Urban legends proliferate on the internet. Right next to the latest scuttlebutt about fad diets and Kim Kardashian, you will find “Facts” that opponents have conjured up about genetically modified (GMO) crops.
Among them is a ripe, old tale about how Monsanto “forces” farmers to use its GMO seeds. This story has been making the rounds for years, and has taken on a life of its own. In the minds of the folks who believe it, seed dealers and others twist farmers’ arms to make them plant GMO seeds so that big, bad Monsanto can line its pockets. A corollary to this tale is that farmers lose money because they have to spend money to “blast” their GMO crops with pesticides.
Such tales gain credence through repetition. A quick tour of Facebook, YouTube and anti-GMO websites will uncover many other urban legends, rumors and untruths about bio-technology and genetically modified seeds.
All of this stands in stark contrast with the experience farmers have had with genetically modified crops. Snake River Sugar Company Chairman Duane Grant recently talked about the experience the cooperative’s member-growers in Idaho and Oregon have had with Roundup Ready sugar beets. The plants have been genetically modified to withstand the herbicide glyphosate, which is marketed as Roundup and under other names.
The facts which Grant listed are real eye-openers. The main difference is in the reduction of weed killers which the farmers have had to apply to their crop – a difference of 6 times less (they used to spend $66/acre, now down to $11/acre) since they switched from non-GMO sugar beets in 2008. While the consumer may not care so much about the farmers’ costs and profits, they may care very much about the huge reduction in chemicals being applied to the food that they eat.
Additionally, prior to GMO sugar beets, weeds were controlled in part by hand hoeing; labor for this has dropped from $60 to $0/acre, as it is now not needed at all!
Yes, the price of sugar beet seed has increased – from $44 to $143/acre. But at the same time, labor costs have been reduced and yields have increased.
A meta-study, which studies a variety of GMO crops (not just sugar beets) found that by growing GMO crops farmers have reduced pesticide use by 37%!
All of these reasons give evidence as to why many farmers choose to grow GMO crops. Yet, the Urban Legend will persist, as proponents continue to push to label GMO foods for no significant reason or to ban growing GMO crops because, well, they saw it on the internet!
Capital Press, January 30, 2015