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What to do about GMO's

Posted 3/13/2013 9:59am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

We are wrestling with what to do about feeding our hogs GM vs. Non-GM feed. A survey sent to our customers shows that you are split about 50/50, with those preferring non-GM feed having a slight edge. Those willing to pay more for pork that is GMO-free lead at 50.9%, those who would not total 49.1%. Only in politics is that considered a clear mandate and we feel the need to do more investigating before we make a decision. The introduction of GMO's into our food system is a complex issue facing all us who are concerned about the impact they have on our health, our ecosystem, and our world as we know it.

Wikipedia succinctly describes Genetically Modified Organisms as an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. It is different than simply selective breeding for healthier plants and animals because it allows us to introduce genes into an organism that would not be found there if allowed to breed naturally. What we have yet to know for certain is what the long term impacts will be on the environment, but not knowing has not stopped us from from going ahead with the process.  GMO's are abundant and they are likely here to stay. 

Certainly one of the major concerns is how GMOs affect the health of our loved ones and ourselves but the science on this particular issue seems inconclusive. GMO Golden Rice has added vitamin D into rice claiming that it is more nutritious than regular rice.  For many of the world's poor this is considered vital for their overall health. The intention seems benevolent but perhaps if we weren't so focused on mono-cropping farmland, farmers around the world would have the space and land to diversify their crops. Is rice dependance the best we can do?  I don't know. Big problems require creative thinking and perhaps GMO's have a place in that. I think we need to know more and that takes time and research.

But there are other issues that raise serious concerns about the effects of GM crops on the ecological health of the earth. A  recent study by Dave Mortensen, a weed ecologist at Penn State Univserity, shows a dramatic rise in weeds resistant to glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsonto's Roundup herbicide.  As weeds become resistant, the company is looking at using far more damaging herbicides to get the desired result of soybean and corn crops that can grow free of weed competition. But to what impact on the overall health of the environment?  We've been down that road before; it was those far more toxic herbicides such as 2,4D and Dicamba that led Rachel Carson to write her classic Silent Spring. Trying to conquer nature rather than work with it by increasing biodiversity and building up soil health seems s foolish, myopic route to take. Hubris has never served us well.

There are other red flags when it comes to the proliferation of GMOs. Certainly the resistance of the food industry to labeling their GMO products raises a few. Consumers have a right to know what they are eating and what the animals they are eating are eating too! Our pigs are eating grain that is most likely genetically modified, in part because most of the feed crops grown today are GM crops. The folks at the local feed mill tell us there is no way they can verify whether or not the grain they buy from local farmers is GM or not. They blend it all together into the same grain bins. The only way we can know for certain that we are getting GMO-free grain is to buy organically certified grain and so far the price on that is about three times as high. Our hog feed currently costs $445 / ton.  Organically certified hog feed from MgGeary is $1406/ton.  

We are still seeking the best answer for our customers, our hogs, and our farm. In an ideal world we would make the switch to GMO free grain because based on what we do and do not know about GMOs it seems like the most responsible choice given our commitment to farming, to the best of our limited knowledge, in a way that promotes wellness to the diversity of life around us.  But, and it is a considerable but, we also know that cost is a factor as well, both our costs and yours, as is the local economy of which we are a part. We have to take numbers into consideration as well and that is the part we like the least. I am hopeful we can find a way forward that satisfies the needs and concerns of all of us.  We'll keep you posted.