Published: February 19, 2024

Category: Non-GMO News

By James J. Hoorman, Hoorman Soil Health Services

Farmers are starting to buy seed for this year to get the early discounts. GMO corn and soybeans are popular in the United States. About 90-94% of soybean and 87-92% of corn in the USA are GMO. The USA produces 38% of all GMO crops in the world. Other countries, like those in Europe (Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy) and Mexico have banned or limited GMO crops. Mexico and Europe want food security against monopolies. In Europe, after World War II, food security became a big issue and they consider the risks too high to accept GMO crops.

What constitutes a GMO? Scientist select a gene that helps with a certain trait (insect resistance, herbicide tolerance, drought, etc.). They transfer that gene to another plant, test it, get government approval for the gene, and then release it for commercial production. A benefit of GMO crops is that they speed up natural selection for beneficial genes. Gene stacking involves putting several beneficial GMO genes in the same seed.

Proponents of GMO crops say the benefits include less insect loss, tolerance to herbicides, less virus and disease, and overall higher yields. In some cases, GMO crops have less overall herbicide use but possibly more of a certain type of herbicides (example more Roundup (glyphosate) in Roundup ready crops but less of other herbicides). So far, there is no direct evidence that GMO foods cause cancer. There are some reports of increased allergic reactions or increased antibiotic resistance with consuming GMO foods. Bioengineered (GMO) corn may cause novel organisms or substances in our body such as novel proteins that may cause allergies or antibiotic resistance.

When Roundup Ready crops were first released, yield lags of 10-20% were common. Scientist say they have fixed that problem. However, every time you stack genes, you mess up the plant biology and the plant produces a slightly lower yield. Corn rootworm genes inserted into the genetic background of corn plants seems to reduce yields the most. BT corn to control corn borer may reduce yields because it takes energy to make the proteins and enzymes to fight the corn borer. The result is lower protein content. Roundup Ready genes inserted in the plant reduce the micronutrient levels in a plant. Roundup (glyphosate) is known to chelate or tie up many micro-nutrients The result is corn with less nutrients, so the corn is less healthy to consume. Pigs, cattle, and chickens may not gain as much due to eating corn that are not as rich in nutrients.

Non-GMO corn or regular corn with no inserted genes have some benefits. First, there is more diversity and less mono-cultures. Regular crops without GMO keep our agricultural ecosystem more diverse with less herbicide resistance or chances for super bugs or super weeds that become resistant to traditional herbicides and pesticides. If a certain GMO crop variety becomes popular, everyone plants it. If it crashes, a new GMO crop variety has to take over. That can create food insecurity if the crash is widespread.

Second, regular corn has higher crude protein, as much as 28% higher. GMO corn may have 5-7% crude protein for a certain corn variety, but regular corn may have 7-9% crude protein. The benefit to livestock production is faster growth. In some cases, pigs will get to market 20-30 days faster. Given a choice, livestock performance is generally better with regular corn, maybe because it tastes better and has higher protein.

Third, regular corn generally has more nutrients and fiber, but also 60% more antioxidants and flavonoids. This creates food that is healthier to eat for both the animal and the consumer, and it also makes the plants healthier and the soil healthier. More diversity of soil microbes creates a healthier plant and that passes on to everyone who consumes those plants. One report says that regular corn has low releasing starch and more organic or natural protein which is a regular corn benefit.

An economic benefit to raising regular corn is that often there is a sales premium for non-GMO or regular corn. Premiums vary by year, but may be $.25 to $1.15 per corn bushel and $1- $2 higher for certain regular soybeans varieties. Soybeans have specialized market for tofu, soy milk, sprouts, Natto, etc. which are used for human consumption. GMO seed corn can cost from $200 to $300 per unit or higher compared to regular corn ($65-$150) per unit. For soybeans, regular soybeans may cost $30 to $40 per unit while GMO soybean can cost up to $75 per unit or more. GMO crops offer farmers many benefits, but regular or Non-GMO crops have a place too.

Source: Hoorman Soil Health Services

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Organic & Non-GMO Insights February 2024