Posted by: A Part of the Solution | September 3, 2013

Aside from the Poisons, What’s wrong with GMOs?

Genetically Modified Organisms, GMOs, are NOT traditional hybrids. Farmers and agri-scientists create hybrids by breeding like plants or animals together. They select for specific traits until the desired qualities express reliably from generation to generation. GMOs carry genetic material from disparate domains of the family of life. Without lab invention and intervention, the genes in question could never combine. Remember cold-water fish genes inserted into hot-house tomatoes grown to be shipped long-distance?

GMOs in the United States, where nearly all the seed patents and their holding corporations originate, have little regulatory oversight. Laws regarding GMOs, as proposed by the companies producing them through their lobbying branches, leave safety and health testing up to the corporation which develops the patent. This policy works effectively like asking the tobacco industry to produce safety and health recommendations regarding the consumption of tobacco.

I watched in fascination as a famous smart guy grilled a young teen in debate on Fox ‘News’ regarding her highly publicized campaign to require products containing GMO derived ingredients labeled to provide consumers with enough information to make informed choices regarding the consumption of these under-tested, internationally outlawed ‘foods’. The famous smart guy, let’s call him Kevin O’Leary, contends that GMO seed stock guarantees greater food yield and could end world hunger if broadly applied.

Mr. O’Leary may never have seen Round-Up Ready® corn growing. I lived on a farm surrounded by this corn. I saw it planted, fertilized, sprayed, and harvested. It took me two seasons to identify the real problem with Monsanto’s corn.

Walking my dog in August, we skirted the edge of a corn field. Suddenly, the ears of corn came into focus for me. Well, the ear of corn came into focus. These plants are designed to be sterile, so the seeds can’t be saved at the end of each season. This type of corn is functionally a clone. Every stalk is exactly like every other stalk. And their yield is also identical.

I grew up traveling through the Eastern Shore of Maryland on the way to my grandmother’s house most weekends. The Eastern Shore grows corn, soybeans and chickens to the exclusion of nearly anything else. In August and September, we drove between eight foot seas of corn, with seven to ten ripening ears on every stalk.  Round Up Ready® corn produces exactly (and I wish I were exaggerating, but you can go and look for yourself–anywhere the stuff is growing) one ear of corn per stalk.

Suppose a farmer plants about 21,000 seeds of corn per acre. Let’s imagine a modern hybrid, with resistance to a couple of fungi and bugs, though developed the old-fashioned way. Let’s suppose this corn doesn’t have the yield of the stuff I saw growing up. Let’s suppose it produces only three to seven ears of corn per stalk. Let’s call the average at the low end, only four ears per stalk. What percentage of the field would need to come to harvest to out-produce a Monsanto field? N.B., we’re not considering hail, flooding and drought–all of which are just as damaging to the Monsanto product as to the traditional hybrid.

Did you calculate twenty-six percent of the hybrid? Give yourself a pat on the back if you did. And this is with the assumption that every. single. Monsanto. seed. came up and was viable at harvest. You bet I gave Big Ag the benefit of the doubt on this point.

As it turns out, lower yield is a constant with all GMOs. How are we meant to increase world food yield with plants which produce less per acre (75% less) than their non-mutant cousins? Especially as the cost of the low yield plants is sky high compared to seeds from standard hybrids.

But what if the bug or the fungus arrives? What if 30% of the hybrid field is lost? What if 50% of the crop is destroyed? You’ll only have 100% more product at harvest, rather than 300% more in a best-case-scenario. Even if three quarters of the hybrid crop dies off before harvest, so the final yield is the equivalent (though the Monsanto ears looked small as well as singular), the farmer still comes out ahead since s/he doesn’t have to purchase seed stock next spring, or heavy fertilizers and pesticides this year.

With a Monsanto product, one buys the seed itself every year. Then it requires extensive fertilizers. Next it needs expensive pesticides, applied repeatedly. These products are neither lower in cost nor higher in yield. How do those two factors assist agriculture output in emerging economies? Knowing for a fact one’s nation may anticipate a maximum harvest of up to 24% of the former food volume it used to produce on the same arable land surface doesn’t, on the face of it, sound like a solution to hunger and malnutrition.

Goodness, I’m certainly not as clever or famous as the folks on Fox ‘News’. But it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to do the math here. And all of this is aside from the growing number of studies regarding the health concerns inherent in long-term ingestion of a GMO centered diet.

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