A hot topic grabbing headlines recently is GMOs. The technology behind GMOs is fairly new, quite sophisticated and basically misunderstood by the masses. Many consumers view GMOs with suspicion and even fear, and there is plenty of misinformation on the Internet to fuel these emotions. However, there are potential benefits to this technology that may be surprising to some people: Farmers using GMO crops report using substantially less pesticides, water and fuel. GMO technology has enormous potential for solving some of our world's big problems – such as increasing production to feed a growing world population, or delivering key nutrients to third-world countries.
Consumers should be aware that GMOs have been tested for safety, and a recent review of 1,783 high-quality research studies concluded that they are safe. While that's reassuring, there still remains uncertainty over why GMOs are used in the first place, and how they might impact our environment. For these questions, it's best to talk to farmers.
Schmidt is a registered dietitian who also works on her family farm in Maryland, growing many types of crops – including GMO corn and soybean – alongside non-GMO crops. Her farm is progressive, continuously trying out new forms of technology in order to strengthen and protect the family business. Schmidt explains that her GMO crops have a higher yield than the non-GMO crops, but the real benefit comes from savings in time, labor, fuel and wear and tear on her machinery. "All those things combined are very meaningful to a family farm,” she notes.
In some cases, GMO technology has saved family businesses. Papaya farming is a prime example. Kamiya is president of Kamiya Gold, Inc, and he notes that “without GMO technology, there would be no papaya business, and I would be out of farming." Kamiya’s family has been growing papayas for the past 40 years, with the past 16 years using GMO papaya. His confidence in the safety of his product is rock solid, and he points out that the papaya industry has marketed roughly 400 million pounds of papaya since the introduction of GMO technology, without a single negative incident.
The decision to use a GMO seed is not one that farmers make lightly. According to Pratt, her family uses GMO crops because of the clear value they bring to their family business. They have greatly reduced the amount of insecticide that needs to be sprayed, and they only need to treat the weeds at one point, not several times over a growing season. Her soil has now improved, because she and her family don't have to tromp through the fields as often. The family also uses less fuel, because they spend less time in the tractor. “No one is more aware than the farmer of the impact we have on the environment, in addition to the urgency to feed and fuel a growing population, while reducing our footprint on the planet,” she maintains.
Sustainability is a word not often associated with GMOs in popular press, but farmers who grow GMO crops see them as a tool for sustainable farming. According to Rogers, if it were not for GMO technology, the cotton industry in Arizona would not be thriving or sustainable. The pest that was destroying Arizona cotton crops was winning, and it was costing farmers more money to fight that pest than the crop was worth. GMO cotton has produced plants that resist the pest, and according to Rogers, it “has allowed farms in Arizona to be sustainable over the long haul. This technology allows us to produce more product on the same footprint, with less expense.”
Farmers use many different tools to manage a healthy, sustainable farm. Farming involves weed management, insect control and the wise use of resources in order for a farm to thrive as a business. Schultz notes that farmers take the issues of health and environmental safety very seriously when choosing farm management tools. “As a farmer, I would not produce anything that I am not willing to serve to my own family," he says. "Farmers work very closely with the environment, and I want to leave the land in better condition than when I found it. I want to create more with using less, with less impact on the environment. GMOs are an invaluable technology to help achieve this end goal.”