You have questions. Farmers, Registered Dietitians and moms have answers.
We polled our online audience for your top questions on food and GMO Farming, then asked some smart women who know the issues from personal experience to weigh in with their perspectives.
In this installment, you asked: I’ve heard some GMO crops are doused in pesticides and others have the pesticides built in – how is either one safe to eat?
Michelle Miller: Farmer, “The Farm Babe” Columnist
“It’s a myth they’re “doused” in pesticides. On our farm, GMOs mean we only spray our crops two days out of an entire year at a very minimal rate of 22 ounces or so per acre. That’s less than two beer cans worth over an area the size of a football field! Some crops have the “Bt” trait, but this is a naturally occurring protein found in nature that only targets a couple very specific insects — it doesn’t affect beneficial insects, other mammals or humans whatsoever. Sort of like chocolate, it can harm dogs but not us.”
Jennie Schmidt: Farmer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Mom
“Since I’m the certified Pesticide Applicator on my farm, I’m trained to spray pesticides for all growing methods, conventional, organic (yes, organics use pesticides too) and GMO. And I’ve heard questions about “dousing” a lot — but that word couldn’t be further from reality. Like all farmers, the last thing I want to do is misuse and over-apply any pesticide. For one thing, that would waste money and could damage our crops. More importantly, my family live and work at the farm and we eat the crops that we grow, so it’s in my best interest both professionally and personally to use pest controls correctly and ensure the food we grow is safe and nutritious.
When I apply an herbicide to a grain like corn or to vegetables like tomatoes, I’m mixing around 22 ounces of an herbicide into 15 gallons of water and applying it across and entire acre, which is essentially the size of a football field. This works out to 0.04 ounces per square foot. Essentially a spritz. If you’re worried about pesticide exposure, you’d be better off looking at your own yard. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation conducted a pesticide-use analysis and determined that homeowners use ten times more pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers do on their fields. This notion of “dousing” is a myth, pure and simple, and it makes no sense to any farmer working to grow healthy food and run a sustainable business.
As for “built-in pesticides,” Mother Nature takes care of this all by herself. Cabbage has 49 known pesticides that are naturally occuring in the plant. Pesticides in plants are essentially their immune system. They are how the plant defends itself from pests and diseases. Caffeine is an insecticide that protects the coffee bean from insect attacks. So while researchers have engineered Bt — a naturally occurring organic insecticide — into corn and cotton, Mother Nature was the original scientist who developed the systems of building pesticides into plants. In fact, researchers have found that 99.99%1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2217210 of the pesticide residue that makes it into our diets is naturally produced by the plants themselves.”
Liz Bingham: Farmer, Mom
“Chemistry is awesome. Chemistry without bounds is scary. In order to use chemistry like pesticides on our farm, we need to have a certified Pesticide Applicator License. Applying pesticides is like baking a cake: if you follow the recipe, the desired cake will rise in the oven and produce a delicious treat. If you decide to add additional ingredients in large quantities and change that recipe, the cake will turn out different from the glossy photo in the cookbook. The same applies with pesticides — except that for farmers, failing to follow spraying instructions is against the law. But even without the law, if I don’t follow the label specifically for each crop, the end result may be no effect on the problem (too little spray) or loss of the desired crop (too much spray). We save money and produce beautiful, healthy crops when we use the minimum application possible. The same is true for organic farmers using organic-approved pesticides — it’s all about using the right amount.”
If you liked this post, check out the rest of our One Question, Three Voices series:
This post is sponsored by A Fresh Look, a 501(c) (6) organization, whose mission is to provide trustworthy research-based info to consumers about the benefits of GMO Farming methods.