GMO and the Farming System

By Walker Lunn Founder, EnviRelation, LLC | March 23, 2014

Food sourcing is a fundamental to our industry as hoteliers, and food supply has developed to be a sophisticated machine subject to the influences of international politics, monetary policy, weather trends in local, international, and long-term climate change theaters, biotechnology, risk management, consumer perception and preference, and domestic and international regulations. How do transgenic foods fit into this symphony, and what does it mean for our industry? What is the impact if we require non-GMO foods, or if we accept GMO foods?

The decision for a farmer to select a GMO crop or non-GMO crop is ultimately based on profit, though some do take personal opinions regarding transgenic foods into consideration. A farmer's profitability is, on a simple level, driven by seed cost, production costs like fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, application frequency and cost, crop yield, product demand, and land cost. Of course, there are other factors like insurance, crop futures and exchanges, and regulations like the Farm Bill that complicate matters.

Seed cost for transgenic crops tends to be higher than for conventional crops. One source, published in "Demand Growing for Non-GMO Seed" by Ken Roseboro1(1) claims GMO seeds can be twice the price of conventional seeds. Transgenic seeds are also patented and manufacturers prohibit replanting of seeds from one year's crop, which requires farmers to purchase new seed each year. With conventional crops, farmers can chose to replant or buy new seed.

Transgenic crops are design to be more resilient than conventional crops. Traits that can be incorporated include a resistance to herbicides, production of Bt (bacillus thuringiensis), and drought resistance, to name a few.

Resistance to herbicides would allow farmers to more aggressively apply herbicides to their land to deal with weeds in their fields. In an article in Nature magazine, farming consultant Jay Holder is cited as observing the development of resistant palmer amaranth in southeastern US croplands, a weed that outcompetes intended crops for water, sunlight and soil nutrients.(2) Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, is a toxin used as a pesticide and can be produced by the GM plant itself to ward off pests and reduce the need of additional pesticide use. Nathanael Johnson reports that farmers are seeing pests resistant to the pesticidal elements of GMO and are migrating back to conventional crops in his article "Are GMO's Worth Their Weight In Gold."(3)

Modern Farmer magazine interviewed Bill Huegerich, who also cited adapting weeds and insects diminishing the effectiveness of his transgenic crops.(4) Even the Wall Street Journal has reported that western corn rootworms in Iowa, the insect Bt is designed to negate, have evolved and are resisting the Bt produced by Monsanto's parasitic corn seed, as discovered by Aaron Gassmann with Iowa State University.(5) Bt tolerance not withstanding, reports claim that 965 million pounds of pesticides have not been used because of Bt-producing transgenic crops.(6)

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