By Greg Peterson
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.
- Introduction (Please read first!!!)
- What are GMOs?
- Video: What do GM Crops look like? Are GM Crops “poisonous” or “toxic?”
- What are GMOs not?
- Why do farmers use technologies such as GMOs and herbicides/pesticides?
- My perspective on the safety and sustainability of GMOs
- My perspective as a Christian on GMOs
- Questions and comments from readers answered
- Additional Resources
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)
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?”
What are GMOs not? (Debunking common myths)
- 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? (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
- 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.
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.
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