GMO 101: THE VIEW FROM OUR FARM
Questions are being asked about GMOs and their safety, so I’m answering some of the questions I get as an Illinois farmer.
WHAT ARE GMOS, AND WHY DO WE PLANT THEM ON OUR FARM?
Some would argue gene modification has been happening for centuries, resulting in seedless watermelons, seedless grapes and chocolate cherry tomatoes. Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are plants that contain a single gene from another organism so that the plant can do something it couldn’t before.
LIST OF GMO CROPS TODAY
- Alfalfa (for animal feed)
- Sugar beets
- Rainbow papaya
- Ranger Russet and Atlantic potatoes
- AquAdvantage® Salmon
- Arctic® Apples
- Golden Rice®
If you’ve got a garden in your backyard, you probably know how easy it is for pests to damage your fruits or vegetables. It’s the same with our farm. Prior to using a genetically modified seed, one insect, the European corn borer, caused serious losses for corn farmers. Plant scientists found a naturally occurring soil bacterium (Bt -bacillus thuringiensis) that is toxic to the corn borer, selected the gene and inserted it into corn DNA. Now, instead of spraying the crop with a chemical multiple times, the plants fight the bug themselves.Organic corn farmers who don’t use GMO seeds can also have problems with the corn borer. They can use an approved Bt insecticide on their farms. The same result is achieved, but using different farming methods.
Another crop we grow is soybeans. You may have heard of Round-up Ready soybeans. They are soybean plants that can tolerate being sprayed with Round-up, a chemical meant to kill weeds. But why would plant scientists make such a thing? To use fewer chemicals. On our farm, we’ve reduced our application of herbicides (chemicals that control weeds) by half. Fewer chemicals being applied means less traffic in the fields, less fuel, less soil erosion . . . all beneficial for our farm.
We also plant non-genetically modified corn and soybean seeds. Planting a variety of hybrids and using a variety of farming methods like tilling the soil in different ways, crop rotation, weather analysis and weed control by simply mowing grass on the outer edge of a field can help control the number of pests. Pests, including insects, weeds and disease, have been evolving for years. With or without genetically modified seeds and pesticides, they will continue to evolve. So farmers must ready their tool belt, and genetically modified seeds are one of many tools we’re using today.
Are we told what to plant by “BIG AG”? Are GMOs safe? To find out how Katie answers these questions read her full blog here.
SOME SAY GMOS ARE SAFE, SOME SAY GMOS ARE UNSAFE. WHO SHOULD I BELIEVE?
Food brings out the emotional eater in all of us, especially when it comes to the topic of genetically modified foods (aka GMOs). As parents, we want to feed our families healthy foods, but does healthy mean GMO-free? With all of the conflicting headlines, healthy has become so confusing and quite frankly, downright scary. As a registered dietitian mom who shares your concerns, I’d like to help you become more than a headline reader. Rather than rely on the Food Babe or the food industry, here is where I go to get the facts about GMOs – both pros and cons – from reliable sources. I encourage you to check them out so that you can get the full story and make the right call for feeding your family.
“No substantial evidence of a difference in risk to human health between current commercially available genetically engineered (GMO) crops and conventionally bred crops.”
Technology is getting CRISPR
Perhaps you’ve heard of CRISPR, one of several new gene-editing tools that allow scientists to make small adjustments within the DNA of crops. By tweaking the genes that are already there, we can help crops resist and ultimately defeat the age-old threats of diseases and pests.
I’m confident these innovative technologies are capable of doing much more. We’ll turn our crops into more efficient users of water, allowing us to conserve an important resource and also survive droughts. We’ll improve their ability to soak up nitrogen, helping us to limit the harmful nitrates in our streams and lakes. We’ll even make our food healthier, boosting its nutritional value and eliminating allergens.
And that could be just the start.
While I am not a scientist, as a farmer, I deal with science every day. This new approach to crops is fundamentally different from GMOs. For a generation, farmers like me have safely planted and harvested using that innovative technology in the United States and around the world. It improved the way we grow staples such as corn and soybeans in the Midwest, cotton in the south and specialty crops such as papayas in Hawaii. Thanks to technology, we’re growing more food on less land than ever before and proving that safe technologies can benefit people as well as the environment.
Food and Genes: What’s the story?
Genetically modified (GM) food is controversial, that’s for sure. In talking with farmers, biotechnologists and geneticists on the tour, the conversation around the safety of GM food was a hot topic.
Here are some of the things I learned:
- In talking with the farmers on the tour, a common goal is producing food that is safe to feed the world. Farmers take precautions to ensure safety by testing the soil, selecting quality seeds that work best for the climate and growing conditions and using the minimum amount of chemicals, such as fertilizers and pesticides on crops.
- In the future crops will have even more nutrients than they do today. Scientific initiatives are underway that harness the sun’s energy to make them more efficient at producing greater amounts of food for a growing world population.
- Climate change is a real issue for nourishing the world. One of the big initiatives at IGB is working on how plants adapt when they are challenged with climate change threats like greater amounts of carbon dioxide, less water and more disease-causing bugs on plants.
In the end as we toured the corn fields, I was reminded that we are lucky to live in a country where food is abundant. However, in this global landscape with an increasing population and finite resources, I found comfort in the fact that science is advancing to use genetic material to solve some of the curve balls that nature throws our way!