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Food Choices, Statistics & GMO

February 13, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn interesting article in USA Today about GMO technology in agriculture. Now regular readers know we grow mostly heirlooms, with a few hybrids (in particular the Bianca pepper – high yields, mild flavor), but no GMO. But it always interests me that people want to talk about it.

They’re curious, they’re afraid of it, they hate it or they don’t care…the views vary as much as the conversation. Still, the headline blazing GMO use in 12% of US fields. Wrap your head around that for a minute and let’s consider statistics.

If it’s in 12% of fields, that means 88% of fields are nonGMO! Those who do use the technology do so for specific reasons.

Last year, farmers planted 12 million more acres of plants genetically engineered to be herbicide tolerant, pest resistant or able to stand up to diseases than in 2012, said Clive James, with the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. The non-profit tracks biotech crops and is based at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

So this is a person at an organization paid to track biotech crops. So his statistics for last year? As I expected:

In 2013, they included 93% of all soybeans, 90% of all feed corn and 90% of all cotton, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture…Other biotech crops, grown in much smaller amounts, include alfalfa, canola, papaya, sweet corn and summer squash, USDA figures show.

Feed corn is primarily just that – it goes to livestock. Coming to food choices, I hear from many people 92% of consumers want labeling. *I* have not seen that, and thus far not one customer has signed up because we offer nonGMO choices. Argentina and Brazil grow far more GMO crops than the US, and much of that is for export.

Whether Americans actually want labeling depends on how the question is asked, said William Hallman, who directs the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. The institute did a large survey of American attitudes towards GM foods in November.

When asked what information should be included on food labels that isn’t already there, only 7% said they wanted GM ingredients to be labeled. When given a list of possible information to include on food labels, 59% included GM ingredients. When asked if GM ingredients should be labeled, 73% said yes.

“So which is it?” said Hallman. “Is it 7% or 59% or 73%? It depends on how you ask the question.”

This seems to be the big key. Lawyers make a living asking questions to get a particular response. “Do you want to poison your kids with food?” and “Are you concerned about what’s in the ingredients in your food?” are widely different questions that will get widely different answers.

The corn picture by the first paragraph – I haven’t found anyone who can look at that and tell me what variety of corn it is. There are thousands of varieties grown by farmers, both GMO and nonGMO. There may be 3-4-5 varieties mixed together here, there may be both GMO and nonGMO in there…we don’t know. The chickens eat it readily. The turkeys eat it. Given half a chance the squirrels will grab some and I know there’s mice and rats around, unfortunately. If we turn our backs the dogs will grab a few kernels to eat. Yet photos from activists online insist animals won’t eat GMO corn…so what are the chances this is the 10% pure nonGMO? Probably not very high, but when it’s cold and the birds need more energy, well – they need corn. And right now, we don’t have the fields to till and grow our own corn, so depend on the market to produce it.

We all have food choices. While we use different means to provide those food choices, we can’t make people choose, or afford, what we do. We can’t demand that people buy only from our farm shares…and we shouldn’t wield that kind of power. People choose where they shop, what they buy and what they are willing to pay. For some that’s the least expensive option because they don’t have the money for others – we’ve been there!

To blame, solely, processing isn’t accurate either – after all we all ‘process’ food in our kitchens to be a final meal and it’s still a meal whether it’s Hamburger Helper, homemade pasta or bulk pasta (although some will likely argue about what is edible!).

Many farmers ARE listening to consumers. They’re hearing and seeing we want low cost, we want no bugs or residues in our food, we want uniform looking food but some want color and variety too. Some say they don’t mind sharing with bugs, but bugs do mind sharing and will leave none. Corn has been in the Americas longer than the US has been a nation, and yet only very recently has been called evil, should be avoided and inedible.

Solutions for all are tough to find. What if you went to the store and what you wanted – or needed – wasn’t there? What if there wasn’t enough food? What if eating all year was put onto the shoulders of each consumer, because there were no processors to can, freeze, dry and package meals for your family when there’s several inches – or feet! – of snow on the ground?

Food choices are for all people…and we’re lucky to have them. When you don’t have a choice, the picture is much different.


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