Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I Grow GMO: Not Ashamed or Embarrassed

Yesterday, I testified before the Maryland State Senate Committee on Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. I was speaking against SB778 "Genetically Engineered Foods - Labeling Requirements" 


My interview with WBOC on GMO labeling

Introduced by Senator Karen Montgomery, of Montgomery County, the bill synopsis states: 

 "Requiring specified raw foods and packaged foods that are entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering to display a specified label beginning on July 1, 2015; requiring a manufacturer to include a specified label on specified foods; requiring a supplier to include a specified label on a container used for packaging, holding, or transporting specified foods; requiring a retailer to place a specified label on a shelf or bin containing specified foods; etc."

She introduced the hearing legislation by asking why people acted "ashamed or embarrassed" about GMO. She claimed she was a supporter of biotechnology and wasn't afraid of it but that consumers have the right to know. 


But many of the groups who claim that consumers have the "right to know" are actually working toward a ban of the technology. 


Organic consumers Association: "Once GMOs foods are labeled, informed consumers will move to protect themselves and their families by not buying them. Once enough consumers shun GMO-tainted and labeled foods, stores will stop selling them and food manufacturers will stop putting GMO food ingredients in their products."


Center for Food Safety:  "Labeling #GMO food is not enough. We must keep new GE crops out of food supply to begin with take action @TrueFoodNow"


March Against Monsanto: "Many presume the March Against Monsanto is a protest about GMO. While food plays a very big role in the global protest, there are many insidious tentacles to the biotech giant. MAM seeks to destroy the root."


Truth-Out: "GMO labeling laws are the cornerstone of the anti-GMO movement. But consumers are also expanding the fight by demanding outright bans on the growing of GMO crops."


In fact, two consumers who testified at the same hearing in favor of labeling voiced the very same thing, that labeling didn't go far enough, that biotechnology needed to be banned.


The Consumers Union, Food and Water Watch, and Union of Concerned Scientists had their legal team of suits presenting. I'm not going to restate their position because if you google Michael Hansen or Doug Gurian-Sherman, you will find pages of testimony nearly word for word identical to what they told the senate hearing yesterday, including continuing to claim the validity of the retracted Seralini study.


In response to Senator Montgomery's comment: I am an unashamed and unembarrassed supporter of biotechnology. On my Maryland farm it has resulted in higher yields and lower pesticide applications, year after year, wet season, dry season, normal season. Even when Hurricane Irene knocked our corn flat, biotech held its ears better than non GMO corn by 26 bushels per acre, which in a very crappy year, makes a world of difference to our family farm's ability to stay afloat.



Our corn yield comparison data
Our soybean yield comparison data
Biotech out perform our specialty seeds: non GMO & Identity Preserved. Yes, we grow and segregate a variety of different types of grains and seeds, all of which are tested and verified as pure to the variety they are supposed to be. This year, we will have 900 acres of grains and seeds under some protocol for identity preservation. The seed must be genetically consistent and true to its traits, uniform in shape, size and color, and free from weed seed and contamination. They are tested and verified to meet those standards. So co-existence of conventional, biotech, and organic/Identity Preserved/nonGMO grains and seeds is possible. We do it every day on our family farm and have for many years now. Biotech threatens none of our niche or specialty markets. These farming systems are not and should not be considered mutually exclusive.

When you combine higher yields consistently, with less man hours on a tractor, burning less diesel fuel, and saving pesticide sprays, you have a far more sustainable family farm on the environment: less greenhouse gases, less fuel consumption, less pesticide use = protecting and preserving more resources.


But to the larger picture, biotechnology has brought us Humulin, Epogen, Herceptin and many, many other excellent lifesaving medical therapies. 


Biotechnology means we don't harvest insulin from hogs or cattle pancreas anymore.


Biotechnology means we don't harvest the enzyme chymosin from young calves to extract rennet from their stomachs which is then used to coagulate milk in the cheese making process. 


To me, this is progress. To me, these are reasons to oppose mandatory labeling of "GMO". It is both safe and efficacious in medicine and in food. 


Science and research concurs. Published last year, An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research reviewed 1783 studies, 312 of which were GE food & feed consumption studies finding "no scientific evidence of toxic or allergenic effects". The researchers concluded that "that genetic engineering and GE crops should be considered important options in the efforts toward sustainable agricultural production."


1783 studies... 312 of them on consumption of GE food and feed. That's a safety track record.



Nicolia, et al, 2013. Critical Reviews in Biotechnology
The technology is valuable in both medicine and food. The technology has many benefits to mankind.No one but the activists are saying biotech was supposed to be a "silver bullet". Farmers know its one of many tools in the tool box to improve sustainability and produce more food on less land.  Efforts to undermine the technology through mandatory GMO labeling that falsely implies there are safety concerns where none exist is misleading and a disservice to consumers.

I oppose Maryland SB778




29 comments:

  1. I definitely appreciate your opinion but as a consumer I, and all Americans, have a right to know what I am putting in my body and choose. I hope this becomes law soon.

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    1. Tiphanie, I respect your desire to know what is in your food, but we should both be very suspicious when the advocates of giving you this information are the same people busily spreading misinformation. If I had the space or time, I could give you dozens of examples of false claims about GMO food, each of which is widely believed.

      But I'll content myself with just one and I hope you will see that it is more about fooling you than about informing you. Consider a sack of sugar. It is a pure chemical, sucrose. Molecule by molecule, it is identical whether it originated from sugar cane plant or from genetically modified sugar beets. But every single GMO labeling proposal I have seen would require that such sugar must be labeled GMO. So two sacks of sugar which are identical in every way would have to be labeled differently, and almost any ordinary person would assume that things labeled differently are different. In other words, the labeling requirement in this case is misleading.

      But this is not just an isolated case. You will read repeatedly that about 70% of the foods in the supermarkets contain genetically modified ingredients, but almost all these are ingredients DERIVED from GMO crops, such as oils, sugars, fats, starch, etc., which are so highly processed that they contain no DNA, no protein, and no meaningful differences from equivalent ingredients derived from other plants. Does a GMO-free label on a bottle of canola oil actually tell you anything at all about what you are putting into your body?

      There is really a significant element of hoodwinkery that I find very disturbing. It's not just confined to the GMO issue. Whenever the public starts having a concern about some food ingredient, there are always some marketers who step in and exploit that concern with tricky labels. That's why we see jellies and jams labeled cholesterol-free, although no jellies and jams have cholesterol. That's why we see chicken being labeled as raised without hormones - even though by law all chickens must be raised without hormones. We see it a lot now with gluten free products, a label which would be useful for anyone needing to avoid gluten, but of no value to anyone when it is on a product that never had gluten anyway.

      The other thing I find bothersome is that we know of all sorts of other things that people could reasonably want to know about food and yet nobody seems to campaign for that to be disclosed. For example, grain that is stored for several years before being used is obviously somewhat more likely to be contaminated by molds, etc. Have you seen anyone make the case that any cereal be labeled for the year when its major ingredients were harvested? Have you even seen anyone make the case that labels should say what insecticides were used?

      Even voluntary labeling (which I favor) can be trickery. Not long ago, General Mills decided that it was worth labeling Cheerios as GMO-free, but to do that they needed to change a few trace ingredients, like cornstarch, with chemically identical ingredients sourced from non-GMO plants. The company was quite honest about the fact that it made no difference - that it was just meant to attract some customers who were worried about GMOs. But a few weeks before that, the Post Cereals company made a similar change to Grape Nuts Flakes, removing the GMO-derived ingredients and pitting a GMO-free icon on the front of the package. But the publicity tells you that what was removed was something GMO, without telling you what it was. Here's what it was: Vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and riboflavin. That's what you had to give up to get the little icon on the front of the package.

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    2. Charles, you make excellent points.
      Tiphanie, I've heard many people make the same statement as you, and I respect your opinion.
      I think the labeling debate has many more details to consider than simply "is a food item made with GMOs?" For example, when California was considering GMO labeling, the proposal stated that processed food must be labeled with the words, "May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering." Had the law passed, any food item that goes through a process (like freezing, canning, pressing, squeezing, etc.) may have been required to have this label. Take olive oil, for example: there are no genetically modified/engineered olives, yet because olives go through a press to make olive oil, the olive oil may have needed the label, even though no genetically modified/engineered ingredients were used.
      To me, that doesn't make sense. The language of that particular proposed bill was flawed.
      To look at another example, what about going out to eat at restaurants? Do consumers ask if genetically modified/engineered ingredients are used? Or when you stay at a hotel, or attend a meeting, convention, trade show, or other gathering, do people ask the organizers if the continental breakfast / noon meal / evening meal / snacks / appetizers / desserts / beverages have any genetically modified/engineered ingredients? Or what about school lunches? Birthday parties, baby showers, potlucks, other social gatherings?
      I'm not saying we need to be extreme about labeling, I'm just trying to point out that there are several different facets to consider when we start talking about mandatory GMO/GE labeling, and how would consistency be ensured? How would labeling laws be enforced?
      Jennie, thank you for sharing why you're against mandatory GMO/GE labeling.

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  2. Sorry, I thought my name was attached to my comment. I'm Kristie Swenson and I commented as: non March 17, 2014 at 6:54 AM
    Kristie Swenson

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  3. I think all GMOs shoukd be labeled and grown in a way where they cannot contaminate another persons crop or kill the bees.

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    1. Hi Anthony,
      Just checking to be sure you saw the part about our farm's ability to segregate seeds and preserve the genetic identity because that was sort of my point. Its completely doable and not mutually exclusive from growing biotech crops. As to the bees, since Bt is an organic insecticide, there would be more risk from an organic farmer killing bees than a conventional farmer EXCEPT that Bt doesn't affect bees. The class of insecticides you're probably referring to are neonicotinoids which have nothing to do with GMO/biotech crops.

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    2. GMO crops demand greater use of neonicotinoids, according to USDA and EPA data. "The quick adoption of genetically engineered crops by farmers has increased herbicide use over the past 9 years in the U.S., following on the heels of another study by Washington State University research professor Charles Benbrook. It turns out that spraying a pesticide repeatedly selects for weeds which also resist the chemical. Ever more resistant weeds are then bred, able to withstand increasing amounts – and often different forms – of herbicide."

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    3. You need to fact check. No biotech crops are engineered for neonics, they are Bt which is an organic insecticide. Then you go on to cite a USDA quote about herbicides which has nothing to do with insecticides. Weed resistance isn't a biotech issue, it's an agronomic issue and was present before the commercializations of biotech seeds. Palmer amaranth was resistant to 4 other classes of herbicides before it was resistant to roundup. Benbrook is on the board of OCA and isn't unbiased in his data.

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  4. I don't care if a product never contained a GMO in the first place just having that Non-GMO sign on a product makes my shopping so much easier...I am all for labeling it can't get here soon enough!

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    1. And that's the labeling I'm in favor of, non-GMO labeling would provide exactly the verification folks want and those food companies who want that verification simply need to do so with the NonGMO project certification. The solution is already out there.

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    2. But you are opposed to GMO labeling despite your article's title, "I Grow GMO: Not Ashamed or Embarrassed" That is talking out of both sides of your mouth. Put your mouth where your money is and proudly label GMO foods. Otherwise, your actions prove you are, in reality "Ashamed (and) Embarrassed" of the food you profit from. The onus should fall on the purveyors of these new, potentially disastrously harmful substances, not on people who are growing food that has been consumed by humans for millennia as they have evolved.

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    3. Conventional and organic foods have not been tested either. The Proteins in biotech ingredients is no longer present. Soybean oil is oil, no protein. Chemical structure of oil identical. Table sugar from round up ready sugar beets is carbohydrate no protein. Chemical structure of sucrose identical. Remind me why we need to be worried?

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  5. This was a great post and I love seeing someone present their opinions with reason and evidence. I also liked how civil the comments have been. I liked reading everyone's opinions, as everyone has their reasons.

    I hold the belief that labeling should not be mandated. There is such a thing as "big organic," which would benefit greatly from a labeling mandate (and why the organic industry pushes so hard and continually switches their propaganda focus). As well, why require labeling on a product that is proven to be completely safe and chemically identical to its organically grown counterpart?

    As for the bee killing, it's not GMOs or neonics causing their deaths. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2014/02/05/bee-deaths-reversal-as-evidence-points-away-from-neonics-as-driver-pressure-builds-to-rethink-ban/

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    1. re. GMOs killing bees: "Scientists at the University of Maryland and the US Department of Agriculture have identified a witch’s brew of pesticides and fungicides contaminating pollen that bees collect to feed their hives. When researchers collected pollen from hives on the east coast pollinating cranberry, watermelon and other crops and fed it to healthy bees, those bees showed a significant decline in their ability to resist infection by a parasite called Nosema ceranae. The parasite has been implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder though scientists took pains to point out that their findings do not directly link the pesticides to CCD. The pollen was contaminated on average with nine different pesticides and fungicides though scientists discovered 21 agricultural chemicals in one sample. Scientists identified eight ag chemicals associated with increased risk of infection by the parasite.
      Most disturbing, bees that ate pollen contaminated with fungicides were three times as likely to be infected by the parasite. Widely used, fungicides had been thought to be harmless for bees as they’re designed to kill fungus, not insects, on crops like apples.
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      “There’s growing evidence that fungicides may be affecting the bees on their own and I think what it highlights is a need to reassess how we label these agricultural chemicals,” Dennis vanEngelsdorp, the study’s lead author, said"

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    2. So "Big Ag" benefits greatly by not sharing the information that they are selling artificial food but you are against GMO labeling because "big organic" (whatever that is) may benefit? That seems a flimsy defense. Also, when citing references, I suggest staying away from paid propagandists like author Jon Entine.

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  6. We are a Democracy and we need information on which to base our decisions. Knowing what is different about a product is, until now, not in dispute if you read a list of ingredients. We need GMO labeling as farmers and manufacturers will always put profit first as a rule, and I want to avoid ant product that has been genetically modified by unnatural means. Breeding different varieties by cross pollination is OK in my book, but humans using high-tech using processes akin to creating a chemical is not trust-worthy in my book. I'll go on a diet to live on what I produce first.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts, your always welcome to come protest our farm.

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    1. We are a farm, it is our family business, our "company" as you put it.. We are located in Sudlersville, MD turn left at the cemetery. We farm stop sign to stop sign so feel free to protest the 5 miles between signs anywhere you like, just maybe not the shooting range. We sold the shooting club the property for $1 so they would have a place to target shoot. They think we're nice neighbors but you can tell them differently about how you want to target producers and how our farm endangers society.

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    1. Actually I was looking out for your safety. Have a good day.

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    1. Excellent illustration of how the anti-science anti-technology crowd manipulates and distorts what was actually said to further their agenda. Thanks for that great input! Happy Memorial Day!

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    2. Oh you poor thing. You essentially call her a liar, a fraud and a puppet and your the victim? I have zero respect for you.

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    3. Jennie -- You did not deserve that. You offer a forum for dialogue and Mr. Frazier responds with diatribe.

      Please do not lose faith that there are many, and a growing number, that are questioning the orthodoxy and self proclaimed righteousness of the food gestapo that inflict themselves on these sights. I am many thousand times more frightened of the human health implications of the products and philosophy of the Mercola's and Health Rangers of the world who cultivate, exploit and profit from that paranoia than any plausible theory of how genetic engineering might harm us.

      I really appreciate the title of this article. It is unfortunate that a legislator would have claimed that you are ashamed or embarrassed to grow seeds endowed with traits made possible by applications of biotechnology to crop genetics. I for one, defend farmers having all the tools available to them that science and agronomic wisdom can deliver.
      .

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  11. GMOs is bad, organics are what we need to eat. GM foods gives cancer to puppies. Save the puppies. Stop GMOs today.

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