs as a Christian” blog)

Today, in 2014, we enjoy the safest, most abundant, food supply in the history of the entire world! Never before have we seen the amount of choices of food we have today and the ease of which it’s available. It’s quite amazing to be honest. But yet, millions of people spend their time complaining about their food supply. I don’t get it! I realize that farmers and agribusinesses should be held accountable and that questions should be asked about the safety and quality of food, but at some point thankfulness needs to come into play.

For some perspective, picture in your mind your ancestors from the Great Depression, or the people from the original thirteen colonies of America, or even the people from ancient times. What do you think they would say about today’s food supply? I don’t think their first response would be negative. They would be blown away by the quantity, diversity, and availability of the food in our grocery stores.

People today (including myself) take so much for granted and complain about things we have. We repeatedly bite the hand that feeds us. A middle class person in America lives a more comfortable life than 99% of people in the history of humanity. Can’t that be enough? When are we going to be satisfied? When are we going to be thankful for what we have? I realize farmers and the food industry needs to be held in check. Asking questions is great! Attacking us based on false information? Not so great.

Farmers are working harder than you know every day trying to feed you. The least you could do is say thank you. Not complain about what they’re feeding you. (Asking questions and keeping us in check is not complaining) If you do feel we are making bad decisions, then you are absolutely free to grow your own food or buy from another type of farmer (organic). But I hope that you can understand that we are doing the best we can, and we are making the decisions we feel are the right ones, not only for us, but also for the environment and for the consumer. And that includes decisions about GMOs.

It’s Time to Find A Real Problem to Fight Against

Whether or not you agree with what I have to say about GMOs in this blog post, the real truth I want to get at here is that you really shouldn’t be wasting your time fighting against GMOs. (And to be honest, I shouldn’t have to be spending time defending why I grow them) Why has this become such a priority? Aren’t there bigger fish to fry? Here is a list of some of the real issues that I believe each and every one of us, including myself, should be investing more time and energy into stopping:

  • Human Slavery: There are 30 million human slaves in the world today. 30 million.
  • Poverty: 1 billion children are born into poverty. 22,000 children die each year because of it.
  • Hunger: 805 million people do not have enough available food to live a healthy, active lifestyle.
  • Abuse: 6 million children are reported to have been abused in the United States alone. 1 in 4 women will experience some type of abuse in their lifetime.

A lesser, non-proven issue? GMOs: Responsible for 0 deaths and 0 sicknesses since they were introduced.

Reading these things will probably make you feel sad. There are two things we should all do after reading these statistics. 1. Be thankful for what we have. 2. Stop wasting time complaining and start doing something positive to help reduce some of these numbers! A song I think of when I write this is Matthew West’s “Do Something.”

The Reality of Sustainable Food Production

As human beings, we have to understand that this world is not perfect. Sustainable food production, while theoretically possible, is never going to be perfect either. Are GMOs perfect? No. Is it possible that someday we will find a better alternative? Yes. However, until the day comes when we no longer need the technology, we must continue to improve our methods of production. I believe GMOs to be better for the soil environment, better for farmers, better for poverty-ravished communities, and overall better for producing safe, high-quality, affordable food. That’s why I grow them, eat them myself, and promote the truth about them. I hope you have learned something from reading this blog. Please direct all questions and comments to the main blog: Greg Peterson – Advocate for Truth: GMOs. We will be answering those as part of the blog. Also, feel free to follow us on Facebook to keep in touch!

Thank you so much for reading. I will appreciate hearing feedback from all of you. Let’s get this conversation started and find some solutions to the real world problems we are facing today!

-Greg Peterson

My Perspective as a Christian on GMOs

(This blog is part of a larger blog project entitled: Greg Peterson – Advocate for Truth: GMOs. Please read the entire blog project in order before passing judgement on anything you read here. All comments should be directed to the main page of the larger blog project.)

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth……God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.” – Genesis 1:1,11-12

One of the biggest arguments that Christians (and many other people) use against genetically modified organisms is that modifying the genetics of plants is “playing God,” and that changing something God created isn’t right, because it is saying we don’t believe that God’s creation is “good enough.” I do believe this argument would have been true in the beginning of time. As mentioned in the verse above, God saw that what He had created was good, and was by no means in need of modification. It was perfect! Adam and Eve (The first 2 humans) lived in a perfect world, the Garden of Eden. There was no sickness, disease, or lack of comfort. Food was readily available to them and they did not have to toil to feed themselves.

The Fall of Mankind: Fighting against imperfection

But then something happened. God gave the first created humans a choice, and they chose wrong, otherwise known as the Fall of Mankind. Their punishment was as follows:

“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Genesis 3:17-19

Ever since the Fall of Man, the world and everything in it has been riddled with imperfections. It is no longer perfect, and neither are humans. Look around. Both humans and animals encounter all sorts of sickness and injury throughout their lives and can only live so long before they must face death. Sin has run rampant throughout the world ever since that fateful day in the Garden. Our bodies, our minds, our thoughts, our actions, our very souls have all fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) We live in an imperfect, broken world. Full of imperfect people, imperfect animals and yes, you guessed it, imperfect plants. Someday a Savior is coming to make all things new. To restore the perfection that once was. This is what we place our hope in! But until that day, we must face the imperfection that plagues this world.

How Does Imperfection Affect Farmers?

Farmers are called to be the best stewards of the land, animals, and plants that we can be. However, the dilemma of imperfection plays a very significant role in the task that farmers have been assigned with: Feeding the World.

You see, imperfect plants are susceptible to drought, floods, disease, insects, weeds, wind, hail, too much sun, too little sun, etc. Farmers have been dealing with these enemies of food production ever since Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden. But, (as mentioned in the main GMO blog) farmers have gradually developed methods of fighting against these things over time. Evidence shows that farmers have been using different techniques (like selective breeding) to genetically alter seeds and crops for thousands of years to make them better yielding and more resistant to things like drought, disease, and insects. We’ve developed irrigation systems to provide water, cultivators to remove weeds, and drainage methods to fight against floods. However, even as late as the mid 1900’s, farmers were barely producing enough food for everyone. And this was when the majority of the population were farmers. Today, farmers make up only 2 percent of the population. 2 percent. How in the world are we still producing enough food with so few people farming?

Technology

The technological revolution in farming has transformed agriculture, and consequently the world. Today, one farmer feeds about 160 people! (Compared to 25 in 1960 and even less prior to 1900) Farmers have reached this transformation by using many different technologies to improve food production. (Link: Technologies Used in Agriculture)

GM crops are the newest agricultural technology that can fight against the imperfections of food production. GM crops are engineered to be increasingly drought-resistant, insect-resistant, and disease-resistant. This kind of resistance leads to increased yields and better food products. In order to feed a growing population, we must embrace this kind of technology.

You see, in Biblical times, as well as later in history, there are mentions of widespread drought and famine that killed off whole communities of people. While we have come a long way since that time and rarely encounter such a catastrophe, there are still millions of people and communities here and in the rest of the world that encounter hunger, sickness, and poverty. The crops that farmers grow not only provide food for hunger; they also provide medicine for sickness and money for communities in poverty. The technology, such as GMO crops, is being developed to reach these types of communities, and could result in millions of lives being saved. Which brings us to the main question……

Should Christians support GMOs?

So, should Christians support GMOs? In my opinion, yes. We’ve already talked about how The Fall threw a wrench into God’s original perfection of creation. Therefore, it is not “playing God” to create and use GMOs. It is being a good steward. Christians are called to use their talents and skills to improve what God has given them. Just like in the Parable of the Talents, if farmers are not looking to utilize the gifts and ideas that God has given them, they are not living out their calling.

And it’s not just farmers. There are plant geneticists out there who are strong Christians. Are we supposed to believe that the knowledge God has given them about how to improve a plant is wrong and misguided? What about doctors? Should doctors not be allowed to modify the human body (through surgery, transplant, therapy, etc)? Should we be modifying ecosystems to build cities? Roads? Churches? Cooking in itself is modifying food. Virtually every food product you buy in a store has technically been “modified” from its original form. Where do you draw the line of “modification?” Where does it stop being okay and start being wrong? Just some food for thought. (Sorry for the pun)

Stop Complaining

Today, in 2014, we enjoy the safest, most abundant, food supply in the history of the entire world! Never before have we seen the amount of choices of food we have today and the ease of which it’s available. It’s quite amazing to be honest. But yet, millions of Americans (And Christians) spend their time complaining about their food supply. I don’t get it! Whatever happened to:

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

For some perspective, picture in your mind your ancestors from the Great Depression, or the people from the original thirteen colonies of America, or even the people from ancient times. What do you think they would say about today’s food supply? I don’t think their first response would be negative. (Except the Israelites, who famously complained about food that literally fell from the sky) They would be blown away by the quantity, quality, and the availability of the food in our grocery stores.

People today (including myself) take so much for granted and complain about things we have. We repeatedly bite the hand that feeds us. A middle class person in America lives a more comfortable life than 99% of people in the history of humanity. Can’t that be enough? When are we going to be satisfied? To be thankful?

Farmers are working harder than you know every day trying to feed you. The least you could do is say thank you. Not complain about what they’re feeding you. If you do feel we are making bad decisions, then you are absolutely free to grow your own food! But I hope that you can understand that we are doing the best we can, and making the decisions we feel are the right ones. And that includes decisions about GMOs.

Find A Real Problem to Fight Against

Whether or not you agree with what I have to say about GMOs in these blog posts, the real truth I want to get at here is that you really shouldn’t be wasting your time fighting against GMOs. (And to be honest, I shouldn’t have to be spending my time writing this blog to defend them.) Where in the Bible is this listed as a priority? I’ve talked about the brokenness and the imperfection in this world. Here is a list of some of the real issues that I believe each and every one of us should be investing our time and energy into stopping:

  • Human Slavery: There are 30 million human slaves in the world today. 30 million.
  • Poverty: 1 billion children are born into poverty. 22,000 children die each year because of it.
  • Hunger: 805 million people do not have enough available food to live a healthy, active lifestyle.
  • Abuse: 6 million children are reported to have been abused in the United States alone. 1 in 4 women will experience some type of abuse in their lifetime.

A lesser, non-proven issue? GMOs: Responsible for 0 deaths and 0 sicknesses since they were introduced.

Reading these things will probably make you feel sad. There are two things we should all do after reading these statistics. 1. Be thankful for what we have. 2. Stop wasting time complaining and start doing something positive to help reduce some of these numbers! A song I think of when I write this is Matthew West’s “Do Something.”

The Reality of Sustainable Food Production

As Christians, we have to understand that this world is broken and will remain that way until the second coming of our Lord. Sustainable food production, while possible in theory, is never going to be perfect. Are GMOs perfect? No. Is it possible that someday we will find a better alternative? Yes. However, until the day comes when we no longer need the technology, we must continue to improve our methods of production. I believe GMOs to be better for the soil environment, easier to grow for farmers, higher food production for poverty-ravished communities, and overall better for producing safe, high-quality, affordable food. That’s why I grow them, eat them myself, and promote the truth about them. However, I look forward and wait eagerly for the day in which I no longer need to fight against imperfection! Behold, He is coming to make all things new!

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” –Romans 8:18-23