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Are all the seeds you alter genetically patented by you and require man-made chemicals and licences to grow? If so, how sustainable is our future if a corporation OWNS the seeds of life inherited to us on this planet? If GMOs are natural then how is that not owning nature itself? How is that different than let's say trying to own water or the air simply by manipulating it through bio-engineering?

Submitted by: Stu Smith


Expert response from Bill Reeves

Regulatory Policy & Scientific Affairs Manager, Chemistry, Monsanto Company

Friday, 03/14/2014 14:55

To answer the first part of the question, none of the seeds that is genetically altered “requires” a man-made chemical to grow—just soil, air and water. I’ll explain more at the bottom why that last part is important.

A list of GMO crops currently approved or under consideration for cultivation in the United States is available from USDA’s website. On that site, you can see for yourself the data submitted for each GMO crop. One of the key studies GMO crop developers submit to USDA is a comparison of agronomic requirements between the GMO crop and its non-GMO counterpart. USDA specifically considers whether a new GMO crop plant has requirements different from crops already being grown. None of the GMO crops listed at the link above depends on the use of specific chemical inputs that are not needed by the non-GMO counterpart.


Within the list on USDA’s website, you will see a variety of GMO traits, the two most common of which are herbicide tolerance and insect protection. Herbicide-tolerant crops can withstand applications of herbicide that non-GMO crops cannot, but they do not require herbicide sprays to grow. In some cases, the herbicide may be made by the same company that produced the GMO seed; in other cases, the herbicide is available from other suppliers, not affiliated with the GMO seed company. With insect-protected crops, farmers are able to protect their crop from insects while using fewer chemical pesticide treatments. A third type of trait is called an output trait. These are for things like improved nutrition, such as soybeans that make more long-chain omega-3. This requires no change in inputs at all and relies on a change to a metabolic pathway that exists in another plant with a history of safe use.


The reason why not changing inputs (man-made chemicals) in some traits is important can be illustrated by the example of insect-protected traits that use Bt. In some regions of the world, many smallholder farms don’t have the equipment to safely or effectively use pesticides, and some of these farmers can’t read labels. This type of trait may be perceived as “high-tech,” but its use does not require equipment and can be really low-tech in practice.