Dear local food eaters,
This crowd pretty much knows what GMOs are. And even if we don’t know the details, at least we know we should avoid them.
However, recently, some information has come to our attention that has made Brooks and I dive deeper into the science of the GMO situation. We want to share this with you so that you are well equipped to make appropriate choices.
There are so many websites, books, films, podcasts, and general buzz about GMOs out there right now. Have you heard it? Chances are, if you've chosen to buy from North Mountain Pastures, you’re aware of some of the common issues genetically modified foods pose. Well-documented increases in herbicide use are only the tip of the iceberg, and with ‘educators’ like Bill Nye in pop culture pushing their safety, we thought we’d wade back into the GMO debate to better understand why this could be.
So we are going to share a bit of basic info first, on the off chance that you’ve missed it, and then dive a little deeper in my next few emails.
If you want to skim it, check out the main points, highlighted below.
The Basic Basics
Genetically modified organisms [GMOs] are lab-engineered to have altered DNA. The driving company behind this science and its implementation, and the owner of the profits, is Monsanto. GM [genetically modified] corn and soybean crops have taken over the agricultural landscape and the marketplace since they were introduced in 1996. Monsanto’s publicly stated reasons for developing GMOs include increasing agricultural yields; reducing weed and pest problems; and making the growing of food and feed crops more efficient, profitable, and able to feed the world.
Genetically modified organisms are lab-engineered to have altered DNA- DNA is the basic genetic code or blueprint that determines the unfolding of the life of an organism, and thereby a species, and an ecosystem. A plant, animal, or microorganism that is GM has had its genetic codes recombined using gene splicing, gene modification, or transgenic technology. The result are plant, animal, bacterial, fungal, and viral gene combinations that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.
The Farming Basics
In the 1970s, about 20 years before GMO seed was commercially available to farmers, Monsanto released an herbicide called Roundup, the active ingredient of which is called glyphosate. Herbicides are chemicals that kill weeds, eliminating the need for traditional weed control measures such as cultivation and cover crops, making it theoretically easier and more efficient to grow a crop. Corn and soy were the first 2 crops genetically modified to make them roundup resistant, or “Roundup Ready” (Monsanto’s slogan for them): when sprayed with the herbicide roundup, all the weeds die, but the crop survives. These crops are known as Glyphosate Tolerant crops.
When we talk about GMOs in food and feed, we are talking about the use of Roundup (Glyphosate). GMOs and glyphosate use go hand in hand. They are opposite sides of the same coin, and we can’t talk about one without the other.
Since Roundup Ready seed came out in 1996, the use of glyphosate has increased 16 fold, in other words by over 600 million pounds.
The Science Basics
Glyphosate is a non-specific herbicide that will kill most plants by preventing them from producing certain necessary proteins. Glyphosate stops a specific enzyme pathway in plants called the shikimic acid pathway. The shikimic acid pathway is absolutely necessary for plants and some microorganisms to produce certain amino acids, or proteins. Below is a flowchart of the shikimate pathway. It is a multi-step metabolic route that is necessary for the formation of essential amino acids. They’re called essential because they’re necessary to live. In the third step of the shikimate pathway, glyphosate targets EPSP Synthase, destroying it and terminating the process, resulting in death for the plant, bacteria, fungi or algae that comes in contact with glyphosate.
Stay with me, guys. You don’t have to understand the science, or the details of the metabolic pathway; just understand that
glyphosate stops production of essential building blocks of protein in plants.
Animals, including humans, do not produce their own amino acids, and therefore Roundup has generally been promoted as completely safe.
The other main use of GMO technology was to insert the Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) toxin into the genes of crop plants. Bt is a bacteria that produces proteins which are toxic to insect larvae and soft bodied insects. Bt damages the cells of these insects, literally making their stomachs burst. Bt is actually a naturally occurring soil organism, and is allowed to be used in certified organic produce and crop farms as it is naturally occurring, only targets soft-bodied insects like tomato hornworm when applied topically, and washes away with rain or water. The difference is that in organic farming, as in pre-GMO agriculture, Bt must be sprayed onto the fields to kill pests. With GM crops, the portion of Bt that is the toxic protein is inside the plant, so that if an insect eats any part of the plant, it dies.
The Results and Risks
Are many, and seem to be multiplying and intensifying wherever I look. GMO technology has already been released out there, and is rampant in our environment and in our food. It cannot be called back, and its ultimate effects have always been UNKNOWN. Already in the past 20-30 years since this technology was being developed, the scientific understanding of the way genes works has changed.
It used to be general knowledge among scientists that DNA determined life, and that it was relatively stable and predicted an organism’s traits.
Since then, there have been many developments in epigenetics proving that the ways genes are expressed are dependent on the environment and many other factors. AND genetic mutation occurs along the DNA strand, in individual organisms, and between organisms.
This means, and has always meant, that no matter how well-tested Big Biotech (Monsanto) claims that GMO crops are (and these are tests paid for by the biotech company, with the outcomes revealed only if they are favorable),
there are simply too many biological and environmental factors at play to know what a foreign gene will do in a different organism. And this science is so young that we humans just don't know what we're doing, or the long term results of what has already been done.
Today, those previously unforeseen risks are actually happening; if you look, there is a wealth of information coming to light about what science has discovered is actually happening on a cellular level IN HUMANS when modern GMO/glyphosate foods are consumed.
The Food Basics
As you’ve probably heard, GMOs are prolific in our food supply. GMO corn and soybeans are processed into all kinds of foods, particularly the packaged, highly processed, junk food type foods. Also GMO corn, soybeans, cottonseed, and other crops are fed to livestock for meat and dairy production.
GMOs and the associated Glyphosate and Bt toxin are NOT harmless. On the contrary there are very real and, in all honesty, scary outcomes occurring in human health and the environment.
Next time - what you really need to know about GMOs and glyphosate in food and your health.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for supporting the nonGMO movement!
The History of Monsanto, a Timeline
Glyphosate, General Facts from National Pesticide Information Center
Glyphosate Food Testing Results and Report
Glyphosate:Mechanism of Action
List of Genetically Modified Crops - Glyphosate, Bt, and other
What is the Bt Toxin
Is Bt Organic or Not?
The Impact of Bt Crops on the Developing World
Epigenetics warns us about GMOs
Union of Concerned scientists: Roundup resistance has led to greater use of herbicides, with troubling implications for biodiversity, sustainability, and human health
Genetic Roulette Movie
~Brooks Miller and Anna Santini