G is for GMOs — What are GMOs & Why Do Farmers Plant GMO Crops?

I wasn’t sure I would want to tackle GMOs with a post, but another blogger who’s doing the A to Z Challenge (Sydney Katt of authorSydneyKatt.com) said she didn’t know much about agriculture and would appreciate knowing more. The comment reads:

learning about GMOs

I would actually love to learn more about what people who know something about agriculture think about GMOs

So I’ll provide my thoughts on GMOs (and a reminder that I write content for this blog on my personal time & it has no connection to my job).

What are GMOs?

There are a lot of sites that will give you a lot of different definitions. But I think I’ll go with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service definition:

The term “genetically modified organism” (GMO) was originally used by the molecular biology scientific community to denote a living organism that had been genetically modified by inserting a gene from an unrelated species. Incorporation of genes from an unrelated species does not occur in nature through sexual reproduction and thus, various types of sophisticated technologies are used to accomplish this. These types of plants are generally called “transgenics”. Transgenic technology has been used in over 40 species of plants including corn, cotton, tomatoes, potatoes, soybeans, tobacco, rice, cranberries, papayas, raspberries, chrysanthemums, gladioli, petunias, poplars, spruce, and walnuts. In crop plants, the technology has generally been used to incorporate insect resistance or herbicide tolerance. More recently, transgenic rice strains having high vitamin A or high iron content have been developed. In the future, transgenic plants may be used as “bioreactors” to produce large quantities of inexpensive pharmaceuticals, polymers, industrial enzymes, as well as modified oils, starches, and proteins. via ARS : What are GMO’S?.

So basically, a GMO (genetically modified organism) is a plant, crop, food or something related to those things that was created with biotechnology. There are several kinds of GMOs, all of them involve taking a gene from one species and putting it into another unrelated species. In reading the USDA definition I have to admit that I wasn’t aware that so many of the flowers were GMO, nor was I aware of some of the trees and berries, but I think that’s because most people focus on GMOs as the foods that are produced with crops like corn and soybeans.

I hope this post makes sense, but if not, I trust that you will ask questions til I get it right.

My View on GMOs

I have worked directly with people who invented some of the biotech traits on the market. Knowing their scientific genius (and I don’t use that word lightly at all) and the kind of people they are (truly value family, farm, health, etc and having seen the extensive amount of testing involved in the products — we have all sorts of scientists engaged on health, environment, etc. It is amazing to me how much we invest on this kind of testing and I love showcasing it for others. All of that said, I don’t necessarily think that GMOs are a silver bullet for agriculture, however, I think a lot of people who haven’t taken time to really learn about them or even worse, some who have an agenda against them are prolific in publishing misinformation on the internet. So if I don’t speak my mind, from a point of some first-hand knowledge, how can I expect others to?

I think we need to continue improving crops through traditional breeding, through molecular breeding, through agronomic practices like crop rotation and irrigation management, etc. Biotech is a tool to be used and it should be judged as to whether it brings value for individual farms and for the general public. Science should have a role in the conversation, but people have every right to make emotional choices too. I would like to think having the facts help, but maybe others don’t. To me, there are a lot of benefits that GMOs can offer that people don’t think about. I mean environmentalists like Mark Lynas have done some research and found they were fed a load of BS by some others, my foodie friends Grant and Ellen have also been willing to do the research and found they had been given only one side and that it was warped in quite a few places and Fourat, who wrote Random Rationality has changed his position and recently published interviews with an ag scientist, a farmer and a biotech developer.

How different are GMOs?

GMO sweet corn

Although photos on the internet would make you think GMOs have skulls and crossbones on them or needles in them, GMOs (at least the corn, soybeans, cotton & canola I know most about) for the vast majority of us, they look just like the conventional or organic version of the same crop. That’s because they are the same with the exception of a single protein or a few proteins which are teeny tiny pieces of the genetics of a plant. And those proteins are all natural, they just didn’t start in the plant biotech has found value in having them in.

On the other hand, there are some differences farmers may notice on some of these crops. Some are modified to resist pests, so farmers are less likely to see damage on them. And while we may not think about the absence of damage, consumers may see the difference with GMO sweet corn as worms are much less likely to mess up an ear of sweet corn, which means more kernels for us to nibble on.

What’s really cool to me is there are a number of different things that biotech is enabling us to change. For instance, talking about sweet corn, moths and worms are really drawn to the sweet crop (much like I am!). That means sweet corn farmers tend to do a number of things to control bugs including using organic, biological or conventional pesticides. The protein that is put into sweet corn is similar to one of the primary organic pesticides — its called bt (baccillus thuringenses).

If bt controls insects, is it harmful to me?

Last year I was doing a farm research tour in South Carolina when someone asked the researcher about whether he’d eat GMO sweet corn. He didn’t hesitate for a second as he said he would prefer to eat biotech sweet corn because he understood it so well. Knowing what he knew, he said the protein won’t impact his body and he’d prefer to feed it to kids and grandkids too because he realizes how safe it is and how much more friendly it can be for the environment.

Bt products are found to be safe for use in the environment and with mammals. The EPA (environmental protection agency) has not found any human health hazards related to using Bt. In fact the EPA has found Bt safe enough that it has exempted Bt from food residue tolerances, groundwater restrictions, endangered species labeling and special review requirements. Bt is often used near lakes, rivers and dwellings, and has no known effect on wildlife such as mammals, birds, and fish.

Humans exposed orally to 1000 mg/day for 3-5 days of Bt have showed no ill effects. Many tests have been conducted on test animals using different types of exposures. The results of the tests showed that the use of Bt causes few if any negative effects. Bt does not persist in the digestive systems of mammals. via Bt Safety.

Are all GMOs the same?

GMO cotton

farmers look at various biotech cotton varieties

No. This is one reason why I think some of the discussions are so hard to follow at times. There are biotech traits that do a variety of things for the plants and for the farmers planting them. Let me run through some of them I’m familiar with starting with the one that gets the vast majority of the online buzz:

  • Herbicide tolerant (Roundup Ready, Liberty Link, Glytol, Enlist, Roundup Ready 2 Extend, etc) — This is a group of biotechnology traits that allows farmers to spray a herbicide over the top of plants that otherwise would be susceptible to damage from it. Roundup Ready is the one that gets by far more attention than the others, but farmers have uses for a variety of herbicide tolerant traits from a variety of companies. I see sites saying that Roundup Ready plants have herbicide injected into them, but that’s not the case and although it gives farmers a chance to spray Roundup over the top, there are other over the top herbicides out there pre-biotech. I asked a science guy friend of mine who used to work with Roundup Ready to explain it in an easy to understand way. He said:

Here is an example that probably everyone can understand – the gene that gets inserted into Roundup Ready plants is a petunia gene, because they are naturally resistant to Roundup. So, they essentially are taking a desirable element from an innocuous plant (our lovely petunia plant) and insert that ‘piece’ into crops. It is like adding walnuts into brownies – brownies are great by itself, but are fabulous with the walnuts or pecans!

  • Insect resistant (Bollgard, YieldGard, WideStrike, TwinLink, Herculex, some from Agrisure, etc) — This group of biotech traits offer in-plant protection from insects and has led to a dramatic reduction in the use of insecticides. And like I said earlier, many of these are bt crops like the sweet corn example. What’s pretty cool and not well known is how specific bt is — it has a narrow amount of efficacy which means farmers need to be aware of the exact insects they have trouble with and then use the right product. Bollgard is great on cotton worms, but if you have trouble with bollweevils, you need to use something else. Why is this a good thing? It protects beneficial insects like ladybugs.

There are also traits that offer Abiotic Stress Tolerance (a good example is this year farmers in the western Plains will be planting some corn that is called DroughtGard which helps the plant function better in times of low water availability), Disease Resistance (this one is really awesome knowing how bad diseases can get. I haven’t seen the papayas or squash but I can’t help but think of things like the Irish potato famine NOT happening if we learn enough here) and Modified Product Quality (improved oils is one area that is working but there is also an Arctic Apple being developed that won’t brown as easily once cut which sounds like it has awesome potential).

Good Resources on GMOs

There are several really good videos with moms asking biotech experts questions. This is a good GMO 101 but there are several other good videos on biotech at Best Food Facts. and you can always get in touch with some of the scientists who “talk nerdy to me” and others through social media.

What else would you like to know about GMOs?

I took a stab at this in the dark but I can’t help but wonder if I answered at least the GMO part of Sydney’s question but I really don’t know whether I hit the right topics. So feel free to put your questions here in the comments and I will answer and or friends will chime in.

A to Z Agriculture blog post series

Ideas? H is for _______

Tuesday will be brought to you by the letter “H” so what do you think the word of the day should be?

See the other posts in this series by clicking on the logo at right and reviewing the letters, or by browsing the A to Z ag tag archives. You should also feel free to add ideas for upcoming letters!

About Janice Person

I'm Janice & this blog is about my passions -- photography, travel, agriculture & whatever else comes to mind. Putting all those things together is intriguing to me…. I can spend a lot of time soaking it up! It's almost always a colorful adventure!

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87 Responses to G is for GMOs — What are GMOs & Why Do Farmers Plant GMO Crops?

  1. Mona April 8, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    First, let me say Thank You Janice for taking the time and energy to gather this information and posting it here. The more we know the more we are apt to understand and defer to those with the knowledge that we can rely on. Albeit to do so requires a open view and a willingness to digest others view as well.

    “I have to admit that I wasn’t aware that so many of the flowers were GMO, nor was I aware of some of the trees and berries, but I think that’s because most people focus on GMOs as the foods that are produced with crops like corn and soybeans”

    I would also add… we should think about the term GMO and biotech foods fuel fiber crops, given the definition you posted above,next time anyone purchases Meyer lemons, papaya,plums,hops,grapes and soon the new arctic apple, cotton clothes etc. I could go on on on but GM crops are in an array of products we use and consume daily.

    If we defer just to science and the biotech industry or naysayers we are not getting the whole picture. Thus, this type of post is so rewarding for so many like Sydney,me included.
    We must have constructive conversations on both sides of this issue. Thanks for being part of the solution. :D
    P.S.
    perhaps H= Hay day :D

    • Janice Person April 8, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

      Thanks for taking so long to put all of your thoughts here in the comments too! I truly appreciate it as I really wondered if anything I put down in the post would be of interest for folks reading it. I agree that real people need to engage in the conversation, part of that should be listening to a variety of viewpoints. I know I have learned a lot by getting people who farm organically or on a local basis or whatever to tell me about what they do. I learn a lot through those conversations and hope others are willing to hear some of my experiences in a similar openness.

      And thanks for the H suggestion!

  2. John Bradley April 8, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

    Janice, you did an outstanding job of explaining GMO or transgenetics! Great examples and on terms that we all can understand. I have been a part of the scientific community working with GMO’s since 1984, near the beginning of the concept and working closely with all the major biotech companies. As you stated in your blog, I have no problem with my children and grand children eating or being associated with GMO’s.The benifits are great for society as a whole. Not only do the producers benifit but GMO’s insure a safe abundant ecomomical of food and fiber supply. However, I have no problem with those that object to GMO’s , we have a choice. I’m glad we have that choice. We at Spring Valley Family Farms are planting Triple Sweet , Roundup Ready, BT sweet corn for the entire family to enjoy. You know the worst thing about finding a worm in your warm buttery sweet corn, is finding a half of a worm and worndering where the other half is.
    I agree with Mona on all her points, especailly the HAY suggestion.

    • Janice Person April 8, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

      Thanks John for the kind words! Having known and respected your work for a long time, I really appreciate it. I hope you would help make some clarifications too if you found I was off base or unclear. Please.

      And I’m not sure which hybrid you got, but I had some Obsession II on several occassions last year and WOW!

  3. Cheri Nordstrom April 8, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

    Interesting piece! It’s nice to see a different take on GMOs than that of the mainstream conscience. Your post was informative & makes me want to research it further. I don’t know that I had a definite opinion on GMOs before, but if I did, it would have leaned slightly to the negative based solely on what a taboo term it seems to be in the food industry (I worked in marketing, and manufacturers were quick to point out that their products were non-GMO!).

    Your blog is the very first Stumble Upon blog I have stumbled upon during the A to Z Challenge this month. :) I found you via #atozchallenge on Twitter. Have a great week!

    • Janice Person April 8, 2013 at 10:22 pm #

      Thank you for coming by Cheri! I am finding the A to Z challenge a wealth of diversity! So many great blogs out here and so many different topics! Glad you enjoyed the post and please feel free to ask me any questions. If I can’t answer, I have lots of farmer friends, scientist friends, etc. so I’ll try to find an answer!

  4. Paula Kaye April 8, 2013 at 10:16 pm #

    Hi JP. Nice to make your acquaintance and for visiting my blog. I will be back to learn more about agriculture. Fascinating!
    http://paulasplace-paula.blogspot.com/

    • Janice Person April 8, 2013 at 10:23 pm #

      Nice seeing you here as well Paula! Keep up the work on A to Z!

  5. Cathi April 8, 2013 at 11:18 pm #

    Thanks for visiting my blog. I’m glad you did, because this was an interesting and very informative post. I like your blog set-up too. I’ll be visiting again.

    • Janice Person April 9, 2013 at 12:14 pm #

      Thanks Cathi. I’ve put some work into my blog over time trying to get it where I want it… always seem to have a few things I want to change so its nice to hear others aren’t so critical. I’m really enjoying visiting so many unique blogs!

  6. theadventuresofanagnerd April 9, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    Janice this is awesome in explaining GMO’s…. its easy to understand one of the best blog posts about GMO’s i have read in a long time. :)

  7. Brian April 9, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    I didn’t know about the petunias. I’ll certainly use that in my future convos. One of things I’ve learned to use in conversation is to point out the plants that I guess you could say inspired some of our GMO traits today. Don’t like dandelions in your yard? 2,4D will handle that, but your grass won’t die. Cereal rye take chemical action against weeds and so on. Great work, JP!

    • Janice Person April 9, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

      Glad I was able to prompt more ideas! I know I loved the description my friend offered. Maybe I knew the origin of the gene 15 years or so ago when it came out but it really struck me when he told me that.

      • Brian April 9, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

        Sounds like something I would’ve forgotten from college.

    • Janice Person April 9, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

      I need to learn more about this because I’m sure its a very simplified version of things. But it is food for thought.

  8. Graham April 9, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    I think you pass along a good definition for what genetically modified organisms are and provide information on some of the major ones being planted now, but I would have to say that I’m not sure you really answer the question at the top. The larger question asked seems to me to center on agricultural subsidies provided for monocropping (specifically corn) and the effects these subsidies have on food prices.

    I would also point out that not everyone’s concerns about GMOs center around their potential impacts on our health. I’m curious as to why you don’t seem to address environmental impacts relating to genetically engineered crops. As one example, you state that Roundup Ready crops give “farmers a chance to spray Roundup over the top,” so wouldn’t the increased spread of Roundup Ready crops lead to increased use of Roundup? Is increased Roundup use something that we necessarily want to encourage?

    • Janice aka JPlovesCOTTON April 9, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

      Thank you for raising the questions Graham. I should have made it clear I was focusing on the G part of this and had made a note that perhaps S should be subsidies when I get to that part of the alphabet. I hope you understand that since I do this personally, sometimes time is a limiting factor. GMOs got far bigger than I thought it would.

      I think the question on the environment is a long trail of informed decisions farmers have to make. Farmers have to decide first whether to control weeds. Left uncontrolled, they compete for sun, light, nutrients, etc and that has negative impacts on the crop you are trying to produce. So how then do you control weeds? Physical controls or a very real option. In gardens that usually means tilling, using a hoe, putting down shade cloth or pulling weeds and to some extent crop rotation. All viable means of weed control. When you move to larger farms, some of those physical controls get harder to use although tillage & cultivation remain. Both of those have other impacts like leaving the soil more vulnerable to erosion and disturbing the soil’s ecosystem (earthworms, microbes, etc). These tractors also use a good bit of fuel as they have the job of “breaking” the soils. I have friends who use flame cultivators — I think they are propane based which brings another criteria into play. The other controls are chemical — some organic and others synthetic. To me, Roundup is a fairly easy choice for a lot of people. It is fairly low on toxicity, environmental impact, etc compared to some of the other herbicides out there, but Roundup alone isn’t really a program farmer use. And just because you plant Roundup Ready doesn’t mean you need to use Roundup, just that you have the option. What’s right for one farm is probably not right for the one down the road — farmers all have lots of decisions to make and the environment plays a critical role in those decisions as do productivity.

      For me, the farmers I’ve visited seemed to have a great grasp on the land that is trusted to their care and all of them want to leave the land better than they found it. I think helping farmers understand our concerns and for us to try to understand their practices and reasons is a great place to start.

      • Brian April 9, 2013 at 6:16 pm #

        I’m a farmer who uses Roundup, but sometimes I don’t. We raise several crops. We grow some wheat. Can’t use Roundup there. We grow popcorn. No such thing as GMO popcorn so none there either. And some of our field corn is waxy corn. Biotech traits are limited in waxy varieties because although waxy is a big deal in my area it’s kind of a niche product. Seed companies have a hard enough time developing waxy varieties that perform well let alone more investment in employing biotech for such a small line of seed. So no Roundup on about half my corn acres if you combine waxy and popcorn. To me this is a good thing because we are forced to use other herbicides.

        Not all herbicides kill weeds in the same manner. They use what are called different “modes of action.” These modes are important to rotate (or use in combinations) to mitigate a selection process that would lead to resistant weeds. Just like rotating crops to break pest and disease cycles.

        Finally just because acres of Roundup Ready crops have spread does not mean that farmers are using more herbicides. Take soybeans. Before Roundup soybeans we used different herbicides (not to mention walking hundreds of acres by hand with weed hooks in the scorching heat). So now we are using glyphosate in place of something else. One thing I often wonder is if non-farmers drive by a field being sprayed and see the mist from the spray nozzles, do they know the vast majority of that mist is water?

        • Janice Person April 9, 2013 at 10:19 pm #

          Thanks Brian. You bring up several good points on the different mixes of crops that go into your rotation, the modes of action and pesticide use. I’ve heard people talk about drenching crops in pesticides, when there are only ounces used per acre and then a lot of water to get it broadcast.

  9. Lindsey K April 9, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    Thank you for tackling this topic. It keeps coming up again and again among my friends, and sometimes I’m not sure where to steer them for a more well-rounded perspective on the issue. I will definitely be sharing this. Thanks!

    • Janice aka JPlovesCOTTON April 9, 2013 at 4:42 pm #

      My pleasure, it just took a little nudge. I appreciate your saying my perspective is well-rounded. I have the opportunity to talk with a lot of farmers, scientists, family & friends and not everyone has that. Glad it was useful for you and may be for others!

  10. john lord April 9, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

    I’m a horticulturalist and have used ROUNDUP for many years. Its main draw back,(excluding certain weeds that have natural resistance, and the times it can’t be used in rainy Ireland) is that it does such a good job of clearing weeds that the resulting bare ground becomes a seed bed for new weeds ( these, of course are easily controlled by a further spraying).
    In a Roundup resistant crop, as the weeds are killed the resultant bare ground is quickly filled in by the same crop, so little scope for new weeds to germinate, so actually less herbaside needed than on a non crop situation,so less chance of ‘superweeds’ developing in a GM crop,so why all the fuss?
    Then again, who am I to say? I have only used ROUNDUP (with great success) since 1980.

    • Janice Person April 9, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

      John thank you for providing some insight to your experience. I think a lot of us forget the different uses of products — we get focused on our area, experience, etc. My grandmom loved Roundup for her sidewalks, driveway, etc. She’d say it kept those aggressive plants from tearing up the concrete.

  11. Sydney Katt April 9, 2013 at 7:47 pm #

    Thanks for tackling my question. Since I can’t eat the most common GMO foods for health reasons (controlling a condition through diet), I don’t always fully pay attention to why some of my friends are so up in arms over the whole thing. Getting the perspective of someone who knows a little something about it was a nice change.

    Side note: Totally didn’t realize the employment connection disclaimer until after I’d asked the question.

    • Janice Person April 9, 2013 at 10:25 pm #

      Sydney,

      Thanks for the prompt, as you see, it has garnered quite a few comments. I wasn’t sure if you had noticed my employer so I wanted to make it clear. The fact that I’ve worked in agriculture a couple of decades and for Monsanto a few years gives me a wide range of experiences, relationships and opinions. As I share them, I just like to be clear on the fact that on this blog means they are mine personally and while I don’t use this blog to talk about work very often, your quetion is one I have heard more of and I felt it would be fine to reply.

      Sorry to hear you have dietary limits. I think that a lot of us have different things that we tend to avoid for various personal reasons. I know people who can’t drink enough milk, I on the other hand really don’t mesh well with it. I think everyone should have choices available to them, I just think that sometimes people should access information from various viewpoints before making their choices.

      jp

  12. Chris April 9, 2013 at 10:28 pm #

    Some of us feel very differently about this and are neither hysterical nor ignorant. There are other branches of science than those that create stuff in labs and to suggest that these biotech scientists are the brilliant ones who know more and what is best for everybody else is an affront to common sense. I believe labeling is the answer that gives all of us the right to choose what we want. Without it, I do not have a choice.

    • Janice Person April 9, 2013 at 10:33 pm #

      Chris, I didn’t mean to imply that people who disagree are hysterical or ignorant. I have friends and family who take a cautious approach to technology as well. I was trying to provide my view from where I sit. Since you mention labeling, I think there are lots of choices in the marketplace already with the certified organic program and the voluntary marketing programs. I agree that the product lines could certainly continue to grow to provide more products within those options. It’s fine for us to have different opinions.

  13. Ed Winkle April 10, 2013 at 6:39 am #

    I am thinking I better write another blog why farmers don’t plant GMO.

  14. Ammani April 10, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    I am an Agricultural Student and you have put my thoughts into words. Its a very good effort. Thank you.

  15. MeridethinWyoming April 12, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

    But what about Roundup resistant plants? Don’t they uptake the chemicals into their leaves and fruit???? Wouldn’t they have to? Thus a Roundup Ready crop is contaminated with the chemical?

    • Janice Person April 12, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

      About your question on what from Roundup gets absorbed into the plant and what happens to it, I’m not sure. Let me see if I can find someone to help us understand that.

    • chimel31 April 13, 2013 at 1:28 am #

      Treated plants do contain glyphosate (the main ingredient of Roundup).
      A farmer on newagtalk.com just paid a good $300 to have his hog manure analyzed for the heck of it, and found 0.21 mg/kg of glyphosate in it, after the GM feed passed through the digestive system of the hogs. At this concentration, glyphosate has virtually no toxic effect. He didn’t have his feed analyzed though, but that’s fine, since most GMOs are either grown for animal feed, not human food, or to be processed or refined industrially, like high fructose corn syrup, oil, ethanol.

      • Janice Person April 13, 2013 at 8:15 am #

        I don’t see that as proof of cause. It sounds like a lot of facts, but the question here is how it works in the plant. You gave a lot of information about a specific farm which may seem to suggest cause but it doesn’t show cause.

      • Chris April 13, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

        We raise hogs and we also test our manure and we have not not had results like this. We test our manure multiple times a year.

        • Specs Murdock April 13, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

          Well, personally, I know a little bit about just about everything in the known…and unknown…universe. So, I fell compelled to share it with all of you on JP’s blog.

    • Michael April 23, 2013 at 10:02 am #

      Yes, plants that are resistant to glyphosate (Roundup) do take in the herbicide, but they break it down into non-lethal parts. The key to using glyphosate, for those of us in the corn/soybean belt, is that it has no long term effect on plants. It is gone in days. Before glyphosate there were some herbicides that we used that would take years to break down. I have a spot in my yard where one of those herbicides was spilled over 20 years ago and some plants still come up white there. There are many herbicides that we used to use that actually built up over time making planting other crops unprofitable. We use glyphosate because it works then goes away forever.

  16. chimel31 April 12, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

    Quadruple typos on Bt: It is always capitalized, as is Bacillus (or all genus names for that matter) and you are missing two “i” in the species name.

    Your personal definition of GMO is a bit too restrictive, it is not only plants and food, it also includes animals, insects, bacteria, used to produce drugs, body parts, improve ethanol production, and so on. Any living organism for any purpose, really.

    Mark Lynas went from 100% against GMOs to 100% for GMOs, needless to say he knows no more about agriculture now than he did when he condemned GMOs. It’s not a black and white issue, hence the heated debate. There are arguments in favor of GMOs, mostly economical, but there are also arguments against, mostly ethical and environmental. Not recognizing that there both sides to the story is not objectivity, but subjectivity, pro or anti GMO, and cannot lead to discussion, only to fight.

    Some examples of the benefits are: Less poisonous insecticides and herbicides, better control of the weeds, combined with the practice of no-till (direct seeding in the stubble from the previous crop), less compaction in the soil because there is less need to treat the field for pests. Less non-renewable and polluting fuel used in the fields, more acreage farmed by a single farmer or operator. Increased yield was also a benefit in the first years of GMO planting.

    Some examples of the problems are: Lower control of the weeds and a come back to more poisonous herbicides because more and more weeds are becoming tolerant and resistant to the herbicides crops were engineered to withstand. Some weeds now even don’t just resist Roundup, but thrive on the stuff, using its molecules to fabricate some of their own proteins at a cheaper metabolic cost. The biggest problem of all is the loss of generical biodiversity, as aberrant as it seems for a science that creates new GM cultivars: Most Creole (native, traditional) corn in Mexico, the world’s craddle of corn, seems to be contaminated by Monsanto’s genes. That happened years ago already, at a time when growing GMO corn was illegal there, so I suppose there’s barely any pure non-GM variety left. This cross-pollination can extend for miles in damp weather conditions (corn pollen stays viable longer in high humidity) and can cost an organic farmer its USDA organic certification if contamination is too important, or worse, a legal suit from Monsanto for stealing their intellectual property… Several organic farmers felt that even with a low contamination rate, they couldn’t ethically sell their crop as organic, so sold it at a loss on the conventional market.

    Perhaps more important than the papers published are those that are not studied, as it is becoming increasingly harder to find scientists who are not afraid of publishing results that may go against Monsanto. Some have been sacked for doing so, others have had their funding removed, or worse, their credibility attacked or the funding of the organization for which they worked. Examples of those are toxicology studies: There is not a single long term independent one, after so many years of using and eating GMOs. Most studies also focus on one gene, such as Roundup or Bt, but commercial seeds are often “triple-stacked” or more (one herbicide-tolerant gene, one Bt gene for leaf and grain pests, one Bt gene for root pests), and there are more of them every day, none of them are studied for long term effects.

    After yields increased and reach a plateau over the years, farmers have started to experience a slight reduction in yield. Some suspect that the Bt gene is responsible for that, that it causes all cells of the plant to produce the Bt toxin 24/7 instead of focusing on filling the grain with starch and protein. Again, farmers only have their gut feeling about it, as there is not a single paper studying this.

    Long term environmental studies are also missing. For instance, again for Bt GMOs, the Bt toxins kill indiscriminately pests, but also pest predators, pollinators and other beneficial insects. They do not protect them, they are simply more efficient at killing specific targeted pests. Over the years, consequences are dramatic for the biodiversity on which we can’t even put a price. I haven’t seen a single paper about this either, and have I looked! The Bt toxin is present in every cell of the plants we eat directly or indirectly (when used as feed for meat production). It does not affect us, but could potentially affect our gut bacteria and archaea. I’d like to read a conclusive story on this potential risk, whether it is real or not. Again, there are no such paper.

    Roundup is an herbicide that blocks the assimilation of certain nutrients by the plant, so they can’t manufacture their own chemicals and eventually die. The Roundup Ready gene make the plant tolerate or ignore the herbicide, but it seems very unlikely that even so, Roundup has zero effect on the plant. Does it reduce the nutrient intake, does it change the composition of the grain, do the crops need more fertilizer in order to compensate? Monsanto studies on their first GMO cultivars showed that the composition of base elements was similar, which allowed the USDA/EPA/FDA and medical agencies to create the concept of GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe), but this barely answers the question.

    I totally agree with you that the position on GMOs should not be generic, GMO genes are as different as different species, so apart from the technology, each GMO should be assessed separately. But then the federal agencies do not agree with you or me, the GRAS concept now applies to all GMOs.

    I also do not agree with the concept of intellectual property and patenting applied to genes, and the forceful contracts that prohibit farmers from reseeding the grain from their own crop, or force them to buy a proprietary herbicide when cheaper generic ones exist (Roundup patent already expired). I don’t agree either with the biotech companies’ claim that GMOs will allow to “feed the world”, yield increases have happened so far through conventional selection only. This is starting to change though, but was never a concern for the companies who sell Roundup Ready or Liberty Link GM seeds, and just happen coincidentally to also sell Roundup and Liberty herbicides. I think that this shows their motivation is purely financial. If you had any doubt, know that the patent of the first generation of Roundup Ready GMOs (RR1) expires next year, but what do you know, there is RR2 and a new set of patents for a few more years of indecent profits!

    In short, while there are or were some benefits about GMOs, especially on the farming side, there are also some serious problems or doubts. Personally, I prefer to stay on the safe side and limit my negative impact on the environment. GMOs also encourage farmers to use practices that have side-effects we are barely starting to understand, like pneumatic direct seeding or precision planting of seeds coated with neonicotinoids that seem to be the single largest cause of honey bee’s colony collapse disorder.

    • Janice Person April 12, 2013 at 10:16 pm #

      I think your comment is actually longer than my blog post. I’m flattered that you took so much time and energy to respond to so many points, but I’m sure you have guessed I disagree I think the benefits far outweigh any perceived risks. While I won’t take time to respond to each of the topics you raise since my views were included in the post, I have to respond on the suggestion that most of the benefits are economical in scope because I think you significantly under estimate the environmental benefits to date and certainly the promise to come. The impact of Bt in has had a profound impact for the better in terms of reduced exposure to insecticides for beneficial insects, wildlife, etc and the rootworm products have helped provide greater root structure which allows crops to do much better in dry years. The benefits of reduced erosion, water filtration and more are astounding.

  17. Jamie Dement (LadyJai) April 15, 2013 at 7:35 am #

    I’m on the fence about GMOs. There are no long term studies about the effects of GMO foods on our bodies, since they’re relatively new. So, saying they are safe is also misleading. No one really knows what it’s going to do to our bodies 20 years from now. Take for example Agent Orange. It took 30 years for the VA to recognize the effects of just being exposed to the chemical.

    There are so much more I could go into but then I’d be opening this up to a political debate (Monsanto is scary) and I don’t want to do that. I truly value a farmer’s perspective on this matter. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Jai

    • Janice Person April 15, 2013 at 7:52 am #

      Thank you for staying open-minded. I know what you are saying but at the same time, the proteins are well known and it is one or a few basic proteins that have been changed in the plant. Consider these two things 1 science has advanced at incredible rates since agent orange the amount of information about plant and human genomes is INCREDIBLE and 2. agent orange was a weapon of war which the company was ordered to make by the government — the comparison isn’t valid for a couple of reasons.

    • Michael April 23, 2013 at 10:16 am #

      Interesting that you say that there are no long term studies of GMO’s when we have been using some of them for over 20 years and studying them the whole time.
      Then there is the habit of lumping all GMO’s into one group. Do we put the petunia gene that gave us glyphosate resistant crops in the same class as the bacteria gene that gave us Bt products? Should genetic work that gives us drought resistant crops be classed the same as the extra carotene that is found in golden rice? There is such a huge scope of genetic change being lumped into the same label. Mankind has created most of the crops and animals that are our food, clothing and companions over thousands of years, genetic modification only speeds up the process.

      • Janice Person April 23, 2013 at 11:13 am #

        Michael, I think it is also important to note that the work done is similar scientifically to biotech for medical advances and that all of it was intensely studied prior to being approved. There is a vast amount of scientific knowledge that has been considered long before any plants were put in the field.

    • Marvin Schwartz February 1, 2014 at 10:14 am #

      Check this out: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21338670

      • Janice Person February 1, 2014 at 11:07 am #

        I have seen that. And I think it is important to look at new studies to see if they yield new results that should be considered, but it is also important to understand science is a systemic approach and some studies don’t have the necessary rigor so we need to question studies both negative and positive before accepting findings.

        You may want to read the viewpoints of a few more people. http://geneticmaize.wordpress.com/2012/10/03/bt-in-blood/ or http://kfolta.blogspot.com/2012/01/more-debunking-anti-gmo-claims.html or http://doccamiryan.wordpress.com/2011/05/20/gmos-toxins-and-unborn-babies-a-deeper-examination-of-the-study-science-communication-peerreview-fb/ all give several pieces of information that need to be considered.

        • Marvin Schwartz February 1, 2014 at 11:41 am #

          Janice, I think it is important to note one thing in the article. The authors in a peer reviewed journal, not anti-GMO activists, concern is that: “This is the first study to reveal the presence of circulating PAGMF in women with and without pregnancy, paving the way for a new field in reproductive toxicology including nutrition and utero-placental toxicities.” The fact that reputable scientists found these at any level and drew the conclusions that they have is cause for concern.

          • Janice Person February 1, 2014 at 11:50 am #

            Marvin, I disagree because they used a test designed for use on plants, not blood and plants and human blood is VASTLY different. I could use a human pregnancy test on a frog and get really faulty results. See the post by genetic maize that says “The ELISA kit used by Aris and LeBlanc to detect Bt was made by a company called Agdia (as described in section 2.4. of their paper). The kit was created and tested to detect Bt in plant tissues (Agdia doesn’t make any kits for animal tissues). There’s a lot of reasons why such a kit might not work on mammalian tissues. For example, the antibodies might cross-react with proteins found in mammals that aren’t found in plants.”

          • Marvin Schwartz February 1, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

            Thank you Janice. I wasn’t aware of the problem with the Bt test. However, I didn’t notice, so maybe you can point it out to me, any talk of the issues with regard to: “correlation between maternal and fetal exposure, and to determine exposure levels of GLYP and its metabolite aminomethyl phosphoric acid (AMPA), GLUF and its metabolite 3-methylphosphinicopropionic acid (3-MPPA)”

          • Janice Person February 3, 2014 at 12:17 am #

            Sorry Marvin, have been traveling. Let me see if friends can help on this question.

          • Marvin Schwartz March 14, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

            Hi Janice, I was wondering whether you heard from your friends about the study from Sherbrooke University in Quebec?

          • Janice Person March 14, 2014 at 10:06 pm #

            I thought they were going to help us both understand… will ask again.

          • Janice Person aka JPlovesCOTTON July 8, 2014 at 8:05 pm #

            Marvin, Have you read the links I provided? I have checked with a couple of different folks who agree the information I provided speak to the concerns you raised.

          • Marvin July 10, 2014 at 9:35 am #

            Hi Janice, Thanks for your persistence. I have been reviewing the links that you sent me but I haven’t had the time to do an in depth review. However, my superficial reading indicates a much more serious problem with those articles from a logical point of view. While they attack the methodology, they do not, at first blush, offer alternative methodologies. For instance, while I accept that the test for the protein was not appropriate, I would have expected the expert to say that test Y would have been the appropriate one. Since these products are put forward as safe, one would expect that these types of tests would have been done to demonstrate the claim. In the absence of such tests, one wonders how the claim of product safety was ever made.

  18. Joel April 15, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    Hi Janice – great article! One minor thing to nitpick, though: early on you say “There are several kinds of GMOs, all of them involve taking a gene from one species and putting it into another unrelated species.” While this is true of transgenic crops, it glosses over the fact that cisgenic crops are GMOs too: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1525145/

    Currently, essentially all GMOs on the market are transgenic, but I think we’ll see more cisgenic crops in the near future! Even some of the transgenic crops in the works primarily use genes from the species. For example, though Arctic apples (which have no proteins that aren’t in all apples) are technically transgenic due to their marker gene, the actual silencing of the enzyme that drives browning, polyphenol oxidase, is done through the use of other apple genes: http://www.arcticapples.com/arctic-apples-story/how-we-keep-apples-from-turning-brown

    • Janice Person April 15, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

      Thanks Joel for stopping by and for taking the time to help me understand the difference with some of the possibilities for the future. I’m not familiar with cisgenic crops but am suddenly very interested as I think the greatest potential for the future is finding ways to use these technologies to create healthier foods.

  19. Heather May 31, 2013 at 6:17 am #

    Thank-you for this article! I thought I was pro-GMO and this article confirmed it for me.

  20. Marvin June 16, 2014 at 10:55 am #

    Hi Janice, March 14 you indicated that you thought that your “friends” would have an answer. Still waiting? Marvin

    • Janice Person June 16, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

      Sorry Marvin, I asked someone who said they’d reply & then lost track. Let me try again.

  21. Charles Huebner July 8, 2014 at 7:24 am #

    There is no excuse for creating a food crop/product&id that poisons the environment and the person/animal eating it. The majority of the profit making use of GMO crops serve to profit the corporations that create them, and harm the consumer. We need more farmers producing organic ( labor intensive) foods
    We do not have to choose between hunger and being poisoned. Organic should be the law of the land.
    The problem is that less than 1% of the population are producing all the food. They are forced to compromise the environment and poison the food because they have to depend on chemical based mass production methods. Humans have abused and taken advantage of farmers because they feel entitled to cheap food. As a result no one wants to farm. And we have become complexly oblivious to knowing or caring about what is healthy to eat.
    The facts and evidence are indisputable – that long term exposure to pesticides and herbicides are very damaging to human health and farmers and people who live close to chemical based farms are much more likely to have many illnesses as a result of exposure.
    Your support of GMO is foolish and ignorant, and you may be part of the majority, but that doesn’t t make it right.
    Charli

    • Janice Person July 8, 2014 at 8:03 pm #

      I totally agree that we have taken farmers for granted and we need to be encouraging more people to pursue agriculture, but on the topic of GMOs and the other ideas you bring up, I respectfully disagree. I totally support the various ways food is grown and organic is one option but I don’t see one option needing to rule out other ways. I’ve spent years working directly with farmers and around GMOs. The idea that they are bad for people or the environment isn’t supported by the evidence I have seen first-hand.

  22. Sally Ann Stephens September 4, 2014 at 8:48 pm #

    There are many cases of highly intelligent psychos, sociopaths, criminals, scientists throughout human history. The way that Monsanto started out, held illegal private meetings with the EPA & FDA, Dept of Ag, & the many untested products they put out into the environment is NOT something a condone or support. Any research done on pesticides and how they work will show that they are poisons. GMO’s have been thrown at the population without their consent. The majority, and the last I check the majority was supposed to run this country, don’t want GMO’s. The supporters of Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Syngenta, etc, are just like pushing drugs onto us. We said NO! Just check out the poles to find out how most people feel. It is quite disgusting that the makers of DDT, bio-warfare chemicals, including Agent Orange, are still allowed to be in business let alone NOT be tried for murder. Just ask a soldier that lost a lung due to the defoliants dumped on them. To be PRO GMO at this time is UNAMERICAN & PRO DICTATORSHIP!!

  23. Janice Person September 11, 2014 at 10:55 pm #

    Sally, I can tell you are passionate about your point of view and feel certain you are in the right spot on this topic. I hope you can understand I have a different viewpoint that I have developed over years of working in agriculture.

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