What is a GMO?
A Genetically Modified Organisms, or a GMO, is an organism whose genetic characteristics have been altered by the insertion of a modified gene or a gene from another organism using genetic engineering. Genetic engineering techniques build innovative new combinations of plant, animal, bacterial, and virus genes that otherwise would not occur in nature or through crossbreeding.
In agriculture, a GMO seed has been genetically modified to include a desired trait – like pesticide or insect resistance. Introduced in the 1990s, GMOs have dramatically changed the agricultural landscape in the United States and around the globe. GMO corn, soy, cotton, canola, alfalfa, and sorghum were genetically modified to be tolerant to the use of the glyphosate-based weedkiller Roundup. Nicknamed “Roundup Ready GMOs”, these crops can be sprayed with large amounts of Roundup, but still survive unscathed.
Roundup Ready GMOs have been enormously profitable for agricultural chemical companies and their many affiliates. The business plan surrounding the Roundup Ready GMO is a strong one, as the companies benefit from selling both their patent-protected seeds and the associated chemicals.
In the United States in 2022, GMO soybeans made up 94% of all soybeans planted, GMO cotton made up 94% of all cotton planted, and GMO corn made up 90% of all corn planted.
Most GMO corn and soy are used as animal feed and processed food ingredients. GMO Corn is also used to make ethanol that we use to fill up our gas tanks.
- US Corn Use By Segment 2021
- Animal Feed: 45.2%
- Ethanol – Fuel: 28.8%
- Exports: 16.3%
- High Fructose Corn syrup, Sweeteners, Starch, Cereal, Alcohol: 9.7%
Source: USDA, ERS Feed Grains Yearbook, January 18, 2022
Projected Crop Year Ending Aug 31, 2022
Globally, more than 76% of soy is used as feed for livestock. Human food accounts for 20% of global use, and biodiesel accounts for around 3%.
In agricultural areas that have been repeatedly exposed to Roundup, weeds have begun mutating to be tolerant to glyphosate. These “superweeds” create a huge problem for farmers who cannot grow their crops when invasive weeds compete for resources.
In response to glyphosate’s increasing failure to effectively kill weeds, GMOs have now been further modified to be resistant to up to 5 different pesticides, creating a potentially enormous toxic burden on our soil, crops and bodies. When fully approved, Bayer’s new HT4 Soybean seed will be resistant to glyphosate, dicamba, glufosinate, 2,4-D and HPPD.
Bayer is also introducing a maize seed genetically engineered to be resistant to dicamba, glufosinate, glyphosate quizalofop, and 2,4-D.
Regardless of US policy efforts to promote GMO/herbicide-based chemical agriculture, the ability of highly adaptable weeds to outsmart toxic herbicides will ultimately force agriculture to embrace more soil-healthy, sustainable land practices that foster biodiversity.