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Posts Tagged With: Monsanto

Why Do We Need GMOs?

Yesterday I listened to an interview of a farmer in Indiana who currently grows non-GMO soybeans on his farm because consumers are willing to pay more for this premium product.  Next year he doesn’t plan to grow them anymore.

Why?  What’s wrong with regular ol’ beans and why would a farmer choose GMOs, even if the others pay better?

Well, I can answer that will a little more from my tour of Monsanto.  If you missed it, be sure to catch the first two posts, What is A GMO? and Can You Eat Like Your Ancestors!  If you’re up to date, please continue. 🙂

Why do farmers use GMO crops?

This particular farmer (as do all farmers) was having trouble with weeds in his fields.  Weeds are a problem because they use resources, like nutrients from the soil, water, and sunlight you wanted for your crop.  The competition can cause crops to produce less food.

Famers of the past, and those that grow non-GMO products, used a combination of products to kill the weeds, often applying them two or three times to kill those weeds.  That costs in time, money, and harm to the environment.

GMOs were created so farmers could spray a product one time and kill weeds more efficiently.  Scientists had the idea to make a spray that interferes with a protein in photosynthesis.  Then they created a seed that was protected from the spray.  Dead weeds, less chemical.  All around win.

Another problem solved by GMOs is the damage from pests.

Why do farmers use GMO crops?

This works a little like a vaccination.  Scientists take DNA that protects from certain insects and put it into the seed, “turning it on” like we discussed in Monday’s post in the roots or leaves, and keeping safe from bugs.  In the above photo three healthy soybean plants were infected with disgusting caterpillar things (scientific term) on June 11th.  (And moved into that case on the 16th, if you’re wondering about the bottom date.)  I took this picture on June 18th.  You can see the damage done in just seven days.

Why do farmers use GMO crops?

I wish I’d gotten clearer pictures of the labels under each plant so I could show you better, but I’m sure you can guess the nice looking plant on the bottom right is the GMO designed to taste nasty to the pests.  Our guide said the caterpillars figure it out and after a quick bite, never go near the GMO plant again.

It works with corn as well:

Why do farmers use GMO crops?

Hopefully you can read those signs a little better.

In addition to killing pests and weeds so the plants can grow and produce well, GMOs also keep those two little problems out of the combine and away from the food that is trucked into town.  Since a combine can’t tell the difference between Johnson grass and corn, anything growing in the field gets pulled into the equipment– even nasty caterpillars.

So the farmer I heard interviewed was going back to GMOs.  It means less spraying for weeds, less damage to plants, less loss of income, and better for the everyone.

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Categories: Food, Science | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Can You Eat Like Your Ancestors?

eating like your ancestors

I’m excited to see you’re back for more of my tour of Monsanto this week! If you missed the first installment you might want to check it out before going any farther. You will also have to promise to over look typos and ridiculous sentences; I’ve been transcribing interviews for the blog that pays! 🙂

Hopefully you have an understanding of GMOs; let’s look at another term– GM.  You’ll see/hear people using the acronym, partly because two letters are easier, partly because we’re tired of the GMO backlash, and partly because it is trendy and we must keep up!  “Genetically modified” is sometimes used to show the difference between a seed whose genetic information is altered in a lab (GMO) and a seed whose genetic information has been altered by selective breeding, but in the U.S. you may correctly use it for both. Since plants no longer look like their ancestors, you can scientifically say that all plants are “GM.”

corn evolution3

Here’s a poster from a greenhouse at Monsanto.  It shows what the ancestor of modern corn looked like.  Teosinte grain (red circle) resembles a stalk a wheat more than an ear of corn.  We don’t have a name or university to credit with the discovery, but they did find plants with fewer stalks used their energy to grow bigger grains and eventually the corn plant changed. corn collage

These are also from the Monsanto greenhouse.  The one on the left is teosinte, on the right -corn.

corn ansestor2

Genetic engineering today is the same- we’re just better and faster at it.  On our tour we saw pictures of college interns trudging through corn fields with a (highly scientific) hole punch.  The interns punched holes in the plant’s leaf tagged the plant.  The punched samples were analyzed to see which genetic traits the plant carried.  Scientists chose the plants with the best combination of traits to continue growing; the interns went back to the fields and pulled up the other 90%.  The remaining 10% were grown to be parents of a variety of seed that was more drought tolerant, or had stronger stalks, or yielded better etc..

A look inside Monsanto to see what a GMO really is

Then somebody had a brilliant idea.  Since our DNA is present in all our cells, including the seed, the plant didn’t have to grow to torture students in a hot field. A piece of the seed could give all the same information.  As long as the chip doesn’t come from the part of the seed that is the embryo, the plant will grow, making more seeds of its own.

A look inside Monsanto to see what a GMO really is

And since chipping seeds makes your hand cramp, somebody else thought up this contraption. If you take a soybean seed and shake it up, it will always settle with its black line (the embryo) parallel to the ground.  If you slice along the top or bottom, the seed will still grow.  There’s another machine for corn that takes a picture of the seed and a little robotic arm adjusts accordingly.  Seed chipping took two years off the time it used to take to create a variety with  a new trait.  So brilliant!

Plants created with this method are “genetically modified” without being GMO.  If the seeds are grown according to USDA guidelines the food they produce may even be “organic.”

So none of the food you eat is Paleo.  Those foods don’t even exist anymore.

And I bet early man would think we’re crazy for even wanting it.

Categories: Science | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

What is a GMO? My Tour of Monsanto

A look inside Monsanto to see what a GMO really is

Most consumers can’t explain what a GMO is, how it is made, or even what the letters stand for.  Even for people with strong opinions on the topic there is a lot of confusion.

Since understanding agriculture is the goal of my Ag Leadership of Tomorrow class, we toured the Monsanto Research facility near St. Louis a few weeks ago.  I was able to take a fair number of photographs and I’ll be writing three posts this week to share what we saw.  Since there’s a lot of confusion let’s start with the basics.  What is a GMO?

GMO stands for genetically modified organism.  A GMO starts as a seed whose DNA has been mapped and whose traits have been carefully chosen in a laboratory.

A look inside Monsanto to see what a GMO really is

You might remember that double helix DNA strand (on the table behind the guide).  DNA is made of four nucleotides, A, T, C, and G.  Each letter may only pair with one partner and the order of the pairs determines what protein is made.

The idea of a GMO is that proteins do all the jobs that allow us to be living, growing organisms: some make your eyes blue, some give plants the ability to photosynthesize, some are resistant to a specific disease or insect.  In the past we counted on the process of reproduction to randomly select the DNA (importantly- proteins) that would be passed on to the offspring.  Since we can now read the DNA of many plants we can be more specific about putting just the right protein into the offspring.   

A look inside Monsanto to see what a GMO really is

This chart shows the map of a corn plant.  You can see the rows of genetic information– our guide called them “streets.”  Each street has “houses” which is where the code for one protein lives.  The “address” for that protein is important, as sometimes the code is turned on and sometimes it’s off.  Remember that every cell in your body (or a corn plant) has the DNA for your entire body, but not all of it is being used the same way.  Cells in your fingertips produce nails, cells in your eyes show a different color than cells in your skin, cells internally produce different proteins than cells in your skin.

Through the wonder of science we can now “turn on” proteins that increase yield, or move proteins to new houses to use water more efficently.  There are some kinds of modifications that take proteins from an organism that is attacking a plant and put the DNA code into the plant to make it resistant to the disease.  This tends to worry people, but keep in mind, the genetic modification for root worms is only “turned on” in the roots.  The genetic modification for Round Up is in the leaf.  It changes nothing in the corn kernel or soybean.

Also, despite what you may hear, GMOs are the most tested product available.  They must be approved by the FDA, EPA, and USDA.  (And I didn’t just link to those agencies, each click will take you to the page that describes their role in testing.)  And here’s a quick article linking you to all kinds of long-term studies of GMO safety.

This video What is a GMO? An introduction from GMO Answers is a great start to understanding GMOs.  Actually, the whole website is rather useful.

The awesome thing about proteins is they are responsible for all functions of life.  The same research that leads to plant resistance to glyphosate may also lead us to proteins responsible for Autism and the process for Bt resistant corn may lead us to the process that ends Alzheimer’s.

I, for one, will be cheering that on.

Categories: Science | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Detox Diets and Monsanto; Why You Should Think for Yourself

I’m pretty big into helping people make choices by giving them correct information.  I spend a lot of time researching topics for people who just want to know their food is healthy and safe.  I’ve invested a lot of personal energy in debunking myths and misconceptions.  Even with all that, sometimes I fall for it too.

Detox Diets and Monsanto: Why We Should Think for Ourselves  {DaddysTractor.com}

This is my juicer, bought for more money than I’d like to admit.  Another thing that’s a little hard to admit?  I purchased it as part of a fad-diet detox plan.  An unscientific, un-researched, unproven detox plan.

Because I’ve done it too.  I wanted something to be true.  I was counting on the idea that eating a special diet of veggies and whole grains could clear my body of all the pizza and pop and mini Twix bars.  I was a tired new mom and I needed this to work.

I bought the book of some guy; not a professor or scientist or nutritionist but the maker of a health food product he wanted you to buy.  I ate tofu, for which my only excuse is that it is made of soybeans.  I spent SO much money on vegetables that I ground up into juice and drank by the gallon.

Then I sugar-crashed.

And the diet I needed didn’t work.

Because I didn’t do the research.

I’m not going to present the research here because this blog isn’t about detox diets, but if you want to know, Fitness Reloaded does a great job laying out the facts.

The point I’m trying to make is that we have all believed the hype–listened to the thousands of voices selling something.  We have all forgotten to think for ourselves.

Yesterday I was on a Facebook thread with a person who stated “Monsanto is evil no matter what you think about GMOs.”  I responded with one word.

“Why?”

She didn’t know.  She had heard a lot of hype, so there must be something.  She just didn’t know what it was.

If you believe organic must be better for you because it just must, well, I get that.  If you want non-GMOs because “genetically modified” is scary, well, I can see that too.  But don’t let it get in the way of thinking for yourself, of finding out the facts, of knowing what you believe and why.  (But for the love of all that is good and decent, check your sources!)

And if you should still decide you want organic, hormone-free, paleo food, then go for it.

I have a juicer I can sell you.

Categories: Food, Science | Tags: , , , , | 20 Comments

6 Things to Know About Wheat and Gluten

If you haven’t gone gluten-free yet, you’re simply not with it.  In fact, for every person diagnosed with Celiac disease, 20 others are choosing a gluten-free diet!  But aside from being the hottest trend, what is the real story about wheat?  If you’re working on a healthier new you for the new year (or if you left those goals back in January!!) here are six things you need to know about wheat.

What are organics? Resolve to learn about your food in the new year!

1.) Wheat contains vital nutrients.  If you truly have Celiac disease then skipping gluten 100% of the time is crucial.  However, avoiding this food source is going to leave you missing nutrients, like B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and fiber.  You’ll need to plan carefully to add these elements back into your diet in other ways.  Going gluten-free needs to be carefully considered, not jumped into lightly.

2.) Gluten-intolerance is not caused by GMO wheat.  How do I know this?  There is no GMO wheat.  Wait for it.  Someone is going to tell me Monsanto just doesn’t want me to know about it (Is it you? You know you want to!) but if wheat farmers who buy, plant, and harvest the wheat don’t have access to GMO wheat then where would you be getting it?!

growing wheat

I love growing wheat in the fields around our house. It’s so pretty!

 

3.) The post that went viral about farmers spraying their wheat with Round-Up before harvest is over-reaching.  To say the least.  The post says farmers spray wheat before harvest to increase yields, but this account of a fellow farm wife tells her story of wheat harvest in the north.  What you need to know is there are farms that benefit from this practice, but it’s done according to regulations.  More importantly, only about 5% of the wheat in the US is harvested this way.

4.) Scientific studies don’t support a gluten-free diet.  A double-blind study in Australia showed people felt better when they thought they weren’t eating gluten, but their bodies had no measurable difference.  Their bodies did have differences when their diets cut out FODMAPs, which are confusing substances found in all sorts of foods, from apples to beans to, yes, wheat.  The moral of that very difficult article was to be tested if you think you are intolerant of foods.

Where Does Your Pizza Come From? {DaddysTractor.com}

5.) If a test reveals that you are gluten-intolerant it’s also important to know that a gluten-free diet is only effective if it is completely gluten-free.  So avoiding wheat “most of the time” is a pointless effort.

Generally, eating healthier is the way to feel better.  If cutting wheat means skipping the white bread in favor of some carrot sticks, well, that may be part of the success of gluten-free food.

6.) But don’t be fooled. Read the labels on gluten-free alternatives.  Some of the additives they use to recreate the natural texture or taste of wheat are high in cholesterol or low in nutrition.

So what’s your take?  Is bread on the menu tonight?

Categories: Food | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

GMOs– A Study that is Harmful to Pigs

They will give just anyone a blog.  Believe me.  So I’m giving you the moral of today’s post now.  Don’t believe everything you read.

I’m writing this in response to comments made back when I first brought up the topic of Monsanto, so my same disclaimers apply. And like before, I’ll try to be as unemotional as I can be, but I warn you now, I’m going to vent just a little.

Back when I first posted about my meeting with Monsanto’s President several people sent me links.  Studies, news reports, websites, blogs– all citing the dangers of GMOs.  Because I like to know all sides of a story I clicked on all of them.  I read several twice.  Then I did something a little crazy.  I checked for sources.

I was amazed at how many articles had no sources.  At all.  Other sources I questioned because I couldn’t be sure, based on the report, if I was getting all of the information.   And despite these scientific inadequacies, people are reading them.  Reposting them.  Believing them.

Here’s an example so you can see what I mean.

GMOs-A study that is harmful to pigs {DaddysTractor.com}

This headline appeared on the Chicago Tribune website on June 11.  “Scientists say new study shows pig health hurt by GMO feed.”  It begins by listing the qualifications of the study– a good first step.  It tells us which scientific journal published the findings, who did the study, how many pigs were in the study, and what they did to the pigs.  It then publishes a whole paragraph of ratios comparing stomach inflammation of two groups of pigs.  So far so good.

But then the problems begin.  The only links are by Google and AdChoice.  I had to go elsewhere to find the actual report.  And yes, I really read it.  Um, most of it.

Here’s what I found.  168 pigs were divided into two groups.  One group was fed GMO feed, the other non-GMO feed.  When they were market size they were slaughtered and their organs were examined.

There was no difference in the size or health of the living animals.  The study states that the only difference at all was in the size of the uterus and the amount of stomach inflammation.  One veterinarian looked at all the stomachs of the pigs and gave them ratings of nil, mild, moderate, or severe stomach inflammation.

In the category of severe stomach inflammation there were 9 non GM fed pigs and 23 GM fed pigs.  That’s pretty bad and is obviously the biases for the article.  However, if you keep going you will see that there are 29 non GM pigs in the moderate category and only 18 GM pigs.  Now its 38-41 with some kind of inflammation.  Lets add in the mild category with 31 non and 23 GM and you have totals of 69 to 64 and there are actually more sick non pigs than GM pigs.  Finally, the nil category with 4 non and 8 GM, with grand totals of 73 non and 72 GM.

And then lets look at a few other categories.  11 non GM fed pigs had heart abnormalities, and only 5 GM fed pigs had them.  So where is the headline “GMOs prevent heart problems”?  6 non GM pigs had liver abnormalities and only 3 GM pigs did.  Still no headline.  And 3 non vs. 2 GM pigs had spleen abnormalities.  (Whatever that is.)

But here’s where my emotional neutrality will end– what in the world did the scientists do that made all these pigs so sick?!  168 pigs and 145 had inflammation?!  16 had heart abnormalities?!  They had a mortality rate of 13-14% overall, which they try to say is “normal” but my farm friends tell me 3-6% is more like it.  This sounds like horrible treatment of animals in my opinion!

Back to calm.

I also found an article (the author is sarcastic, but generally reasonable) which explains the authors, funding, and other behind the scene details.  He writes that while the study specifically states that there are no conflicts of interest, one of the authors  sells non-GMO grain.

I am not a scientist.  I’m guessing most of you aren’t either.  Neither are the journalists for the Chicago Tribune.  However, it looks to me as if someone, somewhere along the way, wanted headlines.  Negative headlines.  Maybe because negative headlines sell? or because they want GMOs to be bad? or they want to sell non GMO grain?  Not sure.  But after reading the study I believe you would have to be looking for that headline before you could find it.

This isn’t the only out-of-proportion article I’ve read.

But there are hundreds of studies you’ve likely never heard of.  GENERA, a project to catalog properly peer-reviewed, legitimately published, scientific studies about genetically engineered plants, lists more than 600 independent studies.  And no, I didn’t read them all.  Not even mostly.  You could, if you’d like, read each one to see how GMOs have been shown to be safe.  Over and over and over again.

Don’t bother writing about it though.  It doesn’t make good headlines.

Categories: Science | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

My Meeting with Monsanto’s President

On Thursday of this past week my husband Brian and I had the opportunity to meet Monsanto’s President and CCO, Brett Begemann, as a part of the Agriculture Leaders of Tomorrow program.  We also toured the research facility in St. Louis, MO and got to take a peek behind the scenes at the greenhouses and test chambers.

My Meeting with Monsanto President

Mr. Begemann talked with us for a while about Monsanto’s acquisition of 20/20, the company that make the precision planting equipment you’ve seen us use on the blog.

If you are a regular follower I’d like to explain now that this post will take on a bit of a different flavor.  Usually I post information suitable for children—this might be information you as an adult read, then teach to the children in your life as you see fit.

Secondly, I’m writing this article to inform you.  You are free to believe anything you like.  If you disagree with me we don’t have to stop being friends.

AND I’m not being paid by anyone or any of that.  Soooo, let’s begin!

Thursday afternoon we toured the Monsanto research facility in St. Louis, MO.  In less than two hours we were briefed on the most advanced technology in the world.  It was amazing.  And yes, some of it was overwhelming.

It started with a basic understanding of DNA.  We’ve probably all seen pictures of the double helix strand.

My meeting with Monsanto President

All the information in a cell is recorded here in a code of ATs and GCs.   Its actually a lot like the binary system of 0s and 1s your computer understands.

In 2003 Scientists completed the Human Genome Project, which was a massive effort to read all these codes, record them, and share the information with the private sector.  This created a map of the ATs and GCs in human DNA.  The order of these codes determine what proteins are produced.  Each protein does a specific job, such as determining your eye color or hair texture.  Read this sort-of basic explanation of genetics from Wikipedia if you’d like more in-depth information!

Scientists have similarly mapped the DNA of some plants.  They have identified certain proteins and the jobs they do within the plant.  At the research facility we watched a presentation that explained the arrangement of proteins as a neighborhood.

My Meeting with Monsanto President

Each strand is a street and on each street are houses for the proteins.  Not every lot has a protein house, however.  Scientists used to think these were empty spaces and filled with “junk” but now they understand how much they don’t understand because the data in these empty lots seems to be very important to turning the proteins on and off.  For example, your DNA is the same in every cell.  But only the DNA that causes your eyes to be blue is actually “on” in your eyes.  Your skin is not blue, neither is your hair.  But that information is still in every skin cell, its just “off.”

So scientists know some proteins’ job is to control the yield of a plant.  If they can place this protein next to the correct empty house the yield of the plant increases!

The thing that struck me here was that DNA is different in every plant, just like it is in every person.  We all have a different combination of proteins that make us the different people we are.  At some point the DNA randomly goes together and you create an albino person.  At some point the DNA randomly goes together and my dark-haired husband and I have a red-haired son.  At some point the DNA can form a plant that yields like crazy.  But you really just have to get lucky.

Modifying the plant on purpose allows you to put proteins where you want them instead of waiting and hoping they will arrange themselves on accident.  

The odds of nature creating a seed with the exact combination you want are infinitesimal.  Just my opinion, but genetic modification doesn’t seem so scary when I realized it could have happened.   Not would have, but could have.  But I view this as learning from God’s design and using it to be better stewards of the land, better stewards of our money, and better human beings to the millions of starving people in this world.  But more on that later…

So some of our corn, soybeans, beets, etc., are modified for better yield, for stronger stalks that don’t fall down in a storm, for drought tolerance, and some are modified for herbicide tolerance.  That’s Round-Up.

My Meeting with Monsanto President

So here again our guide helped me understand what was really going on in a Round Up ready soybean.

The goal is to kill all plants in a field expect soybeans (or whatever you planted).  How do you kill a plant?  Well, Brett and I did an experiment on that back in our Plant Thematic Unit.  Plants need air, water, nutrients, and sunlight.  And while you can’t really control those in a field, sunlight is actually used for the process of photosynthesis which involves, you guessed it, proteins.  The chemicals in Round Up are so specifically designed that they can target the exact protein needed for photosynthesis.  (Actually its the messenger.  It kills the messenger.  I find this funny.  But irrelevant.  Right.)  The Round Up ready plant genes are relocated to new housing to protect their photosynthesis process.  Now farmers can plant more food in less space because instead of needing to drive equipment into the field to till the weeds under, they can spray Round Up.  Plus sensitive plants like corn produce lots more without the competition weeds provided.  And unless you have photosynthesizing genes in your DNA, Round Up isn’t a human problem.*

Furthermore, it is this amazing information about proteins that is being used to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, cancer, Asperger’s, so much more.  I find it interesting that we cheer these projects, yet decry GMOs.

Maybe it is because the effects of cancer are felt here, in our own backyard.  Hunger isn’t an issue we deal with in the US.  At least, it isn’t today.  Currently our own hunger needs stem more from a lack of money than a lack of food.  It just isn’t true everywhere you go.

But maybe we’ll be singing a different tune in another 30-40 years, because today’s population of 7 billion is expected to reach 9 billion in that short of a time frame.  In the next few decades farmers will need to produce more food than ever before.  They will do this with less land than we farm now and probably less water.  They will do this or we will be hungry.

 

 

**I welcome all comments, but please be courteous to all.  I will remove any rude or hurtful replies.  Also, this is a blog for children, so please keep it clean.

*I will be posting more about our meeting soon, but please understand there is SO MUCH to say about GMOs and Monsanto I could not possibly cover it all, especially in one post.   🙂

Categories: Science, Technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

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