The Great GMO Debate

I’m not “pro-GMO”.  And I’m not “anti-GMO”.  But I am “pro-farmer” and “anti-mega-conglomerate-takeover” as well as an advocate of careful and knowledgeable chemical applications for land and animals.

Sunrise on the Farm

I will say that GMO products allowed my dad to make a living, provide a home for his family, food on the table, clothes to wear, and the occasional amazing family vacation.  “Organic farming” has really burst onto the scene in the last 10 years or so (at least in our area).  And let me tell you – farming in general is hard, but organic is tough.  Each has their pros and cons.

With organics, you can’t just go out, plant something, and expect it to produce wonderful quality and quantity.  You have to account for fertilizers, pest control, weed control, etc.  All things that conventional farming is allowed to do.

Yes – there are studies where organics have improved soil, are more profitable, have less damage to the land; just as there are as many facts that GMO products and conventional farming produce higher yields and can reduce soil erosion (with no-till fields).

The above referenced article to the Washington Post by Tamar Haspel states that: 

Unfortunately, you can’t believe organic food is more nutritious and safe without believing conventional food is less nutritious and safe, and that infuriates advocates of conventional food. Sometimes that fury takes on a distasteful edge — I’ve noticed some schadenfreude at food-borne illness outbreaks pegged to organic foods — but I understand where it’s coming from. Conventional food is as safe and nutritious as its organic counterparts, and if consumers are told otherwise, they’re being deceived, and conventional producers are being harmed.

What does this mean?  Be a well-rounded, educated consumer.

Organic farming is difficult because it requires so much labor, especially up front with getting the land to the certified state of “organic”.  There is a lot of red tape and certification requirements to go through.  Since you can’t use traditional herbicides and pesticides, some farmers have to go out into the fields – by hand – and pick weeds and kill bugs so you can eat “organic”.  (There are exceptions to some rules).  Of course, this coupled with an increasing demand means their product can be sold at a higher price.  It also seems that these are more direct-to-consumer sales, but commercial organic farming is on the rise.

For instance – check out Annie’s, a company by General Mills, and this article on how a farmer is transitioning his 5,000 acre farm to organic to be a supplier to Annie.

GMO/conventional farming allows the farmer to reduce the physical labor by applying chemicals to get rid of weeds and pests, as well as create a product with higher yields per acre.  It’s used for a lot of livestock feed, ethanol, and some corn products you’ve never imagined (i.e., several years ago I received a coffee mug made out of corn somehow!).  Pricing, however, is usually dictated by the market, and lately, prices have been very poor.

The Animal Aspect.

You know that chicken you buy that says “antibiotic free”?  Well – what happens if/when it gets sick?  What if a calf gets injured from another calf or cow kicking them, or getting caught on a gate latch or roll under a fence?  Animals living in highly-concentrated areas, such as chicken farms and cattle herds, have a higher chance of illness.  Cattle play, fight, buck heads, roll.  It’s just the way it is.  Like people sitting in an office all winter with no fresh air or kids rolling around in the dirt and scraping their knees.

Antibiotics aren’t bad – they’re necessary for the health of the animal!  Vaccines and dewormer help the animal stay healthy.  There are studies showing that a sudden influx of vaccines to the animal can temporarily hurt their systems, but a simple solution is to spread out the timing of the vaccines, if possible.  Our horses might be a bit “off” for a day after the vaccines, but for the most part they do very well.  I would also rather pay for and administer a vaccine than have them contract and spread West Nile Virus, Rabies, or Lymes Disease.  While our horses are not around to feed someone, I would follow my veterinarian’s recommendation of vaccines and bio-security for any animal.  Organic livestock farming does produce healthy livestock, and there are exceptions to every rule for the safety of the animal, but I laugh every time I hear the commercial on TV that says “no antibiotics – ever” because to me that means the animals are not cared for properly.

What is bad are the breeding practices.  No chicken should produce chicken breasts that weigh a pound.  None.  (Which is why I am an advocate of heritage breeds).  This grew out of consumer demand.

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I went to our grocer’s meat sale last fall (yes – I still purchase mass-produced meat when necessary, and yes, that means I still support the industry by buying into it).  I got 13 pounds of chicken breasts.  I put two breasts into each zip lock bag to freeze for later use.  Want to know how many bags I got?  Six.  Six bags with 1-2 breasts each.  When I laid out two breasts still connected together it covered nearly half my 18″ x 12″ cutting board.  They looked more like turkey breasts!  And why do I have a problem with the breeding practices – because a lot of these birds (chickens and turkeys) have to be artificially inseminated because they are too large to stand up to breed.  It’s just not natural.  Heritage breeds must breed naturally as part of the breed requirement, and if you ask me – that is natural.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation,

The pounds of feed (grain, forage, etc.) a dairy cow needs to eat to produce 100 pounds of milk has decreased by more than 40 percent on average in the last 40 years.

What this means – thanks to GMO products, one cow is able to produce more on less food.  This does not mean the farmer feeds the cow less because it can’t afford to feed it.  It means the cow needs less to survive because the feed is more efficient and nutritional than it was 40 years ago.  For more interesting “Farming Facts” from the Farm Bureau head HERE.

What we do.

And now you’re probably going to question how we eat, farm, or care for our animals and produce.

I am a farming advocate.  Period.  I don’t care if you’re organic or conventional, your job in the farming system is important.  I care for my animals to the best of my ability, and that includes some chemicals.  They don’t like flies any more than I do, so I’m going to spray them with fly spray.  My experience has been the “natural” stuff works for about five minutes and then the giant buzz-bombers are back.  The chemical-laden stuff lasts about 15 minutes and costs less.  I want them to stay healthy, so I vaccinate, deworm, and treat with antibiotics as necessary.

I really don’t like when the bugs come and eat away our garden – that’s food to feed us and it is not being grown for bug consumption!  So I’ll leave the chemicals off as long as I can, then kill the little heathens with whatever I need, and pick and wash produce according to the label recommendations.  If the natural pesticides (i.e., Neem oil) work, I’ll use them.  If not – I’m resulting to drastic measures!  They haven’t killed me yet!

My mom remembers (many years ago; like – many) when someone came to the farm and said “what are those things running around?” and they were chickens.  This city person honestly didn’t know what chickens looked like and thought chicken just came from the grocery store!

So before you buy chicken because the company didn’t use antibiotics – consider what it really means.  And no matter your opinion on organic versus non-organic, consider the impact farming has on the community.  It’s somebody’s livelihood, and it’s important to the food chain – literally.

As a consumer, it’s important to know where your food comes from and how it’s produced, regardless of it was artificially or naturally grown, organically or non-organic.  

Are you organic or conventional?  Does growing or purchasing one or the other matter to you?  Leave us a comment and let us know!  Consider subscribing to follow along on our journey of promoting Farm Life!

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Molly says:

    Well written and approachable for someone who may be on the fence wants to know more. Thanks Jen!

    Liked by 1 person

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