Is GMO farming harmful to the environment?

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series on GMOs.

In my last blog, I discussed that the general scientific consensus confirms that genetically modified foods are safe to eat despite claims they can harm animals and humans.

Another heated issue in this debate is if GMO farming is damaging to the environment. Anti-GMO activists often make claims that their use leads to environmentally poor farming practices and financial harm to farmers. The Non-GMO Project says that "GMOs therefore pose a serious threat to farmer sovereignty and to the national food security of any country where they are grown." They also write "use of toxic herbicides like Roundup has increased 16 times since GMOs were introduced."

To clarify if these claims are true, I reached out to Michelle Miller, known on social media as the "Farm Babe". She co-runs a family farm in Iowa and is a public speaker on agricultural topics and controversies.

What would you like consumers to know about GMOs and farming?

Literally everything we eat has had their genes modified. EVERYTHING. I would like consumers to know that GMOs make us much BETTER stewards of the land. GMOs allow us to eliminate tillage which helps improve soil quality and prevents erosion, while allowing us to use substantially less pesticides. Farmers today are able to grow more crops on less land and we no longer have to spray insecticides on our fields like we used to. Herbicides associated with GMOs are also some of the safest products we have ever had access to. This is better for farmers, consumers, beneficial insects, and the environment overall.

We have extremely high food safety standards in this country and that ALL food is safe. Herbicides are applied on GMO fields with less than two soda cans over an area of land the size of a football field! Pesticides are also used on organic and non-GMO fields as well. Sometimes organic actually uses MORE pesticides than GMO farms do.

Do GMOs pose a threat to the health of farm lands and the environment? What about glyphosate?

Absolutely NOT! It's always important to remember that the dose makes the poison. Glyphosate is actually the most non-toxic herbicide we have ever had access to which is why it's so popular. It is less toxic than table salt, baking soda, or caffeine. We spray it two days out of the year and at a very minimal dose. GMOs allow us to eliminate insecticide sprays all together, which is helpful for beneficial insects like bees and butterflies. It allows us to grow more on less land, which is critical to feed a growing planet.

What do most farmers think about GMOs? Is it different than consumer opinions?

I completely understand how confusing it is for consumers today. Huge food corporations will stop at nothing to sell something even if it means they are lying or misleading. There are a lot of good examples of this in the meat department as well, like "no added hormones" labels on chicken. There is no such thing as chicken with added hormones. Same for the "Non GMO" label as well. Usually products that say "GMO free" never had a GMO counterpart to begin with like cucumbers, oranges, or grapes.

Unfortunately, misinformation runs rampant and is usually started by people pushing an agenda to sell their products. The organic industry spends over $2.5 billion a year through 330 different organizations to scare consumers about stuff they probably don't understand.

I want people to try to connect with more farmers. People fear what they don't understand. Farmers only make up 1 percent of the population. Our voices are easily drowned out by misinformation. We are real people who proudly eat what we grow!

My take away: Understanding the technology and how farmers use it to be good stewards of their lands can go a long way to alleviate concerns. Technology can be a scary thing and it’s never wrong to question it. But even a short review of the facts from a Scientific American article reveals that GM crops are, if anything, beneficial to modern farming.  In addition, as we saw in the previous installment, there has never, even once been a case of harm to human health from GM foods.

Based on these facts, parents should feel safe feeding their children these foods. At the end of the day, we want children to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, whether those are GM, organic or conventional.


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