GMO Field Trip: Let’s follow the life of a GMO
The fifth & final post in the blog series GMOs: What’s the Big Deal? by Oh Baby Foods Mother & Founder, Fran B. Free
In finalizing our blog series on GMOs, I aim to wrap-up insight into the little acronym & why it evokes strong feelings (or something) for just about everyone. Again, some believe GMOs are harmless & necessary, others believe they are unsafe, unproven & find the act of messing with DNA terrifying.
In last week’s post, I discussed the political landscape of GMOs, which is so volatile that it has probably changed since that post. I’m here again this week & this time for a field trip. Let’s follow the life of the most popular of GMOs: the illustrious soybean.
It’s no secret that I was raised on a conventional farm & my family still runs that farm; conventionally. Growing up around conventional crops & GMOs encouraged me to pursue my bachelor’s degree in Environmental Soil & Water Science and following, my master’s degree in Agricultural Economics. Oh, Baby’s foundation of US grown, non-GMO, organic attributes is a direct result of my early years in ag.
Now, let’s embark on that field trip. Let’s talk about why we’re following the soybean today & why it was chosen to be developed. We’ll then see how it’s planted, how it grows, how it’s harvested, sold, & consumed. Ready? Okay.
Why should we follow the soybean today?
This little legume represents over ½ of all GM acreage planted. USDA ERS records show that 94% of all 2014 soy acreage planted in the US is GM. (USDA ERS)
Why was this crop developed?
Obviously, soy is an important crop for US growers. It is mostly grown for animal production, also for food processing aids, & a little for direct consumption. The USDA states that herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops, such as the soybean, were “developed to survive the application of specific herbicides that previously would have destroyed the crop along with the targeted weeds, provide farmers with a broader variety of options for effective weed control.” (USDA ERS)
The reason & goal, ultimately, is efficiency. Because farmers aren’t confined to mechanical tillage to control emerging weeds, they can now plant rows closer together (getting a better yield/acre) & save time by a broad application of Roundup (via aerial spray, for example) without worrying about killing their beans with herbicide…because remember, these beans are now HT: herbicide resistant.
Now, how does this work?
Monsanto developed the technology for glyphosate herbicides like Roundup in 1970 &, by 2007, glyphosate was the most used herbicide in the US agricultural sector. Popular stuff, right? So, why not develop this product further; integrate it? They did & here’s how.
Enter: Roundup Ready Soybean. Monsanto developed this seed, owns the technology patent & broadly leases licensing rights to other seed companies. As of 2009, the Roundup family represented over 50% of Monsanto’s business (Monsanto). A farmer may purchase the seed from another brand, but ultimately, they’re buying it from Monsanto.
Okay, here we go on our field trip, step by step:
(1) So, the farmer buys the seed. In order to do this, he/she also takes two additional MANDATORY steps: (1) buy Roundup (yes, mandatory) & (2) sign a user agreement that states they will not save seed from the crop, use in other ways not permissible as seen by Monsanto, etc. Side note: Monsanto has tried to legally put on the market their “terminator” technology, which would cause the sterile seed to ensure the farmer doesn’t save viable seed, but they are yet to convince the courts. Hence, seed currently spreads into the wild, and also into fields of nonGMO-planted crops. Monsanto has successfully sued farmers whose fields have these “fly away” seeds, even though they did not plant them. Google it; there are lots of cases out there. Crazy, I know.
(2) The farmer then plants to seed.
(3) Once the seedlings emerge, so do weeds. That’s normal and natural. Side note: an acre of soil contains millions of “weed” seeds that are just waiting for the right conditions. Opportunists, those little weeds.
(4) The farmer sprays the field, killing the weeds, but not the soy seedlings. This gives the crop enough of a head start to grow & shade out most new weed growth.
(5) The remainder of the field life of that bean is basically the same as conventionally-grown, non-GMO, non-organic soy. The farmer cares for the plants, give them water, synthetic fertilizer, monitors for insects, sprays a defoliant before harvest, etc.
(6) The beans are harvested & sent to either a dryer/storage (with pest control, of course) grain broker, processor, etc.
(7) It eventually goes to market & gets consumed either by (1) animals, in the form of feed (pre-steak or bacon for people), or (2) by humans, directly (there are TONS of processed foods on the shelves with soy lecithins and proteins).
Do you know that free edamame that’s offered with your sushi lunch? Skip it. You’ve got a 94% chance that edamame is GM, has new-to-humans proteins & lecithins (sorry, no time to go into all that in this post) & has seen at least three or so applications of pesticide.
& that, in a nutshell, is how it works.
Thank you again for following these posts this month during Non-GMO Month. I’ve enjoyed dedicating time to look over new & emerging topics in the GM world and taking time to write, something that I normally don’t get to do. Now, I’ve got to get back to the kitchen to develop new & exciting GMO-free products for your baby & your growing family.
Did you miss any of the posts this month on GMOs: What’s the Big Deal? It’s okay, they’re still here:
Friday, 10/3/2018 GMOs: It’s Personal
Friday, 10/10/2018 GMOs: The What, the How, the Why
Friday, 10/17/2018 GMOs: Environmental & Health Concerns
Friday, 10/24/2018 GMOs: Political Landscape
Friday, 10/31/2018 GMO Field Trip: Let’s follow the life of a GMO
Until next time,
Fran B. Free
USDA ERS – Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S.: Recent Trends in GE Adoption. (2014, June 14). Retrieved October 29, 2014, from http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/adoption-of-genetically-engineered-crops-in-the-us/recent-trends-in-ge-adoption.asp
GM crops: Top ten facts and figures. (2014, June 2). Retrieved October 29, 2014, from http://knowledge.allianz.com/environment/food_water/?500/gm-crops-facts-and-figures
Monsanto. (2014, October 30). Retrieved October 31, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsanto