Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The #FarmFoodTour Ventures Into GMOs

Disclaimer: This post and the #FarmFoodTour are sponsored by the Kansas Farm Bureau, Kansas Pork Association, and the Kansas Soybean Commission, who paid for all of my travel expenses and compensated me for this post. However, my writings, views, opinions, thoughts, and cravings are entirely my own.  

Most of you know I’m a big supporter of local and organic foods. As much as my food budget will allow, I buy Kansas or organic products. I buy local produce at the farmer’s market, even if it isn’t organic, to help support area farmers.

I buy organic products for a lot of reasons.  Sometimes it’s because I interviewed the company’s owner or founder while I was an editor at a natural health magazine years ago. However, I’m usually motivated by taste. For example, I think organic strawberries taste better than conventional. The same goes for organic eggs, dairy, and meats. I buy organic milk because it is ultra-pasteurized, which means it stays fresher longer in my refrigerator. I don’t wind up pouring out half a carton because it spoiled before I could drink it.

On the flip side, there is my family farm. Founded in Hughesville, Missouri in 1909, many generations have grown up and thrived on those 128 acres. When my maternal grandfather got too old to farm, a younger neighbor farmer took over the work part and continues to do so today. Corn and soybeans are grown there…all GMO.

What are GMOs?

Chances are pretty good you’ve eaten GMOs, which is short for genetically modified organism. These are plants that have had their genetic code (DNA) changed in hopes the new plant will be more productive for farmers.  According to the USDA, approximately 90 percent of soybeans, corn, and cotton grown in the US are from GMO seeds.

                      (Image from "Farm to Plate: Learning How Food is Grown" by Monsanto)

Recently I went on a #FarmFoodTour sponsored by the Kansas Farm Bureau, the Kansas Soybean Commission, and the Kansas Pork Association. We were a group of bloggers, dietitians, and farmers in search of information about our food.

One of the days on the trip was spent at Monsanto in St. Louis. This is the company who pioneered GMO technology around 20 years ago…and also the one who is the villain to non-GMO advocates. Today they’re not the only ones producing GMO seeds, but they were the first and best known.

Why genetically modify a plant? The primary reasons are:
  • Insect resistance
  • Herbicide tolerance
  • Climate tolerance—coping with drought and temperature extremes
  • Increasing crop yields
  • Increasing nutritional value

There are only 9 GMO crops in the United States—alfalfa, canola, corn (field and sweet), cotton, papaya, potatoes, soybeans, squash, and sugar beets. Apples will be added to the list soon.

I could write an entire book about GMOs. In fact, people have! Here are some websites to check out for more information:

I first learned about GMOs while working at the magazine. The people in the natural health and organic worlds are very much anti-GMO, so that is where my mindset was when I went on my Monsanto visit. I’ll let you decide how you feel about this topic, but some of the things I learned after my day in St. Louis include:

1. Many of the farmers I know, not only from this trip but also throughout my lifetime, are comfortable with using GMO seeds. They feel these seeds make their job easier and increase their yields—and profits. They also believe strongly that using GMO seeds is the only way they are going to be able to feed a quickly growing world population in the future.

2. The scientists at Monsanto care about the work they do and its impact on the environment and our health. Before a GMO seed is available for sale, it goes through eight to ten years of research and approval from the USDA, EPA, and FDA.

3. Monsanto produces non-GMO seeds as well, including ones sold to organic farmers.

Some of you may have noticed GMO labeling on many products in the grocery store. This is due in part because of a Vermont law requiring GMO labels. If a product doesn’t have it, you can usually find the information on the company’s website.

One of my fellow food travelers had a “GMO free” label on her morning yogurt. Another found “made with GMOs” in tiny print on the back of her package of gum. Sometimes a product is labeled with GMOs because an ingredient, such as corn syrup, is made with a GMO plant, or animals, such as dairy cows, are fed GMO grain.

However, one person talked about seeing a “GMO free” label on fresh basil. Of course it’s GMO free! There is no such thing as GMO basil. This is where you as the consumer need to be informed.

I remember when natural labels were put on everything. Now the term “natural”  has little meaning. The same thing was happening to organic labels until the USDA created labeling standards.

As a consumer, it is important to understand what GMOs are and if those labels are providing accurate information or being used as a marketing tool to get you to buy a product. I’ll admit, after my Monsanto visit, I feel better about GMOs and their place in agriculture. We are lucky in this country to have a lot of choices when it comes to buying food. Being informed allows you to decide the best food direction for you and your family.