Last week in my video update from the John Deere 6700 Sprayer I alluded to a future post about the modernization of agricultural chemical usage. This discussion must begin by first explaining the largest change in agriculture in the last half century: biotechnology. Today, we can use fewer, safer, and more selective chemicals than in previous decades, and this is due largely to the adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops. This adoption has also allowed reduced tillage and decreased herbicide/pesticide run-off. We use both GM and non-GM crops on our farm.
To give you a basic primer, GM crops are plant organisms that have had their genome modified to express (or sometimes not express) certain beneficial proteins or substances, or to have some resistance to a virus, herbicide, or fungus added. These modifications in turn confer some benefit for hardiness, yield, pest resistance, etc. Read about some beneficial “traits” in GM crops beyond the typically cited Round-Up herbicide resistance and Bt toxin (a natural insect pesticide now made by the plant that organic farmers have sprinkled on crops for many years by hand) you may have heard about:
Certainly, their have been many skeptics and even outright opponents of GM crops and their supposed potential to create “Frankenfoods” and effects that humans cannot control. Thus far, their has been little reason for alarm.
But don’t just trust me, turn to the experts: The National Academy of Sciences, an independent, peer-reviewed advisory council founded by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.
The Act of Congress creating them stated,
“The Academy shall, whenever called upon by any department of the Government, investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art, the actual expense of such investigations, examinations, experiments, and reports to be paid from appropriations which may be made for the purpose, but the Academy shall receive no compensation whatever for any services to the Government of the United States.”
Thus, the National Academy of Sciences and their affiliated organizations, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council, serve as the independent “Brain Bank” for the United States, advising on scientific issues and their potential ethical, economic, environmental, health, and social impacts. The organization has over 2,100 contributing members who are appointed for life (this allows true critical review and fewer political concerns, somewhat like our Supreme Court). They are some of the most accomplished and intelligent people in the entire nation and world, and their ranks include over 300 Nobel Prize Laureates!
More about them here:
The National Academies have repeatedly examined GM crops (also referred to as GE= genetically engineered crops) in detail in 2004 and 2010 and published the following reports:
Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects (2004)
Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States (2010)
One of the more interesting findings for you the consumer:
To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.
Now, this does not mean that there are no short- or long-term concerns for the continued adoption and usage of GM crops, and we cannot claim to know ALL the effects of our quest to make food more efficient, but neither can proponents of traditional farming methods.
To explore a VERY THOROUGH and OBJECTIVE discussion of benefits, concerns, and future issues surrounding GM crops, follow this link:
All foods have safety concerns and environmental impacts no matter how they are produced. Regardless of what types of foods you choose to purchase, be sure to thoroughly research arguments for certain practices and verify and critically analyze source information.
Some of the first “geneticists”, the Mayans, created corn by purposefully manipulating teosinte (a vastly different Central American grass) into the starchy staple that is safely consumed by countless people and animals today. Organic bean sprouts tainted with E. coli have made many in Germany sick in previous weeks. There are inherent risks with the pursuit of life…
Interestingly, genetic modification of plants and other organisms for medical uses is often widely accepted without question by many consumers. For example, the modern synthetic insulin used to treat Type I diabetes is made using either genetically modified E. coli bacteria or safflower plants. Tens of millions of doses of this insulin are used safely in the U.S. every year and with few complications. In fact, synthetic insulin is a better match for humans than previous drugs, and has nearly eliminated the allergic reactions to insulin that used to occur when pigs provided the only source for our diabetics. Read briefly about this here:
I hope this post has provided some useful sources to help you research and answer questions you or others may have about GM crops. It is in no way exhaustive, and there is much literature concerning this topic published every single day. Good luck sorting through it!