By Curt Zingula
Last month, the U.S. Senate voted 71 to 27 against mandatory labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In protest, numerous activists have taken to the streets and the Internet with the intent of circumventing the Senate by pressuring groups of states to require labeling.
Despite two decades of planting GMOs that hasn’t inflicted a single human illness, has been consumed by livestock and wildlife that flourish, and extensive review by the Food and Drug Administration, some people continue to invent fault.
The rest of us shouldn’t care except that the protesters want to require GMO labeling that would increase the cost of food primarily by the effort to segregate GMOs from non-GMOs. While some protesters have misconceptions about their food, many others are focused on stopping farmers from using this science.
However, there is one GMO protester who deserves our attention. British activist Mark Lynas is a former leader of the anti-GMO rebellion. Upon realizing that he couldn’t answer technical questions about GMOs, Lynas studied the situation, realized his misconceptions, and “in good conscience” became a supporter of GMOs. He now laments that the all-natural advocacy has become a cult mentality that disingenuously opposes man-made solutions that benefit the environment. Lynas concludes that “science will heal the earth.”
In my farming operation, I’m using science to “heal the earth.” The glyphosate (Roundup) tolerant gene found in the crops I plant has been a huge benefit. Like most farmers, I now use the non-selective herbicide, Roundup, to control weeds without mechanically disturbing the soil. Anytime a farmer loosens the soil with tillage, the erosion potential skyrockets. In addition, Roundup herbicide binds tightly to soil organic matter where it readily decomposes.
The Roundup-tolerant gene opposed by naturalists was originally isolated from naturally occurring bacteria that naturally evolved resistance to Roundup.
Plant genetic insect control has also become a means of “healing the earth.” When I started farming, I used the insecticide Thimet for corn rootworm control and dribbled it on the ground with the planter. For several days afterward, it was common to find dead robins in the farmyard. Today, the songbird population I observe in my farming area is the most robust I’ve ever witnessed. I have to believe that much of it is due to the use of genetically engineered crops that can protect themselves without the use of environmentally damaging insecticides.
GMO opponents will point to “studies” to make their case. A recent study on hogs conducted by an anti-GMO group highlighted one health condition in which GMO-fed hogs scored poorer than non-GMO fed hogs, but failed to report that on several health measures the GMO-fed hogs performed better. Worst of all, that anti-GMO group allowed nearly 60 percent of both sets of hogs to suffer with pneumonia just so they could mine a single, misleading data score. These are some of the same people who condemn technology leader Monsanto for being self-serving.
Before Californians defeated a 2012 proposition to require GMO labeling, dozens of social and welfare organizations voiced opposition due to the higher food costs that would occur. Since then, the New York Times editorialized that, “there is little need to make labeling compulsory”. Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, the Iowan known as the father of the green revolution, staunchly supported GMOs.
Despite those setbacks, the rebellion against GMOs continues. With the information deck stacked against them, protesters have turned to fear mongering as their weapon of last resort. That’s unfortunate — fear mongering is a despicable act!
l Curt Zingula of Central City is a Linn County corn and soybean farmer who received an Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award in 2012. Comments firstname.lastname@example.org