The recent furor over the U.S. export of genetically modified (GM) rice to Europe caused us to wonder just how much of the U.S. food supply is made up of GM crops. Our food sleuths went to work and found a study by the USDA that details the amount of GM corn and soybeans grown during the last few years as a percentage of the total U.S. crop.
If you eat soy products — and most of us do — you might be interested to know that nearly 90 percent of the soybeans grown in the U.S. during 2006 were genetically modified. That’s up from about 15 percent a decade earlier. The numbers for corn are almost as overwhelming (GM corn made up 61 percent of the U.S. crop), especially given Michael Pollan's conclusions in The Omnivore’s Dilemma regarding the enormous proportion of corn derivatives in our food supply.
The USDA study shows variations in GM crop adoption by state, but South Dakota led the GM parade for both corn (with 86 percent) and soybeans (its 96 percent dwarfing Ohio’s 26 percent). While variations in reporting may account for some of the difference, it’s also possible that there are simply fewer people in South Dakota to stand up and say no to GMO foods. But in this world of globalized food supplies and supersized industrial agriculture, what the farmers are doing in South Dakota affects the food that each of us eats.
Crops like corn and soybeans are genetically modified primarily to allow them to resist herbicides such as Roundup®; the seeds are in fact sold by the same large chemical company that makes it, and which profits both from the sale of the herbicide and the GM seeds that allow its unmitigated use.
We’re concerned about the migration and hybridization of GM traits into other species (which would lead to the loss of herbicide effectiveness and the need for yet more new herbicides), and about the very fact that herbicide-resistant plants enable less discriminate and wider use of herbicides in food products. There is research to show, in fact, that such GM crops perpetuate an increasing use of herbicides. We’re also concerned that U.S. laws do not require labeling of GMO ingredients in foods, diminishing the consumer’s ability to make informed choices.
Should the U.S., like the European Union, be saying “no!” to GM foods? Or does the greater efficiency and more plentiful food supply achieved through the use of GM crops argue for their use? Let us know what you think.
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