There’s a lot of information out there about GMOs vs. non-GMOs, so we’re going to break it down for you. Let’s start with the basics. GMO or Genetically Modified Organisms are organisms (in this case, seeds) that have been modified in the laboratory to include material that would never be present in nature. This is done on the DNA level of the plant seed.
Originally, the purpose of GMOs was to produce a plant that could survive when exposed to herbicides such as Roundup. The idea is to kill the weeds, but the crop is resistant and will survive. The development of GMOs was financed by the chemical companies that produce the herbicides Roundup and others. Because GMOs are a unique manufactured product, the chemical companies have been allowed to patent these seeds.
Farmers embraced the GMOs for the cost, work and yield savings. Previously, the farmer had to rely on tilling the soil to keep the weeds from taking over. The cost of fuel was a significant portion of the farm cost. With GMOs, there is very little tilling. Instead, the field and young crop is sprayed with an herbicide which penetrates the soil and will kill any plant that is not genetically modified to resist the chemical. This results in savings to the farmer in fuel cost as well as man-hours.
Today, in North America, 80 percent of crop corn grown is GMO. Other crops that are at high risk of being GMOs besides corn include soy, canola and sugar beets. These crops are used as ingredients in many food products including spices, sweeteners, anti-clumping agents and oils and fats. Virtually all processed foods include GMOs. In addition, these crops are fed to our farm animals. The meat you eat, the eggs and milk all come from animals fed GMO crops. So, what are the negatives of GMOs?
- Unknown Long-Term Health Effects. Because this is new technology, the long-term effects of consuming GMOs are unknown. It may take several generations to know for sure if GMOs present a health risk to humans. What we do know is the herbicide we now use so liberally on our crops does present serious health risks. The World Health Organization determined that the herbicide glyphosate (the key ingredient in Roundup®) is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
- Resistant Weeds. Weeds are becoming resistant to the weed killer. Farmers report having to apply larger doses of herbicides to achieve the same result. The result is we are now seeing the development of so-called superweeds and superbugs. These can only be killed by much stronger and toxic chemicals like 2,4-D—a major ingredient in Agent Orange.
- Contamination of Soil. Even if we stopped applying herbicides today, it will take years for the soil to become free of chemicals. Every time the wind blows, the chemical-laden dirt is going to enter the atmosphere that we breathe. Of course, the substances that are putting on top of our soil will eventually be absorbed and enter the groundwater that we drink.
- Seed Variety and Diversity. Before the introduction of GMOs, each farmer would choose the type of seed they preferred for their fields. The choice was made based on past performance, the ability of the variety to withstand drought conditions or wet conditions depending on the local prevailing weather patterns and the length of the growing season.
There were different seeds available for the farmer to choose from. Today, the overriding concern is that the seed be GMO. Much of the natural seed diversity is being lost. Some experts compare it to the Irish famine. The diet in Ireland was centered on the potato. Unfortunately, all the potatoes planted were of the same variety. When disease struck that variety, the entire crop was wiped out, resulting in starvation and death. Today, our crop seed is very limited, and we are possibly in danger of the same catastrophic crop failure.
By shopping at a company such as Park Seed, who sells only non-GMO seeds, you are directly avoiding the negative effects of GMOs. When you garden and raise your own food, as well as flowers, you are in control of what goes on and in your food. And those are the kinds of guarantees you want when you shop for vegetable seeds. We also provide heirloom varieties of plants. These are the plants that the modern hybrids come from. It is important to keep the original plant’s seed available with which other varieties can be created.
By supporting non-GMO seed companies like Park Seed, you will help protect our plant heritage in all its diversity and value.