As an organic farmer I sometimes forget that the GMO debate is still being … well debated. As far as I am concerned there is no debate, we—that means every American consumer—should know where our food comes from and what’s in it and according to recent polls, 92% of the people of America agree. This was really bought home to me recently when a good friend, mentor and fellow organic farmer Mark Nightengale and a longtime supporter of organic certification said that if he had to say which was more important in American today, the organic label or the non GMO seal—even though organic has a certification process that is trackable, traceable and accountable and means the product is non-GMO—it only represents about 5% of the food sold in the US today. So what about the other 95%? If you are concerned about the possibility of GMOs in your non-organic food, then you better look for the Non GMO Project Verified seal. With an estimated 80% or more of the US food supply containing some portion of GMO and with no mandatory labeling laws in the US as far as GMO’s are concerned it’s consumer beware.
According to Consumer Reports March 2015 “If you want to be certain your food isn’t made with GMO’s, look for the Non-GMO Project Verified seal, or buy organic.” While we have been eating foods that contain GMO’s for over 15 years, supporters maintain that there is no credible evidence that people have been harmed. But saying there is no evidence of harm, is not the same as saying they have been proved safe. While other developed nations use protocols recommended by a joint commission of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, and GMO labeling is mandatory in more than 60 countries, the US is still holding out.
I have to ask, if 92% of American’s believe that foods should be properly labeled, then why are we not doing it? There’s a lot of money being spent on both sides of the issue but the amounts spent are nowhere near balanced. Labeling campaigns are routinely outspent by anti-labeling interests by an average of nearly 6 to 1 as was seen in the Prop 37 campaign. With this excessive money they convince voters, the proposals are poorly written or the cost of their food will go up or plant with clearer aids misleading the people, misstating the facts and plants seeds of doubt and confusion in order to discourage would be voters supporting labeling. It’s not a big surprise that much of the GMO labeling opposition comes from the GMO seed manufacturers and the food industry which is using GMOs in their products. One main “selling point” for crops containing GMO’s has been that they reduce the use of pesticides. The truth is that is makes a big difference what kind of pesticides you are talking about. The use of insecticides (bug killers) has declined since these crops were introduced in the mid-90’s, but the use of herbicides such as glyphosate mostly sold under the brand name of Roundup (which kills weeds) has soared.
The vast majority of corn, soy, canola and sugar beets grown in the US are now genetically engineered and they can turn up in some unexpected places. For instance some spices and seasoning mixes contain GMO corn and soy. And soft-drink ingredients that might be derived from genetically modified corn include not only corn syrup but also the artificial sweetener aspartame, glucose, citric acid and colorings.
From the viewpoint of a farmer, what the really scary part of all this is that the chemicals are killing the soil and if we continue this way, our soil may never recover. Yes, I have a vested interest in protecting organic farming, but it just makes common sense. My good friend Mark’s family had farmed the chemical way and by 1992 their farm in South-Central Kansas was all but finished. Mark persuaded the family that organic was the only way to go. The naysayers all predicted they would lose the farm but as Mark said, “It was already gone, there really was no other choice.” After five years of cleaning the soil and operating crop rotation they now have a thriving organic farm.
I have only scratched the surface of GMO’s and will continue to post articles on various aspects of the issue. But for now I want you to remember one word … Roundup…it’s a word you will be hearing a lot more of real soon. Many of you know what I am referring to, but for those who don’t, stay tuned!