Ask Us Anything About GMOs!

Q:
After eliminating GMOs from my diet, I intuitively can tell when I accidently eat gmos. I get a specific "sluggish feeling." Humans used mercury to harvest gold because we did not know better. Life is complex. We live in relationship to life. When we seek to control, superweeds pop up. How do you understand your place in the world?
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A:Expert Answer

Based on your question, it seems that you are skeptical about the intentions and awareness of those of us who have dedicated our lives to researching and developing GM crops. I’d like to address your question based on my personal experience.

 

I grew up in southeastern Arkansas, in a small farming town named Dumas, where my grandfather, uncles and cousins were and still are farmers. I worked in the cotton fields every summer, scouting for insect pests so farmers knew when to apply insecticides. If the pest population was bad enough, farmers would spray insecticides two or more times a week. I left Dumas to go to college and eventually earned a Ph.D. in microbiology.

 

After college, I went to work in the biotech industry. I remember, as Bt cotton was going through the regulatory process at U.S. Department of Agriculture, my family kept asking when that product would be available, because that meant fewer pesticide applications and less insecticide exposure to our family members and our farmworkers.

 

This product has a great impact on my understanding of my place in the world—to provide tools to help my family and other farmers. I applied for a job at Monsanto because I believed that using good science is the best solution to solve agriculture problems like controlling weeds, insect pests and plant disease. Monsanto was the leader in developing GM crops, and I wanted to be part of it.

 

I've been at Monsanto for 17 years, and the progress made in agriculture is staggering compared with what I experienced in the 1980s. Without the ability to use GM crops, farmers would still need to control weeds, insect pests and disease. For most, that would mean quitting farming or going back to applying pesticides two or three times per week.

 

Over Christmas this year, my uncle and I were having a conversation about activists trying to get rid of GMOs. He asked why anyone would rather eat food sprayed time and time again with pesticides than use GM technology. To someone like him, who has farmed with and without GM crops, it just didn’t make sense. I agree. For me, technology is the answer, not the problem.

A:Expert Answer

As you say, life is complex, as is the question you pose! Intuitive eating begins with the concept that people are mindful of their food choices, how much they eat, when they eat and when to stop eating. It is the psychology of food and food consumption and comes wrapped in a number of personal beliefs and an individual's philosophy.

 

As a farmer, a mom, a consumer of food and a registered dietitian who also eats intuitively, I’ve never experienced any “sluggish feeling” related to consumption of genetically engineered foods. We grow both GM and non-GM crops. Our family eats what we grow, lives on our farm and has the utmost respect for the stewardship of the land and the resources we have so that the farm can be passed to the next generation to continue the family business.

 

But I have to ask more questions in order to answer your question: Which specific foods containing GMOs give you this sluggish feeling? Is it physical or cognitive sluggishness? Is there a specific body system, such as your GI tract, that feels more sluggish over another? There are many health reasons that can cause sluggishness—such as anemia, hypoglycemia, hypothyroidism or depression—not related to foods, GM or otherwise.

 

Since the proteins that are in GM foods are not “novel” proteins, we would experience this sluggish effect with foods produced from all types of farming systems: regular foods, organic foods or biotech foods. The best example of this would be Bt, which is a bacterium found in soil that contains proteins that are toxic to specific insects. Its insecticidal properties have been known and used in organic agriculture for 100-plus years. It is also used by conventional farmers and is the protein that is used to protect corn and cotton from European corn borer, rootworm and boll weevil. It is well established that Bt is nontoxic to mammals and has no way of surviving the digestion process. Since it used as a spray in both organic and conventional agriculture and is ubiquitous in soil, it is, as you say, “in relationship to life” and therefore to our bodies.

 

As to your point about “superweeds,” weed resistance is an agronomic issue, not a genetic engineering issue. As I point out in my blog post, “Top 10 Annoying Words About Agriculture,” the International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds shows that herbicide resistance occurred well before any genetically engineered crops were commercialized. Roundup, the herbicide mostly commonly associated with genetically engineered crops, ranks sixth behind five other classes of herbicides to which some weeds have developed resistance.

 

Farm families probably understand their place in the world most intuitively because we rely on the bounty that our land and our soil provide for us and for the people who consume the products we grow.

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