OMG yes or no GMO?
A CONVERSATION ON GMO COTTON WITH CANNON MICHAEL FROM BOWLES FARMING CO.
If you had the choice between an organic apple and a GMO apple at the same price, which would you choose? You’d probably choose organic (at least I would) due to the perception we have on genetically modified food. There have been very strong campaigns against GMOs, leading to Europe not growing any genetically modified crop for 25 years! It was argued that GMO foods are a threat to health, the environment and small independent farmers. However, a committee composed of 20 experts from the US National Academies of Science did a three-decade long study, which proved that they are indeed safe, both to people and the planet.
GMO products are not only food like the ginormous GMO strawberries and apples we see, but there is GMO cotton too which doesn’t necessarily have to be linked to mass farming and the end of small farmers. Bt cotton is a genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically modified pest resistant plant cotton variety, which produces an insecticide to combat bollworm (pesky little bugs). This cotton produces toxins that are harmful to specific insects, but not to other organisms. The benefits are that a much larger harvest can be obtained, with a lower risk of being attacked by pests. This means lower amounts of wasted cotton, and in turn results in less wasted inputs (water, electricity, nutrients). It is of course important to preserve our natural seeds in their original form and not play with nature too much, but can we separate the conversation on food and on cotton? How do we make up our mind? I thought of asking someone who is directly affected, and had the honour of being connected to Cannon Michael, from BFarm in California. This is how it went:
This is not your average cotton farm, can you please tell us a bit more about it?
More than 70% of the farm is irrigated with sub-surface drip irrigation, which uses 60% less water. There is a 1.5MW solar system for all electricity needed for irrigation systems and for ginning. We work closely with research centres on the potential of sequestering carbon to combat climate change and have won awards on soil health. We are also working on restoration of native species of plants, and growing indigenous fibres such as hemp.
You clearly put sustainability at the core of your decisions, can you please explain why you have decided to plant GMO cotton?
We grow both GMO and non-GMO cotton. On the GMO cotton we are able to use less dangerous herbicides and perform fewer mechanical passes in the field, which means less diesel for tractors and less unpleasant hand labour for weeding.
The best varieties in terms of yield and performance have GMO traits, and it is very difficult to find seeds that don’t have any. Cotton in the US also needs to be bred for resistance to soil issues like fusarium, and us growers have to account for this, so older varieties will lose yield and maybe have issues due to soil pathogens. Our expectations matched the results of growing GMO cotton.
Do you also grow organic cotton? Can GMO be organic?
Yes we also grow organic. GMO products are banned from being organic certified, even if they were grown using exactly the same methods as our organic plants. This was decided quite a while ago, and I doubt that it will change any time soon.
Do you agree with any of the fears that people have about GMO in food?
With everything we do on the farm we base our decisions on the best available peer-reviewed science. I have seen no peer-reviewed information that would lead me to believe that GMOs present a danger to food. I see much more danger potential from food insecurity related to climate issues, so the advancements in breeding need to happen as fast as possible. Such advancements should follow responsible scientific techniques.
We use technology in every aspect of our lives and we should not turn away from using it in our food and fibre supply. Valuable medicines we use have been developed with gene-editing technology - if we ingest these why would we not use this for food technology? GMOs have been in the food supply chain for a long time, particularly corn and soy. The problems that America has with nutrition are not related to GMOs.
Why do you think that there is such a big issue with GMOs? And do you think they could play a key role in feeding the world’s rapidly growing population?
The issue is that perception becomes a reality and for many, the GMO issue is one based on fear. Some will never trust GMO technology no matter what scientific evidence they are presented with. With people starving in the world and a changing climate one would hope that science and truth would win out but it seems GMOs will not be considered.
It is easy for us to have the debate who are in food-secure areas and have all that we want. A much different discussion if you are hungry and are not sure when or if you will find food.
Wow. This was all so interesting. Thank you for sharing Cannon!
At Simply Suzette, we like to take a balanced approach to everything we do and based on our conversation with Cannon, organic and GMO each have a role to play in this crazy world of consumption.
So, what’s your take? OMG yes or no to GMO? This is an extremely intriguing and controversial topic with so many differing opinions. Please share your comments below or start a conversation/discussion on this LinkedIn post!
Until next time friends, always be curious and STAY DILIGENT!