Organic Sense

The GMO Barrier: Insights from a Generation Organic Farm-Girl

by Sarah Holm  on June 20, 2011

I walked out of the classroom and made my way down a few flights of stairs. It was one of those brief moments this spring when the sun came out and I let my mind leave thoughts of school and daydream about the coming summer. I had so many plans for my family’s dairy farm. The first thing would be to check on the tree seedlings I planted last year. As I walked across campus, my phone vibrated – it was a text from a young farming friend of mine.

“A seed company is going after my neighbors.”
“What did they do?”
“Planted genetically modified corn and saved the seed. Somebody snitched on them to the seed company and they found out today they are getting sued for it.”

Unfortunately this scenario is becoming more and more common across our country. With genetically modified crops, the company that created them has a patent on the actual gene itself. This has come to mean, in legal terms, that they own anything their patented gene is in. So a farmer cannot save seed to use next year, and if a farmer’s seed becomes contaminated with the gene through cross-pollination, they can be accused of “stealing” the gene. Certified Organic farmers like my family are not allowed to use genetically modified seeds, but we are still at risk of contamination through cross-pollination.

It is not an exaggeration to say that genetically modified organisms (GMOs), particularly crops, threaten the existence of the entire niche market known as “organic.” If we cannot ensure that our crops are not contaminated, we cannot ensure that our beef, dairy cows and chickens are fed organically, which means we lose the integrity of all our products. This means organic farmers are in danger of losing our property and our right to conduct business.

Organic is one of the last markets for small, sustainable, diversified farms. Organic farmers have fought for years to create the regulatory system, strict standards and layers of government and third party oversight, all of which protects our livelihood. If we lose that, we have lost what is quickly becoming the only viable alternative to large-scale agriculture reliant on government subsidies and chemicals.

As a young person who would like to farm organically someday, the threat of GM crops adds yet another barrier to achieving my dreams.

The ignored health risks of GM foods also concern me. According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) found that “‘Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,’ including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.” GM foods are not subjected to human test trials, and despite urgings by even the FDA for long-term safety studies, the government has never required them.

One of those ignored health risks was documented in the study “Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract,” published in Nature Biotechnology, which found that the Bt-resistant genes from the GM soy actually transferred to the human gut bacteria. The authors of the study found a very low transfer rate, so they concluded that there was no transfer at all. I find an acceptance of even a low transfer rate to be alarming. To my knowledge, this is the only study done on this alarming “side-effect,” so I cannot conclusively say that GM foods can seriously mess up a person’s digestive system, but I do want more research to be done.

Thankfully, I am not alone in my concern about GM foods. There are many people dedicated to challenging the government’s approval of GMOs. It is also becoming more frequent for me to meet people without agricultural backgrounds who are concerned about GM foods. People are letting their government representatives know their views, contacting the USDA to ask for studies to be done, and perhaps most importantly, choosing to change their own lifestyles by eating foods they know are not genetically modified.

Even more encouraging is that small-scale, non-organic farmers are questioning GM crops as well. I meet non-organic farmers all the time who understand not only the dangers of GM crops, but the extra expense of them. Apparently, there is something about a plant that can be sprayed with chemicals and still survive that makes it unappetizing to everyone.

For now, all I can do is live GM-food-free as best as I can and keep spreading the word. The farming friend who told me about his neighbors also plants genetically modified crops, but after talking with me and researching, I was happy to receive another text from him on a different day:

“I’ve decided to not plant genetically modified soybeans. And maybe next year I won’t use genetically modified corn.”

Resources:

Smith, Jeffrey. “Doctors Warn: Avoid Genetically Modifed Food.” Institute for Responsible Technology. May 2009. www.responsibletechnology.org/gmo-dangers/health-risks/articles-about-risks-by-jeffrey-smith/Doctors-Warn-Avoid-Genetically-Modified-Food-May-2009

Netherwood, Trudy et. al. “Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract.” Nature Biotechnology. 22, 204-209 (2004). Published online: 18 Jan 2004.
www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v22/n2/abs/nbt934.html


Sarah Holm is a teenage Organic Valley dairy farmer in Wisconsin. She and her family (she is the oldest of seven) milk 40 Jersey cows and graze about 80 acres. She is studying political science at University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire and hopes to go to law school.

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Comments

"Bunny" from from Lafayette, Louisiana on June 28, 2011 at 10:58:34 AM
I have noticed something not normal. My husband has trouble getting a bite of well chewed food down his throat and esophagus without several tries, including drinking water or milk, clearing his throat, walking around and then returning to finish his dinner. Because I cook very simply, it is not anything I added that is the problem --I only buy organic.

I've noticed some foods or food products seem more acidic to me. I don't think this is because we are getting older. (I think it's because USDA Secretary Vilsack gives big business everything they want.

Because the swallowing problem does not always occur, I'll still buy Organic Prairie and Organic Valley. But, I worry about the future, not just for us, but for our children and our infant grandson.

We've been eating commercial organic since 1986. The problem is not the organic crops/animals, but the foreign DNA and the way this country no longer protects the integrity of agriculture nor the health and lives of its citizens, but protects big business without control measures, peer reviewed published studies or independent testing.

Personally, I will not eat out unless your food products are on the menu and I still will purchase your meat and dairy, as long as we can swallow.

Thank you for your honesty and integrity. I have no problem funding you, just not candidates or the president who deceives the public.
Susan from from Chicagoland on June 22, 2011 at 12:46:09 PM
It all comes down to money. Big Agra does what it does to produce as much of its product as possible as cheaply as possible, and spends $$ to convince people to buy as much as possible. Unfortunately, it's difficult for organic-certified farmers to meet the low price points, and when it's a matter of buying organic or paying bills, guess what wins?
In addition to the grassroots effort to counter the Big Agra lobbies, people need to vote with their wallets as much as possible.
Tammy Baugh from from Bloomington, Indiana on June 22, 2011 at 01:42:18 AM
Yeah but our own US Govt wants to kill us all it's why I personally balieve they1)Allowed many manufacturers to dispose of toxic waste al over our homelands,2)They made like the Swine Flue could kill thousands tricking them into getting vaccinated for it under those false pretenses,when really those vaccinations were designed to screw up people's immune system worse than Aids 3)The govt could repay the foreign debt but simply refuses.Making we Americans look bad to the other people.4)Most of us never wanted our men to go to war and it was begun for OIL not to teach them Democracy,After all who cares how they run their country? It's not our call it's theirs and our men warring therer makes us all look like monsters,yet we the people have no voice to stop them from sending our men to fight a battel which should never been strted to begin with.5)Aspartame highly toxic to the brain is being added to diet foods,mints,drinks,gum and people are allowed to consume it,why?TO destroy what's left of their already gone minds.I could think of more if I tried but I think I proved my point.
John from from Miami, fl. 33138 on June 21, 2011 at 01:15:13 PM
Big Agra. does not care about the general public's health one bit!! They want to feed us that crap they engineer without any consideration as to what it is going to do to us internally.. Our bodies do not recognize these G.M.O. crops as food and so all sorts of health issues arise such as diabetes, gastrointestinal issues etc. etc. etc. etc. ..We need to run Monsanto out of the country on a rail because they are accomplishing what muslim terrorists can only
dream of, killing Americans on a mass scale using poison!!!! We need to get those scummy 'big agra' lobbies out of washington and stop that criminal bunch from using the courts to run the smaller & honest organic farms out of business..
Elizabeth from from AZ on June 21, 2011 at 12:50:32 PM
I do not support any GMO's in any form. I have written The President, my senators and congressmen about my non support of GMO products. As well as my family not supporting them (through elections) if they pass any laws concerning GMO products.
Susan from from Lafayette, Louisiana on June 21, 2011 at 12:01:09 PM
It's a wonderful idea not to plant GMO soy or corn. Soy is not a safe food anyway, and now that most is GE it is toxic to everything and everyone who eats it, not to mention that growing GE devastates the soil and the microorganisms to provide humus and beneficial nutrients to the plants and animals. GE corn has rendered livestock sterile. Both have spontaneously aborted fetuses. The ability for farmers to maintain their herds are increasingly unviable. I understand that.

I worry that the same will occur from GE alfalfa/hay, as well as intensive herbicide spraying, not by organic farmers but by neighbors upstream or upwind.

The ability of your family of farmers to grow what was once called organic, with as much integrity as you can give is better than consuming genetically modified food. If I have that assurance, I'd still rather stay with you while fighting back against more poisoning of American agriculture by the biotech pesticide industry.

I will give up eating meat and dairy rather than eating intentionally raised GMO meat and dairy.

What did animals do before humans raised corn and soy to feed them? Did they simply forage on grass and bits of grain? That's okay with me.

The Obama-Monsanto Administration chokes me up and to make things worse are the Repukes that started all this.
Thank you for sharing.
Barb from on June 21, 2011 at 10:58:29 AM
Thank you for your beautifully written and very compelling article. I don't understand why people don't "get" it.
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