When it comes to pesticides, herbicides, and GMOs, there’s a lot of information and conflicting viewpoints out there. One of the most highly debated issues we hear about is the impact genetic modification has on pesticide and herbicide use in conventional farming.
Foods can be genetically modified in two ways. Some foods are genetically modified to contain a specific bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. Bt toxin occurs naturally in soil and serves as a defense against insects, basically acting as a pesticide. In this form of GMO, crops are modified to create Bt toxin in every cell.
In theory, foods that have been modified to create their own defense against insects should require fewer pesticides to be used on the crop. Though there may be some reduction in chemical pesticide use, these crops are still treated heavily with chemical fertilizers.
Additionally, there is a lot of concern around whether foods that are modified with Bt toxin are safe for humans, animals, and the environment.
In the second form of genetic modification, plants are modified to resist the herbicide glyphosate – the primary component in Monsanto’s “Round-Up”. Unlike crops that are modified to produce their own Bt toxin, these crops have been modified to withstand the indiscriminate application of glyphosate to the entire crop.
Basically, these crops have been modified to survive a large amount of chemical use, while all other surrounding plant life is killed.
There are a number of human and animal health concerns related to glyphosate use, yet the use of glyphosate in the United States is only increasing. In a 15 year study (1996 to 2011), agronomist Dr. Charles Benbrook found that annual use of glyphosate had increased by 527 million pounds in the U.S. during that period. In the same study, Dr. Benbrook found that in 1996, “Round-up Ready” GMO crops required 0.30 pounds less herbicide per acre than non-GMO crops.
Yet, by 2011, those GMO crops required 0.73 pounds more herbicide than the non-GMO crops.
Genetically modified foods aren’t the only ones impacted by glyphosate use. We often hear about “Round-up Ready” GMO crops like soy, canola, corn, cotton, sugar beets, and alfalfa, but surprisingly many non-GMO crops are also treated with glyphosate. For example, it has become quite common for conventional wheat to be completely sprayed with glyphosate to ensure all the wheat dies at the same time, thus increasing the crop’s yield.
When you buy certified organic, you can be assured that the food you are eating was produced without the intentional use of GMOs.
Additionally, purchasing certified organic foods is the only way to avoid exposure to synthetic pesticides and herbicides. We love organic certification for the protections it puts in place for our food system as well as the transparency it provides our customers. The organic system empowers us with the information we need to make the best choices for ourselves and our families.