A Toast to GMO crops!

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Some bacteria have developed resistance so let’s ban all antibiotics. Electricity kills and injures people directly by electric shock, and indirectly, by black lung disease. Cars kill people, and are not “natural”. Big orange pumpkins do not occur in the wild, so they are to be avoided. Don’t take that ibuprofen! It and similar NSAIDS kill about 16,500 people annually and send over 100,000 to the hospital, if not taken as directed.

Of course, most of us flip on the lights to read the instructions before dispensing antibiotics to a sick loved one, and grab some ibuprofen to ease the muscle pain caused by unloading the large pumpkin from the car. We do these kinds of things every day, with caution, but without fear.

What’s my point? We weigh the good points against the bad, and make decisions that give the most benefit in spite of risks. We choose to accept the risks of driving a car and minimize them as best we can by safe driving. We have managed to minimize risk further with better engineering, as newer cars can warn you of a vehicle in your blind spot, or even avoid collisions by braking if you are too close. On the flip side, cars can save lives, rushing someone to a hospital where that dangerous electricity gives light to examine injury and power life-saving equipment.

The anti-GMO crowd can’t seem to apply this line of logic and engineering process to the use of GMOs. It is possible to grow food more productively with fewer pesticides because of GMO crops. We can make them more nutritious and more likely to survive in challenging climates, AND we can tinker with them as we go to minimize the risks. In the meantime, shall we let unfounded fears of GMO crops prevent us from helping feed hungry people across the world?

It’s bewildering to me that anyone could be that callous. It’s bewildering that anyone would automatically take the word of the fear-mongering, without taking up the research and studying the facts for themselves.

I’m further bewildered that anyone would think the vast majority of the world’s scientists are compromised, immoral, greedy humans because they support the use of GMO crops.

Yes, more than 500 independent research groups, after more than 25 years of study, have drawn the conclusion that there is no difference in food safety for GM and non GM crops. Were these all American scientists influenced by huge chemical corporations? Nope. This was a conclusion from the European Food Safety Authority, after spending almost $300,000,000 to study the impacts of GMOs,.

Have there been undesirable consequences from GMO crops? Yep. Super-weeds, those that developed resistance to herbicides is one, and that resistance led to the use of stronger herbicides that have proven problematic. Bt crops have the potential to cross with closely related native plants, with possible negative consequences to lepidoptera.

A closer look at these “possible negative consequences” is in order. Would that nebulous potential for negative impact be a reasonable tradeoff for the known reduction of negative impacts of powerful, broad spectrum insecticides on pollinators? Are the benefits worth the costs? We know for a fact that penicillin kills several hundred people a year, but it has saved more than 200 million since it was discovered. This point can be made over and over with any number of products.

Caution is always a good thing, and legitimate questions should be asked and answered. One is how GMO crops might affect the wild populations through crossbreeding. Consider that gene flow is a process that has always occurred under natural conditions. Those that result in better adapted plants succeed in being passed on, otherwise the new genes have no lasting influence.

Also consider that gene insertion actually alters the “tinkered” plant’s DNA very little, changing only one miniscule portion rather than the roughly equivalent swapping of chromosomes that occurs with pollination. In some cases, that tiny tweak of gene modification may have enormous impact, saving lives, lowering inputs, or even preserving a useful plant for posterity. Spinach genes make a case in point, as they may save the citrus industry, killing the bacteria responsible for “greening disease” that is devastating citrus groves. I hope it is successful, and that one day I’ll raise a glass of GMO orange juice in salute.

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Carol Reese

Carol Reese is an Extension Horticulture Specialist housed at the University of Tennessee’s West Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center in Jackson. She is a nationally-known speaker, blending equal parts gardening knowledge, natural lore, and quirky humor.

Carol is the gardening and nature columnist for several newspapers, as well as a contributor to several gardening magazines. She was the Q&A columnist for Horticulture Magazine for several years.

Her B.S. and M.S. in Horticulture are from Mississippi State University, and she could also add her Ph.D. if she “had ever written that damn dissertation!” While there, she taught classes in Plant Materials, and co-taught Landscape Design for non-LA majors alongside a “real” landscape architect.

She attributes her love of horticulture to being raised on a farm by generations of plant nuts, including a grandfather who dynamited his garden spot each spring to “break up his hard pan”. Carol’s very personal appreciation of natural lore is at least partially a result of her near daily rambles through the wild areas near her home with her motley collection of mutts, also known as the strong-willed breed of “Amalgamations.”

 

42 COMMENTS

  1. A simple way to tell if GMOs are safe is the billboard test and the insurance physical test. There are no billboards or TV ads by lawyers asking if you need help in suing over injuries from GMOs. Insurance physicals don’t ask if you’ve eaten a GMO food, like they do if you fly in small airplanes.

    Thank you for bringing logic to the GMO discussion.

  2. While I don’t object to GMOs in general, I do object to the big companies taking shortcuts with pesticides that end up in the food because of GMOs. Roundup is being used on non-GMO crops to kill them off quicker for harvest and guess what? It’s showing up in our food. This is NOT A GOOD THING.

    https://www.ewg.org/childrenshealth/glyphosateincereal/#.W4_PkoXfWt8

    I think there’s needs to be tougher oversight on GMOs in general because the big companies can’t be trusted to police themselves. The bottom line for them is profit, not health.

    • Yes, exactly. I would prefer my bread not contain roundup residues. I live in Europe and GMO crops are prohibited. Roundup Ready crops resist glyphosate which makes it possible to spray roundup all over a field, killing all of he “weeds” without harming the crop. Some of those weeds are also known as native plants, and they provide food and habitat for numerous insects, including pollinators. Without those unwanted plants, the numbers of insects dependent on them are drastically reduced. There are also birds which rely on those same plants for food, nesting materials, etc. Without the insect population, many birds will not stay in an area, will not reproduce. etc. This is a well documented phenomenon. I’m not worried about eating something that was produced by a GMO seed. I’m very worried about the impact on other aspects of the environment.
      bonnie in provence

      • What part did you not understand about GMO crops reducing pesticide use. Please research this and think about it before assuming the worst. And reread the article…

        • DOES something labeled “RoundUp-Ready” actually reduce the use of RoundUp? Does something labeled “Dicamba-resistant actually reduce the use of Dicamba? How?

        • “What part did you not undestand?” Please don’t attack your commenters this way.
          I too am very concerned about the amount of glyphosate being used on crops, either to keep them week-free, or to time their end-of-life to be able to schedule harvest more conveniently. In addition to the overuse of a weed-killer in an inappropriate manner, this practice is leading to weeds developing resistance to glyphosate, which only leads to a need and search for yet more powerful week killers. It is an endless chemical arms race.
          I have no doubt that GMO foods themselves will not kill me or make me sick. But the fallout of innocent victims (Dewayne Johnson for example) and the overall chemical burden we all must carry is too high a price to pay for the ability to feed an overpopulated planet.
          The runoff from agricultural use, and the buildup of residues in the soil are certainly contributing to a reduction in habitat and species that are already struggling from climate change.
          Monarch butterflies are in decline. Why? No milkweed to feed the caterpillars.
          Just as intensive farming practices meant to feed more people led to the Dust Bowl disaster, this latest effort to feed people at the expense of the environment is already proving to have lasting consequences we will be left with, while Monsanto and Bayer executives cash their fat checks.
          And don’t get me started on GMO salmon, frankenfish designed to live in dirty confinement being fed a diet of crap instead of the varied, wild diet that made natural salmon so nutritious for us. Another food source that, while more plentiful, may not be worth consuming any longer.
          Plants grown in monoculture, fed chemically and kept weed-free by being doused with yet more chemicals, growing in depleted soil, do not contain the same variety of micronutrients that are present in organically grown plants.
          Please broaden your own research beyond the confines of whether or not GMO’s will make you sick. There is far more at stake than this narrow-minded view of “me first”. Feed millions with something that is harmful to the environment in which they live, and what are we left with?

          • Totally agree with this person’s comment. Gmo companies and there chemicals are destroying our health and poisoning the planet. Is this the reason more young people are getting cancer? A diet of chemical grown food is not a good choice.

    • The Environmental Working Groups methods have been questioned before so to take their post at face value may undermine your argument. I think we as a society do not evaluate information very well with the overload of information. For example, I am not sure how valid this post criticizing EWG is, but it shows that not everyone believes in their methods.
      https://www.activistfacts.com/organizations/113-environmental-working-group/
      This is why Carol’s point is so important. Research and evaluate the pros and cons of each issue before making a knee-jerk decision based on a preconceived bias that a big corporation is “evil”
      It is ironic how so many people mock climate-change deniers as anti-science when people on the other side of the argument decline to use science when it conflicts with their own ideas and agendas.

  3. As long as I’m still given a choice between GMO and non-GMO foods, then I’ll live with it. I want transparency.

    I have severe food allergies. They are no joke. If corporations are going to monkey around with the DNA in our food, it’s possible I might have a reaction to a food that “should” be safe but was made unsafe by a change in it’s genome. Do I matter? Does my health matter if I’m only in the 1% affected by that DNA change? (FYI – I’m allergic to spinach…kale, celery, sunflowers, figs, apples, etc.) Does the child with a peanut allergy matter if that child is in the 1% and a company inserts a gene that has a cross reactivity with peanuts? Even if I didn’t have allergies and even if it’s not backed by science, I want to be given a choice. Is that asking too much?

    • You might be interested to learn that they working with inserting genes to remove the proteins responsible for peanut and gluten allergies. It would behoove one to read up on the sunny side of gmo tinkering and not assume that it is always going to make things worse. An open mind is always a good thing, right?

      • Okay, I admit I like to take a cautious approach to most things…Why? Because some things that are initially deemed safe by professionals turn out not to be so safe…Examples…Thalidomide and its effects on babies or Avandia for diabetics. Also asbestos was deemed safe at one point. The drug. Thorazine, also comes to mind. It can take ten years for tardive dyskinesia to make an appearance if you take the Thorazine for a prolonged period of time.

        I will keep an open mind about GMOs, and I’ll let everyone else test them out for another 20 years before I decide to try them. In the meantime, if you prefer GMO juice, I’m okay with that, and I promise to still be your friend if you grow a third eye in the middle of your forehead. (Actually, that could be a real advantage.)

    • Thank you, Clare!!!! Much more sense in the article you shared the link for — I am unsubscribing from this Rant and subscribing to your sensible one.

  4. You might be interested to learn that they working with inserting genes to remove the proteins responsible for peanut and gluten allergies. It would behoove one to read up on the sunny side of gmo tinkering and not assume that it is always going to make things worse. An open mind is always a good thing, right?

  5. This idea that hybrid seeds ruined small farmers has no basis in reality and has been debunked many times. Please do research on how to ascertain trusted sources and not believe all you read from those with an agenda. It takes time and is a learning curve and must be done issue by issue.

  6. Thank you for this. I always wonder how people think we will manage to feed the number of people expected to be in the future world without some ‘tinkering’. Especially coupled with the loss of arable land around the world. Until we are able to eat asphalt, other avenues also need to be explored. GMO aren’t the only answer, but it should be one of the arrows in our quiver.

  7. I thought the primary current concern about GMOs was that by fostering so-called Superweeds they were leading to use of more pherbicide, and more potent herbicide, overall. I don’t see that addressed here.

  8. I gather from your posts that you love turf lawn, are a big cheerleader for Monsanto, and think that there are already ‘enough’ natives in plant nurseries. I previously enjoyed garden rant’s authors, but am unsubscribing now. This isn’t the type of gardening debate I am really interested in.

      • She also needs to be less rude and more polite. Why is Carol Reese always SO condescending to Garden Rant’s readers? It’s not needed and turns people off. Agreeing with someone above about Monsanto, I have to wonder if she is either on their payroll, indirectly as a consultant, or otherwise unduly influence by them. And perhaps Bayer?
        I won’t unsubscribe from here; I like reading all the other contributors, but I am making it a habit to simply DELETE when I see a post by her.
        She is very unpleasant; no one is allowed to disagree with her and if one dares to do so, she screams back at them.
        Not my cup of tea.

  9. I have a thought on GMO foods (and I’ll go on record as being personally opposed to them). I’m in my 60’s, and when I was in school, autistic kids, obese kids and diabetic kids were a tiny handful of the school population. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, those kids rapidly became the norm. What changed? GMO foods entered the marketplace a few years before that. Coincidence? I’m not so certain. When it comes to GMO foods, Americans have been lab rats without their consent. There were never any human trials before they were put into commerce. We’ve found out what can happen as we’ve gone along, but for some reason, nobody ever wants to entertain that possibility. Sorry, but I avoid GMO’s as much as possible. About the only benefit they’ve shown so far is to the biotech companies’ bottom lines.

  10. I fail to see bellicosity in this author’s initial post nor her follow-up comments. I find her appeals to “read what I actually wrote” reasonable, especially in light of the feelings-laden responses of some here. I am amazed that too many responders clearly did not carefully read her post and then got so upset when she directed them back. And wow, the over-the-top, “I’m leaving this site” stuff: no WONDER our country is in such trouble right now. Too many of us refuse to hear or read what is not perceived to be conforming to our own echo chamber. Even in the world of horticulture, ideology is alive and well. I appreciate the rants of gardenrant.com; please keep them coming!

    • So well said! And have you noticed the other commenters who’ve been threatening to unsubscribe lately? The Trump-defenders. Susan at GardenRant

  11. Thanks to those that read it carefully and for those that disagree, I only ask that you will pursue this topic and read the article that Allen Bush linked to it, which explores more fully the pros and cons, and more deeply explores the groups behind the spread of information. When I speak on topics I know some find controversial, I always ask them not to believe ME. I never believe a single source. I check and read, and follow and research the groups putting out the information, pro AND con until I develop a feel for those that are dedicated to truth and that have a strong moral compass. That is all I ask of you. If we as a society are not willing to take on finding the best answers we can, scare tactics might take away things like vaccinations. One of the comments blames GMO foods for childhood diabetes, autism and diabetes. I’ve heard others blame these conditions on cell phones or vaccinations, even microwaves! There is a staggering amount of science that says they are safe…and NO, I am not in any way a friend to Monsanto, I’m so tired of that and once again it proves they did not read the article! Here is the exact wording from my piece. “… more than 500 independent research groups, after more than 25 years of study, have drawn the conclusion that there is no difference in food safety for GM and non GM crops. Were these all American scientists influenced by huge chemical corporations? Nope. This was a conclusion from the European Food Safety Authority, after spending almost $300,000,000 to study the impacts of GMOs.” So if you want to believe all of them are somehow owing Monsanto so that you can disregard the science, feel free. I will also feel free to sound snarky for those who wear blinders.

    • “I am not in any way a friend to Monsanto,”

      They are not the only players in this game. Some good reading: Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food by Pamela C. Ronald and R. W. Adamchak

  12. You go, girl. I am absolutely convinced that humans will discover amazing solutions to our problems even as at the same time we blunder and fail, and there will always be those who are trying to make a buck or gain power over others, creating a lack of trust (damn human nature!). It is our jobs as citizens to become informed and educated, get out of our bubbles, speak up and communicate with each other, so our policy makers know what we want. Food security, climate change, population growth; time’s a wasting!

  13. Carol, I can’t authoritatively blame GMO’s for obesity, diabetes and autism. I’m not an anti-vaxxer or a conspiracy theorist – and I’m certainly not a scientist. However, I stand by my comment insofar as their advent seemed to coincide with the introduction of GMO’s into the food supply. Now, there can certainly be environmental or other factors at play here, but it seems plausible given the timeline. And I cannot understand why no one will even entertain the possibility. Nobody will go there. And I reiterate that there were never any human trials before these things were foisted on us. And I read a very interesting book called “Genetic Roulette” by Jeffrey Smith. He was a biotech scientist at one time, and worked with animal trials (for example, the recombinant bovine growth hormone in milk). He claimed that any bad results got swept under the rug. One trial he cited found that rBGH caused nasty cases of mastitis in female cows. I have a sister who is a huge milk drinker. She came down with a severe case of mastitis. Coincidence? Perhaps – perhaps not. But I do object to being a lab rat without my express consent. This is why I steer clear of GMO’s. I don’t disagree that we need to explore new methods and sciences that will help feed people – but I do think we’ve let the biotech companies hijack the process without adequate supervision. There should be better ways of accomplishing what’s needed.

  14. I agree we should not be Guinea pigs, we all agree on that, and as stated, extensive research HAS been done…and by more than 500 concerned and independent groups who are in no way compromised by loyalty to Monsato et al. “It seems plausible” is your phrase. It seems plausible it could be any number of other things that permeate today’s culture, but GMO crop research has shown that eating them is not the cause. I’m still puzzled that you ignore the science, sorry, as these childhood issues, particularly obesity and diabetes have been shown to be clearly related to eating far too much of processed high calorie foods and lack of exercise.

  15. Carol, I’d like to put a question to you, and I think it’s a valid one. (I’ll use Monsanto here, because they’ve been the most strident and vigorous in opposing this.) Why does Monsanto so vehemently oppose labeling of GMO foods? If they’re as safe as you and others say, then I would think that Monsanto would be proud to label them as such – and let the consumer make their own decision. Instead, they’ve fought labeling tooth and nail. They’ve poured money into shutting down ballot initiatives. That suggests to my mind that they either have something they want to keep hidden, or they know that if consumers do have the chance to decide for themselves, they’ll turn away from GMO’s – and profits will go down. Thoughts?

    • Heavens, you are asking me to speak for Monsanto? I would conjecture that it would be because the misguided public thinks GMO foods are bad, so it would be poor business for those companies that use those crops, but you knew that. I stand for science, I don’t worry about why big wealthy companies make decisions, but I do worry that the misguided opinions will keep us from being able to pursue technologies that allow us to minimize the detrimental impacts of heavy pesticide use such as broad spectrum insecticides, or help develop more nutritious or drought tolerant foods, or disease resistant crops such as the technology I mentioned that may save the citrus groves. Do NOT assume I will defend Monsanto, I am defending good science that makes good environmental sense and has a positive impact on our health. Please join me in this cause!

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