Finding myself in a conversation earlier about GMO corn and a friend stating as fact that all corn is now GMO. Also seeing a trending topic by Gwenyth Paltrow that humans have been genetically modifying food for millennia. It is interesting to me that there can be so much non-fact based stats and misleading information out there. I guess I am interested today in getting the facts. Where does this information come from and why is it so often misinterpted? During my conversation I find myself not responding because I do not have my own facts to counter the false statements. The following excerpts are from articles I found to be a source of good information on the debate of GMO vs Hybrid seeds and their infiltration of the overall food source.
Hybrid Seeds. Genetically-modified (GMO) seeds. Heirloom seeds. The labels often confuse people. Not a single day passes without some well-meaning reader leaving a comment like this one: “GMOs are perfectly safe. Farmers and gardeners have been cross-breeding seeds like this for thousands of years. Take off your tinfoil hats, people!”
Um… no. Just no.
Farmers and gardeners have NOT been cross-breeding seeds like this for thousands of years. What those well-intentioned readers fail to understand is the fundamental difference between hybrid seeds and GMOs.
HYBRID SEEDS: WHAT ARE THEY?
Farmers and gardeners have been cultivating new plant varieties for thousands of years through selective breeding. They did this by cross-pollinating two different, but related plants over 6 to 10 plant generations, eventually creating a new plant variety.
HYBRID SEEDS: THE CONSEQUENCES
The biggest disadvantage of hybrid seeds is that they don’t “reproduce true” in the second generation. That means that if you save the seeds produced by F1 hybrid plants and plant them, the plant variety that will grow from those seeds (known as the second generation) may or may not share the desired traits you selected for when creating the first generation hybrid seed
Small Footprint Family writes:
“When the peasant farmers grew these new hybrids, they were indeed more productive, even though they required more fertilizer and water. But when they collected and saved the seed for replanting the next season—as they had done for generations and generations—none of it grew true to the parent crop, little food grew, and these poor farmers, having none of their open-pollenated traditional varieties left viable, had no choice but to go back to the big companies to purchase the hybrid seeds again for planting year after year.”
By the 1990s an estimated 95% of all farmers in the First World and 40% of all farmers in the Third World were using Green Revolution hybrid seeds, with the greatest use found in Asia, followed by Mexico and Latin America.
The world lost an estimated 75 percent of its food biodiversity, and control over seeds shifted from farming communities to a handful of multinational corporations.
GMO SEEDS: WHAT ARE THEY?
Unlike hybrid seeds, GMO seeds are not created using natural, low-tech methods. GMO seed varieties are created in a lab using high-tech and sophisticated techniques like gene-splicing.
Furthermore, GMO seeds seldom cross different, but related plants. Often the cross goes far beyond the bounds of nature so that instead of crossing two different, but related varieties of plant, they are crossing different biological kingdoms — like, say, a bacteria with a plant.
For example, Monsanto has crossed genetic material from a bacteria known as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) with corn. The goal was to create a pest-resistant plant. This means that any pests attempting to eat the corn plant will die since the pesticide is part of every cell of the plant.
The resultant GMO plant, known as Bt Corn, is itself registered as a pesticide with the EPA, along with other GMO Bt crops. In other words, if you feed this corn to your cattle, your chickens, or yourself, you’ll be feeding them an actual pesticide — not just a smidgeon of pesticide residue.
Mother Earth News summarized it this way:
“The trouble is that nobody knows how these unnatural new organisms will behave over time. The seed companies that develop these varieties claim intellectual property rights so that only they can create and sell the variety. In some cases, companies?—?such as Monsanto?—?even refuse to allow scientists to obtain and study their GM seeds. For some crops, such as corn, wind can carry the pollen from GM varieties and contaminate non-GM varieties. And there is no mandatory labeling of GM content in seed, says Kristina Hubbard, advocacy and communications director for the Organic Seed Alliance.”
Here is another article on corn production Sweet Corn vs Feed Corn
From my reading on the topic of GMO vs Hybrid is that around 85% of Feed corn in now GMO in the snippet below you can see where the majority of it goes and how it is used today.
Some 28,000 American farmers grew 3.1 billion pounds of sweet corn in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, generating a market valued at $822 million in 2012 (USDA 2012a). But this special type of corn, a natural mutation that is believed to have emerged in Pennsylvania in the mid-18th century, represents less than 1 percent of American corn production (Iowa State University 2011).
Most of the American corn crop is “field corn,” a starchy grain highly valued worldwide for its versatility. This year, American farmers are projected to produce about 14 billion bushels of corn, or 980 billion pounds, according to the USDA, vastly more than any other grain (USDA 2014).
Corn is a component of a wide variety of goods on the American marketplace. The USDA estimates that 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop is processed into ethanol for use as engine fuel, 37 percent goes for livestock feed and 11 percent is made into processed food ingredients like corn flour, corn syrup, corn starch and cooking oil (USDA 2012a). As of 2011, cornfields covered 92 million acres in all 50 states, with the most intense concentration in the Midwest.
this part of the article is interesting in that it promotes mis-information
“Based on figures from the USDA and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EWG calculates that every year, American farmers apply around 300 million pounds of the active ingredients in pesticides to their cornfields (USDA 2012b).
“Because the thick husk protects corn kernels from pesticide applications, few pesticides show up as contaminants on kernels that would be eaten by people and animals.”
If you are buying GMO corn it doesn’t matter if the husk of the corn can protect the kernels from spay on pesticides the fact that it is a GMO product means that its very DNA is a pesticide.
Stating from the same article this part I find to be fact:
“Some 90 percent of the American field corn crop is genetically engineered to resist herbicides or to produce a protein derived from bacillus thringiensis bacteria that can kill certain insect pests such as the southwestern corn borer (USDA 2013). Consequently, corn-based sweeteners, starches and oils in processed foods are almost certainly manufactured from genetically engineered corn. In contrast only a small amount of GE sweet corn can be found on the U.S. market. Most sweet corn has not been genetically engineered. ”
I like this article in MotherJones as a finishing statement on the topic. There is so much more to learn and discuss on this topic and I am open to an honest research based conversation. ~ avajane
So what are some examples of food that are genetically modified?
1. Papayas: In the 1990s, Hawaiian papaya trees were plagued by the ringspot virus which decimated nearly half the crop in the state. In 1998, scientists developed a transgenic fruit called Rainbow papaya, which is resistant to the virus. Now 77 percent of the crop grown in Hawaii is genetically engineered (GE).
2. Milk: RGBH, or recombinant bovine growth hormone, is a GE variation on a naturally occurring hormone injected into dairy cows to increase milk production. It is banned for milk destined for human consumption in the European Union, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Many milk brands that are rGBH-free label their milk as such, but as much as 40 percent of our dairy products, including ice cream and cheese, contains the hormone.
3. Corn on the cob: While 90 percent of corn grown in the United States is genetically modified, most of that crop is used for animal feed or ethanol and much of the rest ends up in processed foods. Sweet corn—the stuff that you steam or grill on the barbecue and eat on the cob—was GMO-free until last year when Monsanto rolled out its first GE harvest of sweet corn. While consumers successfully petitioned Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s to not carry the variety, Walmart has begun stocking the shelves with it without any label.
4. Squash and zucchini: While the majority of squashes on the market are not GE, approximately 25,000 acres of crookneck, straightneck, and zucchinis have been bioengineered to be virus resistant.
5. “All natural” foods: Be wary of this label if you’re trying to avoid GE foods. Right now there is no strict definition of what constitutes a natural food. This could be changing soon as federal court judges recently requested the Food and Drug Administration to determine whether the term can be used to describe foods containing GMOs to help resolve pending class action suits against General Mills, Campbell Soup Co., and the tortilla manufacturer Gruma Corp.
Are there any foods I’ve heard might be genetically modified—but actually aren’t?
1. Potatoes: In 1995, Monsanto introduced genetically modified potatoes for human consumption, but after pressure from consumers, McDonald’s and several other major fast food chains told their French fry suppliers to stop growing GE potatoes. The crop has since been removed from the market.
2. Seedless watermelon: While it would seem plausible that a fruit that produces no seeds has been bioengineered, the seedless watermelon is a hybrid of two separate breeds. It has been nicknamed the “mule of the watermelon world.”
3. Salmon: Currently no meat, fish, or egg products are genetically engineered, though a company called Aqua Bounty has an application in with the FDA to approve its GE salmon.
4. Soy milk: While 93 percent of soy grown in the United States is genetically engineered, most major brands of soy milk are GMO-free. Silk, the best-selling soy milk brand in the country, joined the Non-GMO Project in 2010. Many popular tofu brands in the United States also sell GMO-free tofu products.*
5. Rice: A staple food for nearly half the world’s population, there are currently no varieties of GM rice approved for human consumption. However, that could soon change. A genetically modified variety called golden rice being developed in the Philippines has been altered to include beta-carotene, a source of vitamin A. Backers are lauding it as a way to alleviate nutrient deficiency for the populations in developing countries.
How about organic foods?
Since the late ’90s, USDA organic standards have prohibited any genetically modified ingredients. Originally, the agency tried to include GE foods under the organic umbrella, but it backed down in 2002 after a massive public outcry to save organic standards.
How long have I been eating GE food?
Scientists conducted the first GE food trials the late 1980s, and in 1994, a biotech company called Calgene released the first GMO approved for human consumption: the “Flavr Savr tomato,” designed to stay ripe on the vine longer without getting squishy. The product, which Monsanto eventually picked up, flopped, but it paved the way for others: Biotech companies have made billions since with GE corn, soy bean, cotton, and canola.
Aren’t food companies required to let me know whether their products contain GMOs?
Not in the United States. Sixty-four developing and developed countries require GMO food labeling, according to Freese at the Center for Food Safety. You may have heard about the recent string of “Right to Know” bills in state assemblies across the country. The bills are aimed to require food companies to label any products that contain genetically modified organisms. Connecticut and Maine recently passed laws that would require food manufacturers to reveal GE ingredients on product packaging, but those laws won’t go into effect until other states adopt similar measures. Americans overwhelmingly support such laws, with poll after poll showing that over 90 percent of respondents support mandatory labeling. Biotech companies and the food industry say that such labeling would be expensive and pointless since genetically engineered foods have been declared safe for human consumption.
So if the food is safe, what’s all the fuss about them?
First off, not everyone agrees that GMOs are safe to eat, especially over the long term. The European Union remains decidedly skeptical, with very few approved GE crops grown on the continent and mandatory labeling in place for products that contain GMOs. Some scientists fear that GMOs could cause allergies in humans. Others point to the environmental consequences of the farming of GE crops.
How do GMOs affect the environment?
One word: Pesticides. Hundreds of millions of extra pounds of pesticides. The six biggest producers of GE seeds—Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow Agrosciences, BASF, Bayer, and Pioneer (DuPont)—are also the biggest producers of chemical herbicides and insecticides. Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops, for example, are genetically engineered to be immune to herbicide so that farmers can destroy weeds without killing their cash crops. But the process has spawned Roundup resistant weeds, leading farmers to apply greater and greater doses of the chemical or even resort to more toxic methods to battle back the superweeds.
Where can I learn more about GMOs?
Mother Jones’ Tom Philpott writes critically about GMOs often. In this 2011 Scientific American piece, Brendan Borrell lays out the pro-GMO case very well. Grist’s Nathanael Johnson has written several posts that clarify the basic science behind GE crops, and a New York Times Room for Debate from 2009 offers a pretty good synopsis of the controversy. Food policy wonks might enjoy perusing the Food and Agriculture Organization’s page on biotechnology in agriculture; if you’re looking for a more entertaining way to educate yourself, a documentary called GMO OMG opens in select theaters this fall.
Altieri M. 2000. Modern Agriculture: Ecological impacts and the possibilities for truly sustainable farming. http://nature.berkeley.edu/~miguel-alt/modern_agriculture.html
Benbrook C. 2012. Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. – the first sixteen years. Environmental Sciences Europe. 24:24.
European Union. 2013. Bees & Pesticides: Commission goes ahead with plan to better protect bees. http://ec.europa.eu/food/animal/liveanimals/bees/neonicotinoids_en.htm
EWG. 2014. EWG’s 2014 Shopper’s Guide To Avoiding GE Food. http://www.ewg.org/research/shoppers-guide-to-avoiding-ge-food
Farm Industry News. 2013. Glyphosate-resistant weed problem extends to more species, more farms. http://farmindustrynews.com/herbicides/glyphosate-resistant-weed-problem… Accessed March 17, 2014.
All corn images come from google search for native corn, gmo corn and corn in hands
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