According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2014 94 percent of U.S. soybeans, 93 percent of corn and 90 percent of cotton will be produced from genetically modified plants.
So are 95 percent of U.S. sugar beets. About 55 percent of U.S. sugar production comes from sugar beets.
What’s more, substantial amounts of GMO (genetically modified organism) corn, cotton, and soybeans have been grown and consumed in the U.S. for the last 14 years. In 2000, about a quarter of U.S. corn and more than 50 percent of U.S. soybeans and cotton were produced from GMO varieties.
According to the anti-GMO Center for Food Safety, “It has been estimated that upwards of 75 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves — from soda to soup, crackers to condiments — contain genetically engi neered ingredients.”
So where are the victims?
To hear the nation’s anti-GMO activists tell it, you would think that the aisles of our nation’s supermarkets would be choked with corpses, that most of the nation’s farmers and their families would have one foot in the grave, that the country’s cows, pigs and chickens, which consume most of its corn and soybeans, would be dying or dead in their pens and coops.
But none of those things have happened.
What has happened is that American farmers are harvesting record crops this year.
This year’s corn crop is expected to exceed 14 billion bushels, with a yield of 167.4 bushels per acre — both new all-time records.
Ditto for soybeans. The 2014 crop is expected to surpass 3.8 billion bushels, with a yield of 45.4 bushels per acre — both new national records.
(Cotton production also set an alltime record, but per acre yield was down, probably due to drought in Texas and California.)
Thanks to versions of crops to which a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis has been added, a bacillus that occurs naturally in soil and is toxic to insect pests but not humans and livestock, U.S. farmers who plant BT corn, soybeans and cotton are applying about 40 percent less chemical insecticides (which are toxic to humans) to their crops.
Farmers who plant “Roundup Ready” crops — crops engineered to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer — don’t have to plough as frequently for weed control. Low-til agriculture conserves water and top-soil.
In other words, genetic engineering is helping American farmers produce bumper crops with a paucity of collateral damage.
However 14 years of benign and beneficial experience with GMO crops hasn’t stopped anti-GMO activists from claiming that GMO crops are a ticking time-bomb and that the only reason the truth hasn’t come out is that Monsanto and other companies have paid off scientists — thousands of them — to skew their studies, and pressured politicians to approve their seeds.
And that GMO crops of any kind shouldn’t be planted until they have been proved completely safe or hell freezes over, whichever comes last.
And that there are millions and millions of victims out there. Somewhere.
Well it may not be a double blind study, but the fact that tens of millions of Americans have been eating GMO food for 14 years with no discernible ill effects constitutes pretty compelling evidence that GMO food is a safe as any other food.
Don’t think so? Where are the victims?
In November, Colorado will vote on a ballot proposal that would require disclosure labels on food with GMO ingredients in it.
National anti-GMO activists are quite open about what they hope to accomplish with labeling initiatives. Consumer choice isn’t their first priority.
“If we have it labeled, then we can organize people not to buy it,” says the Center for Food Safety head Andrew Kimbrell.
“GM foods must be banned entirely, but labeling is the most efficient way to achieve this,” says Joseph Mercola, who has made his pile by selling natural products over the web.
In short, they want to do to GMO crops what the anti-nuclear power movement did to nuclear power — emasculate it.
The upshot of the anti-nuclear power movement was a huge increase in the use of coal to generate electric power and a massive increase in CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. The consequences of banning GMO crops could be far more lethal and evil, however.
Genetic engineering companies like the routinely libeled Monsanto are currently preparing to introduce droughtresistant varieties of corn and other field crops. If anticipated global warming results in anything like the drought conditions that climate models are predicting, and if the planet’s populations keeps increasing by about 80 million a year, those crops will be crucial to preventing killer famines.
Fighting climate change is voluntary. Adapting to climate change is mandatory. Quickly developing and introducing crops that can thrive in more extreme conditions like hotter summers and drought is a core survival strategy, and one that is far too important to the future well-being of both the country and the planet to be left to a bunch of thinly greenwashed food cranks.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.