Monthly Archives: October 2014

Take the GMO quiz: how much do you know?

I’ll admit it, I kind of like taking those stupid online quizzes. You know: what city were you meant to live in, what Harry Potter character are you, etc. These are pressing, important issues, right?! Not so much, but they’re fun, I like doing them, and I bet you do, too. So I decided to make a quiz for you guys! It’s in the vein of a personality quiz, and I fully expect all my dedicated momsensians to get the “Big Ag Shill” title! Make me proud. If you don’t, don’t fret, scroll down below the quiz and read the answers and discussion, and take the quiz again.


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*************************SPOILER ALERT*************************** The answers to this quiz are below! Don’t cheat! Take the test first, then read the answers.


Question: What does GMO mean?

Answer: GMO stands for genetically modified organism.


Question: How many crops come in GMO (transgenic) varieties?

Answer: 6-10 There are currently eight crops that are commercially available as GMO: Corn (field and sweet), soybeans, canola, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beet, squash and papaya. *Edited for clarification* This is excluding food that may be considered “genetically modified” in the sense that it’s a result of selective breeding. You can make an argument that everything we eat is “genetically modified” through selective breeding, which we as humans have been doing for hundreds of years.  But for the sake of simplicity, we’ll consider GMOs to be those produced through genetic engineering or transgenics.


Question: Where in the grocery store are you  most likely to find GMOs?

Answer: Packaged food. Aside from papaya and a small amount of sweet corn and squash, packaged/processed foods are where you’ll find the majority  of ingredients that have been derived from GMOs. Examples include corn oil, cornstarch, cornmeal, soybean oil, soy flour, soy protein, soy lecithin, sugar (from beets, not cane), canola oil, cottonseed oil, and corn syrup. These products are often found in baked goods, cereals, snack foods, foods containing corn sugars/syrup, etc.


Question: Which of the following is a source for the transgene in the commercially available GMOs?

Answer: Bacteria. Bt crops produce their own protection against insect damage using a protein from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis. Interestingly, the Bt protein is also used as a spray by organic farmers and gardeners.


Question: Monsanto is the only company that makes GMOs.

Answer: False. Monsanto is one of the “big six” companies investing in biotechnology in the private sector. The other five include Pioneer, BASF, Syngenta, Dow, and Bayer. But there are plenty of other smaller players around the world working on biotechnology as well.


Question: GMOs allow farmers to

Answer: Spray less pesticide and adopt no-till and reduced-till practices. Bt crops have greatly reduced the amount of insecticide applied to crops, as much as an 18-fold decrease in corn between 1976 and 2010. In fact, in the first 17 years of adoption, biotechnology has reduced pesticide spraying by 503 million kg and has reduced the environmental footprint associated with pesticide use by 18.7 percent. The technology has also significantly reduced the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture equivalent to removing 11.9 million cars from the roads. Part of that is due to reduced or no-till practices  made possible by herbicide-tolerant crops like Roundup Ready. Reduced and no-till practices help sequester carbon in the soil.


Question: How can you avoid GMOs?

Answer: (all answers with the *) Buy USDA certified organic, buy food with the Non-GMO Project label, or look at the ingredients. Food labeled USDA certified organic is by definition GMO-free, as is food with a GMO-free specific label. Additionally, as I said above, there are only eight crops that are commercially available in GM varieties. Turn the package around and look for the words: corn, soy, cotton, sugar, canola, squash, alfalfa (not in food anyway) or papaya. If those words aren’t listed on the ingredients, it’s not GM. If they are, assume it is GM, because in most of those crops (corn, soy, cotton, canola) more than 90 percent of the crops grown in the US are GM. The exceptions are sugar since only about half the sugar in the US comes from beets, squash and sweet corn (which both have lower adoption rates.) The percentage is closer to 70 percent for Hawaiian-grown papaya, so you can pay attention to the country of origin if you’re interested in avoiding GM papaya.


Question: GMOs are banned in 64 countries.

Answer: False. GMOs are not banned in 64 countries. GMOs are only banned in one country: Kenya. In some ways this is semantics, but take the EU for example: while some countries (but not all) in the EU have banned the growth of particular GM crops, the EU imports almost three-quarters of it’s feed for livestock, much of which is GM. Additionally, they are not disallowed there due to safety; it’s more of a political and public perception issue in the EU.


Question: The scientific consensus is that GMOs are safe for human consumption.

Answer: True, every leading health organization in the world stands behind their safety, including the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the International Society of African Scientists, and the European Commission, to name a few.


Question: We’ve been eating GMOs for how long?

Answer: 15-20 years. About 18 years, in fact. GMOs were introduced in 1996 when Monsanto commercialized Roundup Ready soybeans.


Question: How many documented human health incidents (that can be attributed to GMOs) have there been since GMOs were introduced?

Answer: None. Not a single one.


Question: Organic growers can lose their organic certification because of cross contamination from GMOs.

Answer: False. In fact, no US organic farmer has ever lost organic certification this way. The National Organic Program explicitly states that as long as an organic farmer didn’t intentionally use “excluded methods” (like GMOs), unintentional presence of GM material won’t impact organic certification.


Question: GMO corn seed is blue and regular corn seed is not.

Answer: False. (so, so very false.) The only reason I included this question is because there has been an extremely deceptive picture floating around the Internet that came from the Yes on 92 campaign in Oregon (and a terrible commercial) that implies that GMO corn seed is blue BECAUSE it’s GM. No. It’s blue because it contains a seed treatment, which has nothing to do with the seeds being GM. Seed treatments are a pesticide (fungicide or insecticide) that is applied to the exterior of the seed before planting to help protect the young seedling during emergence and initial growth. This is very common for conventional and GMO seeds alike. Regulators require that seed treatment preparations contain dyes to color-mark seeds that have been treated so that they can be recognized on sight and not introduced directly into the human food supply. Even organic farmers use some seed treatments. Additionally, seed treatments allow farmers to use small, very targeted application of pesticides.


I hope you learned something today! And if you already knew all of this, congratulations, you’re using your momsense.

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Why you should oppose mandatory GMO labeling

Note: Today’s post corresponds to a radio interview I did that aired today on the Ag Information Network’s Daily Farm and Ranch Report (audio clip at the end of the post.)

Next month Oregonians will vote on whether to require mandatory labels for foods that contain genetically modified organism (GMOs). While the supporters of Measure 92 want you to believe this is about your “Right to Know” what’s in your food, that it’s about transparency,  consumer preference, and choice, it’s not. What it’s really about is getting more people to buy foods that don’t contain no on 92GM ingredients (like organic), and in the end, it’s about banning the technology all together. Mandatory labeling is not based on science, because there isn’t any debate in the scientific community about the safety of GMOs. This measure will prevent progress of a beneficial technology, it will mislead consumers, and it will force all of us to pay for one group’s ideological preference. Not only that, but two nation-wide, voluntary labels already identify GM-free products for consumers who do want to pay extra – organic and voluntarily labeled non-GMO products.  Here’s why you should vote no.

Mandatory labeling presents an unnecessary barrier to the progress of a technology that is immensely beneficial

The United Nations estimates that food production will need to increase by 70 percent by 2050 to feed our growing population. Not only will we need to rise to that immense challenge, we’ll have to do it with more people on the planet taking up more space and using more natural resources while climate change is making it even more difficult to grow food. Even though this seems like an unattainable goal, we have tools to make it happen, and biotechnology must be one of them. Let me be clear, biotechnology is not a magic bullet; it won’t solve the problem alone. We’re going to need everything we have, every production method, every idea, every innovation. Instead of embracing all of the tools we have, what we’re doing with mandatory labeling is putting up a warning sign to consumers that will likely encourage them to buy something else. Why is that a problem? Because if consumers send a loud and clear message that they don’t want this (safe and useful) technology, researchers will stop investing in it. It’s already incredibly difficult to get a biotech product to market (and it should be, the safety testing and regulation is and should be rigorous), but with less interest and less funding, it will be even harder and the result will be less innovation. And that may not bother you because you have plenty of food now and plenty of money to buy food, but it will have consequences for those who don’t have plenty of food, money, and land, and it’s irresponsible not to consider the welfare of that portion of the population.

Mandatory labeling is misleading because it implies that food produced through genetic modification is harmful



Current mandatory food labels (like allergy warnings about peanuts or trans fat declarations) tell consumers about nutritional differences and potential health risks in food. Consumers will likely infer a warning from this GMO label that foods containing GM ingredients might be harmful or different when the science supports just the opposite. GM food has been on the market for almost twenty years without a single incident of adverse health effects. Thousands of studies, from both industry and independent sources, have verified, and continue to verify the safety of these products – they are the most researched and tested products in agricultural history. In fact, every major scientific body and regulatory agency in the world has declared these foods safe, including those in Europe (they are not disallowed there due to safety.) There is no debate in the scientific community about the safety of these products, so there is no need to scare consumers away from them with a punitive label.

Additionally, these labels don’t actually provide good information about what consumers are eating – this measure would require that some foods that don’t actually contain any detectable GM ingredients (like sugar and oil) be labeled as containing GM, and some foods (like meat and dairy) that have also been produced with GM ingredients won’t require a label. Genetic modification is achieved by changing DNA, which leads to changed proteins. Food that does not contain DNA or protein (like purified sugar, oils, and corn starch) do not contain these detectable markers of GM and cannot be tested as GM or non-GM. The only way to know is by following the ingredients from farm to table. Supporters of this measure claim that other countries label GM, but many of those, like New Zealand, don’t require labeling for these kinds of ingredients. The only way manufacturers would be able avoid Oregon’s required label is by providing “sworn statements” declaring these food ingredients have not been made with genetic modification. Without this paper trail, even ingredients that didn’t come from GM crops would require the warning label.  And because there’s no way to test for it, it opens the door for a lot of he-said/she-said disagreement and lawsuits.

Mandatory labeling forces all of us to pay more for one group’s ideological preference

My friend Tiffany Marx, mom, farmer, and vice president of Oregon Women for Ag, is voting no on 92.

My friend Tiffany Marx, mom, farmer, and vice president of Oregon Women for Ag, is voting no on 92.

Studies of measures similar to Oregon’s suggest that this will cost about $400 a year for a family of four. The proponents of this measure want you to believe that the cost is as little as printing a label on a product, but that’s naïve about how complex the food production business is. Even if you put aside the considerable cost associated with the record-keeping systems required for conventional foods to avoid the “contains GM” label, there are unavoidable costs down the road. Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume there is no cost associated with just slapping a “contains GM” label on a product that’s going to be sold in Oregon. What do you think the response will be to this label? You can probably group consumers into three categories: those who already oppose GM, those who support it, and those who are on the fence. The first group already avoids GM by buying organic or foods voluntarily labeled as non-GM. The second group won’t change their buying habits. It’s the third group that this label targets – and their likely response will be to not buy that product because it appears to be a safety warning. So sales of that product will plummet in Oregon and the manufacturer could make the decision to drop GM ingredients. That forces the price up considerably because non-GM ingredients cost more. Who do you think will end up paying for that?

Which leads me to the point: if you choose to avoid GM you already have that choice, and you, and you alone, should be the one who pays the extra cost for an extreme precautionary decision not based in science. We currently have two options for consumers who choose to avoid GMOs: organic that is by definition non-GMO, or foods voluntarily labeled as GMO-free. This is not about safety, it’s about preference. Why should we all pay more when options already exist for those who want to avoid food made from GM?

This measure doesn’t address the problems people have with agriculture

Too often the conversation about GMOs is muddled up with people’s dislike of modern agriculture. There was a great quote in this month’s National Geographic article “The Next Green Revolution” about GMOs. Robert Zeigler, director of the International Rice Research Institute said, “We do feel a bit betrayed by the environmental movement, I can tell you that. If you want to have a conversation about what the role of large corporations should be in our food supply, we can have that conversation – it’s really important. But it’s not the same conversation about whether we should use these tools of genetics to improve our crops. They’re both important, but let’s not confound them.” A lot of people are pushing for mandatory labeling because they want to send a message to Monsanto, or they don’t like pesticides or patents on seeds, but mandatory labeling is the wrong way to address those issues, and it won’t even do that. Read this article from Grist about four issues GMO labeling won’t solve, and see if you still think it’ll accomplish what you think it will.  If we really need a labeling system for GM ingredients, it should be done on a national level, not by a patchwork state-by-state approach, and it should be implemented by the FDA and based on sound science, not fear mongering and marketing.

ban gmo image


One of the great things about US agriculture is its ability to provide diverse options for consumers. There’s room, and necessity, in agriculture for all types of production: conventional, organic, and GM. This labeling initiative disparages one type of agriculture solely for a marketing advantage, and that’s unacceptable. There is a lot of talk in the media about who’s contributing to the No on 92 campaign, highlighting that Monsanto has contributed the most. But the “Yes” side is getting funded by groups who make money by getting you to fear conventional and GM agriculture. Not only will their bottom dollar be impacted by this labeling initiative, they have openly stated their end goal is to ban GM technology. is one of the biggest contributors to the Yes campaign. Yes, the same Joseph Mercola who sells controversial dietary supplements on his website, has been warned by the FDA to stop making illegal claims about his products, who is anti-vaccine, and who apparently doesn’t believe HIV causes AIDS. He also said in an article on his website, “Personally, I believe GM foods must be banned entirely, but labeling is the most efficient way to achieve this. Since 85 percent of the public will refuse to buy foods they know to be genetically modified, this will effectively eliminate them from the market.” Other groups like Whole Foods, the Organic Consumers Fund, and Bob’s Red Mill are contributing with the hope that mandatory labeling will increase their market share and ultimately their profits. So don’t let them convince you it’s about your “Right to Know.” They don’t want you to have the choice at all, they want you to boycott GMOs and buy their products.

Please vote no on Oregon Measure 92 and stand with science. Below are more resources for you to explore.

Mom Brings Science to Her Blog, It’s Momsense

Vote No on 92

Oregon Citizens Review Panel rejects measure 92

The Oregonion editorial panel recommends a No vote

Oregon’s Right To Know by Marie Bowers Stagg

GMO Labeling in Oregon by Brenda Frketich

Why I Think Mandatory Labels for GMO’s is Bad Policy and Why I Think It Might Be Good Strategy and Why I Still Can’t Support It by Marc Brazeau

Oregon Voters Should Say “No” to Measure 92 by The Farmer’s Daughter USA

Sugar beet growers believe labeling requirements are misleading

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