That Whole GMO Thing

December 23, 2018

I can't make everyone happy. It's frustrating. Unfortunately, I'm stupid enough to try sometimes. Sometimes I do draw the line.


We decided NOT to go corn or soy free in our poultry feed. It's been too hard for us to source at the size farm we run - too small for a grain mill to make special formulas for us, and too big to buy it by the boutique 20 lb bag and make that work for us.




We have walked a big down the Organic path. As a history lesson, 11 years ago, when we started our farm, organic poultry feed was not even a thing. You couldn't find it. We finally did many years ago, but were surprised at the price. It's three times the price of conventional, and even at the bulk prices we get by buying it by the ton. 


One of the benefits of Organic, is that it is GMO-free as well. This, to us, is largely a political decision. From a truly scientific standpoint - GMO is not harmful. Heck, most food we eat has been genetically modified - even corn that is considered not GMO, has been hybridized over centuries. It's original cousin would be considered inedible by us. We hybridize all sorts of plants to change their color, taste, storage, size, etc. 


Heck, Most of my dogs are hybrids, I have Dorper/Katahdin crosses - so that's a form of hybridization, my meat chickens and most of my turkeys are also hybrids. Of course, these are hybrids caused by breeding exposure, not manipulating DNA in a lab, but really, we could have gotten to the same result, it would have taken a LOT longer to get there for GMO grains.


The crux for me is not that the corn or soy or whatever grain seed has had their DNA modified - it's the use of pesticides in conjunction that are an issue. I have not yet found an unbiased, scientific study on the use of glyphosate and if it is safe or not when it comes to consuming the residues. One large study that was published claiming it was carcinogenic, has actually been debunked, even the WHO was ready to pull the plug on glyphosate, until it was discovered the data was all fabricated. Most other studies can be linked to Monsanto, so I struggle to consider them unbiased.  Don't get me wrong, I think pesticides and such are doing SO much damage to our soil and our environments, and I am against them, but I am not sure there is a direct health issue to consuming something that may be consuming them.



Not only that, but you have other issues... organic foods still use pesticides and such, they are just different and considered "organic" themselves, or used in smaller quantities, but you would be surprised what is allowed. Most organic farmers I know don't use anything at all. Like us, we spray NOTHING. However, I doubt that is true even of organic grain farms large enough to be producing for a feed mill. Organic seeds grown for poultry feed are not guaranteed to NEVER be sprayed. There also can be pesticide drift as well as cross pollination. And recently, there have been many reports that feeds certified as Organic actually have plenty of contamination - from either drift, cross pollination, or contamination during the entire supply chain. You almost have to test your own batches of grain to have any idea what you are getting. That's pretty costly for me, and delays my ability to feed until I get the results back. It's a complicated supply chain, and every batch of feed I buy likely has a dozen or more farmer's that grew grains in my one ton of feed. 


I guess the basis here is that the organic and non-organic argument is getting really old to me. I've consulted scientific friends, and the farming community, and the answers I get are all based on strong opinions... and not science. This study shows that around the world, the real understanding of GMOs comes from web surfing, not scientific sources.


So, it becomes a political choice, not a scientific one. 


I've been trying to find scholarly articles and came across a few things.


I liked this study of Japanese quails that documented their growth, egg production, egg size and breast meat between GMO and non-GMO feeding. I actually suspected that it wasn't bad. My own history of feeding different feeds has not shown me much difference. I have seen that my organic birds seem healthier and grow a bit larger. But that has not been a controlled study, and my organic birds are usually grown in MUCH smaller batches. They are typically given the same amount of space, but the organic guys then have more space per bird, they grow in the orchard, so they get taller grasses, dropped fruit from the trees, and likely more bugs hiding in the tall grass. So not a controlled study.


But the real issue I wonder about is how does it impact their meat? I really struggle with the folks that say they are allergic to soy, and can't eat a chicken that ate soy. A chicken who eats soy does not become soy. The food they eat gets broken down in their digestive process, and the components, like protein and amino acids, get utilized by their cells as needed, but it does not change the DNA of their cells. This makes intuitive sense to me. I can see how processing a bunch of chemicals not needed for nutrition would impact their liver function - such as pesticides and such. But again, it would not change the DNA makeup of their muscle cells. And there would not be enough residue to constitute it to poisonous levels, or the birds would suffer health consequences, such as illness, inability to thrive or even death. I butcher all these birds myself and one of the first things we note on a bird is their liver. If their liver, or any other organ seems unhealthy, we won't sell that bird. I guess my point is, I can't find any scientific study or research that validates that if a chicken eats something you don't want to consume - that it would be as if you are consuming it. So whether it is an allergy, or otherwise, a chicken who consumes soy does not make you consume soy when you eat the chicken. Same for the pesticides, same for the genetically modified grains.


And of course, I still randomly get the "can't your chickens JUST eat grass" question. And the answer is no, and I addressed that here:


But still, my actual questions are not getting answered. But I have found these.


The European Food Safety Authority states in this study that exposure to glyphosate does not impact the health of the animals. OK, but my question was does it impact the health of the people that CONSUME that animal. Unless you are eating a diet of liver only, then I imagine again, that meat consumption is not really exposing you to glyphosate. That gets broken down in the digestive system and either utilized in cells as something needed, or passed on as waste product.


The National Chicken Council and the American Egg Board, both also state the GMO is safe (they do no address glyphosate!). And though I do not believe these are unbiased sources, as they are focused on protecting the BIG business of eggs and poultry, they do have some valid points.  I really like how the Egg Board puts it into simplistic terms that eating a GMO grain does not change your DNA or the chicken's DNA and that it can not impact the DNA inside the egg. When stated like this, it makes so much sense.


I am always trying to learn, and I can be opinionated and stubborn as well. For a while, I was on the big non-GMO kick. I still prefer to avoid, but more because of the use of -cides, and not the actual genetic modification. I'm a big fan of things like permaculture and trying to work WITH nature instead of against her. I think we could grow some really great food if we spent less time in a lab creating chemicals to help us, and just worked in natural ways to build healthy soil - like encouraging nematodes and proper composting, instead of tilling and spraying. But I also am open to trying to learn more, but science is important to me. An anecdotal story about how your Aunt Susie got sick once from a chicken that ate soy is not going to sway me. I want to see the science - real data, real studies. Not that one time at band camp...


One of the frustrating pieces is that we are trying to be BETTER. We got into this whole business because we hated thinking that we were eating food that was raised in deplorable conditions. We've learned a lot along the way, and we see the propoganda out there from Animal Rights organizations and such that are NOT TRUE AT ALL, but people still believe them, because they see it on social media. We are trying to be a better alternative to industrialized food.  We are trying to care for our land (I just started an online Land Stewardship class from CSU!).  We are trying to give our animals great lives until that last moment when we say goodbye. We are trying to feed them better than they would get in a large airplane hangar. Our birds get grasses, bugs, spent brewers grains, veggie scraps and such. But there is a limit. Am I going to start growing millet and sorghum in my property to feed my birds? Nope. I am willing to set up a sprouting and fermenting system for them to increase the nutritional value of their feed. That is likely in my plan for next year (as is the turkey herb garden!). But I still do all the hard work, for not much profit. I have to draw the line somewhere. If I go the all organic route to satisfy some customers, 80% of my customers now leave because they can't or don't want to afford it. If I go the no corn, no soy route, to satisfy the 3 people that call me each year asking about it, I raise my prices again for that feed, lose other customers. The suggestions from folks who are unwilling to try to raise their own meat can get pretty onerous, and they don't seem to end. Many of these ideas take inordinate amounts of time and money, which I don't always have. And honestly, I know the adage that the "customer is always right", but it's my land, my time and my money on the line, and I get to make my choices. Show me the science. That's how I'd like to make my decisions.

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