I get asked quite often what my opinion is pertaining to certain things. Not sure if that’s because they think I’m well-educated or that they know I am opinionated. I am pretty sure it’s the later. Lately it’s been the question of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This has prompted me to do some extra research and to decide how I feel about GMOs.
There seems to be two trains of thought; you are either pro-GMO or totally against them. Hardly much wiggle room in there that I can find. Normally I am not so quick to choose a side, especially if it means discrediting the other side’s very valid points. Below is what I can find for the “pros” and “cons” of GMOs. After you have read through them you will find my take on them and how they affect horses. But first things first…..
What are GMOs?
Simply put GMOs are living things whose DNA has been altered, often with the addition of a gene from a distant species, to produce a desired trait. They are plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering, or GE). This experimental technology merges DNA from different species, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.
Unless you’re choosing organic or products specifically labeled non-GMO, you’ve been eating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and feeding them to your family and animals since 1996. Genetically Modified (GMO) crops are quickly becoming the next step in human’s long relationship with agriculture.
The rise of GMO crops in farming has caused great debate for many years and the two sides contradict each other all the time.
Pro-GMOs (or why some people think they are OK)
• For years, farmers have been using GMOs by keeping seeds from the best crops and planting them in following years, breeding and crossbreeding varieties to make them taste sweeter, grow bigger, last longer.
• With GM technology humans have transformed plants and animals to make them more resilient to disease and increase their life span.
• Many of today’s family farmers grow GMOs and feed them to their own families.
• GMO crops are normal crops that were modified at the genetic level to be grown with a lower need for water, are more insect-resistant, and grow stronger in a shorter period of time.
• The economic value is better for a GMO crop because it will require fewer inputs and yield greater outputs.
• GMOs are used to help farmers use LESS land, LESS water, LESS fuel and FEWER pesticides/herbicides.
• In a world where the growing population food demands exceed production, GMOs offer hope.
• Currently, three major agencies regulate genetically modified crops, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and they have declared that GMOs are not significantly different from naturally occurring foods.
No-GMOs (or what makes people say they are bad)
• Most GM organisms are designed to do one of two things: make plants more resistant to pesticides or allow the plant to produce its own pesticide, blasting open the stomach of the insect that eats it.
• Virtually all commercial GMOs are engineered to withstand direct application of herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide. Monsanto, for example, sells Roundup Ready crops, designed to survive applications of their Roundup herbicide.
• Most developed nations do not consider GMOs to be safe. In more than 60 countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs.
• In the U.S., the government has approved GMOs based on studies conducted by the same corporations that created them and profit from their sale.
• GMOs make it possible for allergens in one food type to emerge in a completely different species so for example, if you are allergic to soy, that allergen could end up in your strawberries.
• GMO crops are also responsible for the emergence of “super weeds” and “super bugs:’ which can only be killed with ever more toxic poisons like 2,4-D (a major ingredient in Agent Orange).
• GM crops and their associated herbicides can harm birds, insects, amphibians, marine ecosystems, and soil organisms.
• GMOs reduce bio-diversity, pollute water resources, and are unsustainable. For example, GM crops are eliminating habitat for monarch butterflies, whose populations are down 50% in the US.
However you feel about GMOs you might want to know this; most crops used in horse feeds in the US today contain GMOs. In fact approximately 94% of soy, 90% of canola, corn, and 95% of sugar beets planted in the US are genetically engineered.
In fact, GM soy and corn are found in about 80% of all processed foods. Another GM crop that is found in the equine diet is alfalfa, with wheat, barley and oats slated for GMO technology in the near future.
The bad news is that according to the Institute of Responsible Technology herbicide production has increased by 1500 percent since GMOs were first introduced in the mid-1990s. Roundup Ready® seeds are genetically engineered to be resistant to Monsanto’s top selling weed killer Roundup, which is composed of Glyphosate and a trademarked formula. Farmers can spray their entire crop with glyphosate, killing only the weeds and leaving the crop alive. In horses glyphosates are thought to tie up (reduce availability of) manganese, calcium, phosphorus, selenium, copper, iron, potassium, magnesium, cobalt and zinc.
In my opinion (well you asked) GMOs are a direct extension of chemical agriculture. In addition, the long-term impacts of GMOs are still unknown since they have only been around since 1996. Heck I have kids older than GMOs. Finally, once released into the environment these novel organisms cannot be recalled. For these reasons am against GMOs.
The good news is that we do not have to eat GMO products or feed them to our animals. Choice is one of the great things about our food supply. In reality, being non-GMO won’t be too hard for horse owners if you feed a forage based diet like I am always preaching.
Check the labels on your equine supplements and look for GMOs like soy, canola and corn ingredients, then avoid them. Find products that use other ingredients or use organic ones.
Feed only non-GMO beet pulp, it’s out there.
Until we know more about the long term effects on our health and the environment, I’m staying clear. I will miss the cheaper corn chips, but not that much.
Til we meet again,