Scott: Now it is time to continue our look at the controversy surrounding genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Those crops that have had their DNA switched up by scientists. Now, are they good for us or harmful to the environment? Today, Maggie Rulli hits the farm to see the impact in the field.
Maggie: Both these farms grow plants, yet there is one major difference. These plants are GMO, or genetically modified, and these plants are not. Common GMO crops include corn, soy, cotton, sugar beets and alfalfa, like these plants that you see here. Today, more than 90% of the corn, soy and canola that is grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. Three ingredients found in the majority of packaged foods.
For farmers, the decision between GMO or non-GMO often comes down to simple business.
Phillip Bowles: I mean, I wouldn’t use it if I didn’t see a direct savings from it.
Maggie: This farmland in Central California has been owned and operated by the Bowles family since the 1850s.
Phillip: This is a several-mile-long strip of habitat that we maintain…
Maggie: Nearly ten years ago, Phillip Bowles decided to farm GMO crops, plants that had been genetically altered to withstand chemicals that kill weeds. So, that way, he doesn’t have to use as much.
Right now, you grow GMO corn, cotton and alfalfa. Do you hope to someday grow more GM crops?
Phillip: I hope to grow crops that are more efficient in the use of the resources, and if that means they’ve got GM traits or they don’t have GM traits, as a point, that doesn’t really matter to me.
Maggie: And so far, the decision has paid off.
Phillip: In alfalfa, it probably saves us at least $50 an acre, which is a very significant amount of savings.
Maggie: And he says it is actually better for the environment because fewer chemicals end up in the ground and water.
Phillip: We’re using less herbicide overall because the field doesn’t need the herbicide. We use technology for medicine, and I don’t see anybody that really wants to go back to 17th century medicine, and I don’t know why we should go back to 17th century agriculture. But some people seem to think that’s a good idea.
Maggie: One hundred and fifty miles north, Warren Webber has been growing organically, meaning no chemicals and no GMOs, since he opened Star Farms in 1974.
Why do you choose to not use GMOs?
Warren Webber: These technologies need to be tested. We need to know are they safe in the environment? What is it like for people to consume them? What are the effects of it?
Maggie: But organic crops usually end up costing more because they can be harder to grow. Warren says it is worth it to protect our environment against something called genetic drift, when GMO crops spread their seeds to non-GMO crops and wipe out other strains of that plant.
Warren: It decreases the scope of biodiversity, and so we are going to narrow down to fewer and fewer varieties that are being grown on larger, larger acreages.
Maggie: It is why a few months ago, Mexico outlawed growing GMO corn to protect that country’s different varieties of the crop. And Mexico isn’t alone. At least sixty countries have restricted or banned GMOs because of worries about health and the environment. Some nations even refuse to accept GMO crops entirely, which impacts U.S. agriculture, an estimated $135 billion business in 2014.
For Warren, he says GMOs are a threat to his farm.
Warren: It could get to a place where you can’t raise a crop that hasn’t already been contaminated.
Maggie: Farmers like Warren and Phillip might find themselves on the front lines of this debate but it is everyday shoppers like you and me that ultimately buy their products. And every choice we make at the grocery store picks a side, even without us realizing it.
Maggie Rulli, Channel One News.
Scott: Some say the solution is to put labels on the foods with GMOs. But as you will see tomorrow, this is only stirring up more debate.
Now, if you want to see more from Maggie’s GMO journeys, head to her blog post over at Channelone.com.