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Agvocation 101 | October 2022

by Hilary Rossow

Battling misinformation in agriculture during an infodemic.

Join us in our upcoming series to debunk the misconceptions perpetuated against agriculture!

Agriculture is facing a constant and evolving storm of disinformation and misconception. Like many production industries, activists, the media, and the public in general hold agriculture to a high standard for stewardship of the earth’s resources – its water, air, and soil.

Concerns about agriculture’s impact on the environment, plus human health have been raised with increasing volume for decades, and myths are easily propagated with the use of social media platforms. Over the next several months, The Stockman will feature articles to help its readers debunk some of the untruths disseminated against production agriculture.

The ABCs of GMOs

Since their creation, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have come under fire by many consumers who are concerned about health and safety risks. However, much of the public perception is largely based in assumptions and false claims on social media and activist publications.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are plants that have had their genomic sequence changed (modified) at the DNA level. Historically, plants have been modified genetically to improve yield, pest and disease resistance, and uniformity of fruit or grain. More product can be produced with fewer inputs on less land because of these modifications as fewer chemicals are required.

Pest Resistance in GMOs

Pest resistance of GMO crops is achieved through the incorporation of the DNA of a bacterium that produces a toxin used as an insecticide. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) makes plants used for food and feed resistant to low levels of insect infestation. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Bt is safe for human, pet, and livestock consumption.

Bt produces spores to reproduce. The Bt spores produce proteins that are toxic to insects, larvae, and some nematodes as their digestive systems are highly basic. The spores do not affect monogastric animals like humans, pets, horses, poultry, and swine or ruminants like cattle and sheep as their stomachs are highly acidic.

Oregon State University (OSU) has completed extensive research concerning the effects of Bt, specifically topical pesticides, Bt found naturally in the soil, and Bt genetically modified crops.

Similar technology is used to make plants resistant to some herbicides and viruses as well. All have been proven safe for human consumption according to WHO. Further, potatoes and apples specifically have modified varieties to reduce the browning process that occurs when they are cut and exposed to oxygen. This reduces food waste as many consumers consider apples and potatoes spoiled if they are brown and will throw them away.

Here is a list of common concerns related to the use and consumption of GMOs along with facts.

Misconception 1:

GMOs are not necessary to feed the world.

TRUTH: Approximately 25,000 people worldwide die every day of starvation. GMOs are an effective means of producing more food with less land, fewer chemicals, and less labor, according to WHO. According to the American Farm Bureau, on average, one U.S. farm feeds 166 people worldwide each year. With an increasing world population, more emphasis on producing more with less is placed on all producers. The use of GMOs to accomplish that feat is the most efficient and cost-effective and is considered necessary by many.

Misconception 2:

If food is not labeled “Non-GMO,” it contains GMOs.

TRUTH: Only corn, soybeans, sugar beets, canola, cotton, potatoes, papaya, summer squash, alfalfa, pink pineapple, and apples have genetically modified varieties in the U.S., according to the FDA. Produce, like seedless watermelon, is not genetically modified, but much like livestock it has been bred for this desirable trait.

Misconception 3:

If I eat meat from a steer or eggs from a chicken that has consumed GMO corn, it will affect my own DNA.

TRUTH: According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 95 percent of animals used for meat and dairy in the U.S. consume GMO crops. There is no evidence that these crops affect the health and safety of animals. The DNA of the GMO feed does not transfer into the tissues or milk of the animal that eats it. If the DNA of GMOs did transfer to the tissues of food animals, cattle would become grass and chickens would become corn. Therefore, meat, eggs, and dairy products that come from animals who have consumed genetically modified crops cannot transfer genetically modified DNA.

Misconception 4:

GMO plants have lower nutritional value than non-GMO plants.

TRUTH: According to a National Institute of Health (NIH) study, there is no measurable difference in mineral, Vitamin C, antioxidants, fatty acids, and carotenoids contents in the corn varieties in the study compared to their nontransgenic (not GMO) counterparts.

Misconception 5:

GMOs can create allergies to foods where they do not exist in their non-GMO varieties.

TRUTH: According to the FDA, scientists and other professionals who develop GMOs, are required to run tests to ensure these plants do not produce allergic reactions. In instances where allergic reactions occur, the projects are modified or abandoned.

Misconception 6:

GMOs cause cancer.

TRUTH: Most consumers who subscribe to this notion believe that since most cancers are caused by gene mutations, food that has been genetically modified will cause cancer. Several studies performed and reviewed by the FDA and American Cancer Society have not found any increased cancer instance when genetically modified products are consumed.

Research indicates GMOs are not only safe, but they are preferable in many cases. The FDA and other agencies ensure the safety of the U.S. food supply, and GMOs have historically been subjected to even more stringent tests for safety and nutritional value.

Higher yields with fewer chemical inputs are necessary to feed a growing world population. Food safety is important to all consumers, and people making a living in production agriculture are especially concerned with ensuring a safe and healthy end product while being good stewards to the land and livestock they have been entrusted.

Learn more from our resources:

1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration: How GMO Crops Affect Our World

2. American Farm Bureau Federation: Mythbusting GMOs

3. World Health Organization: Food, Genetically Modified

4. Oregon State University: Understanding GMOs

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