GMO OMG the movie - Who controls the future of your food?

Irving, TX(Zone 8a)

Check out the trailer:

Starting screening on September 13, 2013

Thumbnail by drthor
Cascade, VA(Zone 7a)

Oh boy, i know a certain agricultural giant who will squirm at the discovery of this one. lol.

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

Though I am sure there will be some good information in the movie, a lot of the hype of GMO's is hype in my opinion and all too often negative and one sided. There are many companies that have developed GMO's. But it is important to get the facts and not get onto the emotional bandwagon.

The reality is the GMO's have the potential to significantly reduce our dependence on pesticides. If you can breed a plant that is resistant to disease and insects, less pesticide is needed or used. In my opinion this is a good thing. Also transgenic plants can be grown on saline and sodic soils where they previously were not able to. I see GMO's as a potential beneficial technology that if used correctly can help solve many of the challenges we face with increasing populations and less land. GMO plants have developed to need less fertilizer as well, and less water(drought tolerance).

Of course some are uncomfortable with corporations owning seed and essentially copywriting their seed but this has been done for years with hydrids etc.

You will always see people reject technology...and with some technology there are trade offs and detriments. But there are also efficiencies that are exponentially better than the detriments. For example cell phones are a technology that has greatly helped society but at the same time caused numerous car accidents. So I respect those who have a different opinion than me and do the work of pointing out the weaknesses of progress.

I will enjoy reading all of your responses.

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

"Buckle up your seats, Boys, this is gonna be a bumpy ride!"

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

drobarr, I generally agree with you. People are leery of new technology and GM technology affords a better opportunity for fear than most—my gosh, they're messin' with my food! For instance, I firmly believe that we (as a nation) have been frightened into rejecting nuclear technology, which I think was a huge mistake. On the other hand, the general thought of some GM technology—incorporating Bt into food, for instance—creeps me out. I worry about contamination of “wild” plants. Here's a perfectly good, almost totally harmless insecticide that will, I think, be made useless since widespread exposure to Bt WILL result in it being made useless as Bt tolerance evolves in insects. And Roundup-ready crops worry me, too. My food is being sprayed with Roundup, which is absorbed readily by plants and therefore consumed by all of us. Regardless of the safety claims for glyphosate, I strongly suspect that long term exposure effects to Roundup, and many other “chemical” formulations, are not well understood. I do think that labeling of GM foods is the right thing to do. Like you, I respect the opinions and feeling of those who disagree. Truth is a hard thing to find.

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

WillyFrom AZ,

I'm all for labeling GMO. I have no problems with that.

You are right the more one uses Bt, the more likely pests will develop resistance. Resistance is always really doesn't is just selected for. Whether you apply it foliarly or have the Bt toxin bred into certain parts of the plant, insects can still be selected for resistance. Bt foliarly sprayed actually kills many beneficial insects along with the bad ones. In a GMO plant with Bt you only kill the bad ones that consume the plant. Beneficials are unaffected. There already is reisistance to Bt and was before GMO Bt corn and cotton came to the market. The Bt toxin is not a toxin to humans. Whether you spray it on your plants and consume it that way or its in certain green parts of the plant you still ingest some and is non toxic.

All pesticides both organic and conventional will become useless, the more they are used, with time. Some weeds have adapted to being pulled...they just break off the top and the root stays and regrows...plants and pests adapt to any slection pressure put on them. You ever tried to smash a tic? they are rock hard! they have adapted that way.

As far as RoundUp ready crops I can understand your concerns. However, prior to RoundUp ready GMO crops (corn, soybean, cotton, sugarbeet, canola) all of these crops were sprayed over the top with other herbicides to kill weeds. In fact they usually were sprayed preemergence with an herbicide and then sprayed again at early post stage, with both a foliar active herbicide to kill grasses and another one to kill broadleaves. Then likely they had to be sprayed later in the season again. Weeds are very difficult to kill, especially when the weed is closely related to the crop. This means everything you ate potentially had all these herbicides in them. And I can tell you these herbicides were much more toxic than RoundUp. Also growers still had weeds. With Roundup ready crops now all weeds could be controlled and in many cases with just one application. So much less total herbicide was needed. Less applications were needed. Less herbicide was absorbed into the plants. Thats less tractor trips, less diesel can see the benefits. RoundUp thus is a more sustainable product with a smaller carbon footprint. This is why it was so quickly adapted in 1996 when first comercialized.

All pesticides and GMO crops go through about a ten year process to determine what and if any residue or anything toxic is in the final food grain or fruit being produced. In many cases pesticides are absorbed into the plant but do not go to the grain or fruit portion of the plant. For residues that do make it, feeding studies are done on rats over multiple years at 1000 times the levels found and tolerances are established with huge safety margins. Now I am sure you do not trust all this research that is done and that is fine. But I am personally involved in it and I do. I feel more safe about the safety of my food than I do about the safety of my soap, shapoo, cleaning products I use around my house, deorderant, lotions, laundry detergent, or any other product that doesnt go through the kind of testing pesticides and GMO crops go through. It is even more rigorous than medicines.

How about organic pesticides? have those been tested for their toxicity? How about copper and lime sulfur? How toxic are they and what health threats do they have?

You ever considered the toxicity of table salt? bleach? aspirin? Lemon juice? alcohol? Extremely toxic but most people arent afraid to touch and handle and even consume. Most pesticides are much less toxic but people have a phobia. They have this emotional association that pesticide will kill you instantly if you touch it or give you cancer. That some how you are contaminated and are going to die. Much of it has been spread by fear mongers that do not understand that many of the pesticides we have are synthesized versions of natural products such as nicotine.

Now I agree that with all technologies, there are some unknowns and risks. We still don't know if cell phones cause cancer. But we havent done hundreds of controlled studies over multiple years before thewy were sold to see if they do. With GMO crops many studies have been done and they appear to be safe. At least as safe as spraying the Bt over the top.

Perhaps we also need to label every pesticide that has been used on a food crop so we know what residues we might encounter. I would also like the GMO label. I would in most cases only want to buy GMO. Because I know GMO crops have less pesticides on them than non GMO crops(unless they are certified organic). They are also more sustainable and better for beneficial insects. They require less fuel to produce.

I'm sure there is nothing I can say to help ease anyones fears or bring forth anything convincing because with everything there are still risks.

Cascade, VA(Zone 7a)

I have to agree with Willy on this. I personally couldnt trust putting something into my system that causes an insects stomach to literally rupture and explode if they try to eat it.

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

I'm sure I stirred up the ants nest lol....

Don't eat any yougurt...full of bacteria that also produce many toxins. Actually dont eat. All food is loaded with bacteria. Your mouth is full of bacteria that produce toxins. The water you drink is full of bacteria as well even though its chlorinated(very toxic). Bt are found naturally in the soil. They are on every carrot you eat too or any other root crop.

You already have been eating Bacillus thuringensis all your life and their toxins and you are still alive! If you dig in the soil with your hands you have Bt in your skin and under your fingernails.

In fact you probably will ingest more Bt toxin growing your own organic produce in your yard from soil exposure than from consuming GMO crops.

It is a safe bacteria to humans. The toxin is not harmful to us.

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

Here is a website that "is dedicated to understanding the benefits and risks associated with using Bt proteins in farming and using Bt genes in GMO crops to manufacture the natural insecticide"

It is from the University of Califonia, San Diego. I have found it to be very objective and gives a great background on the history, use, and risks.

Bt has a much better safety record than airplanes and automobiles or cell phones...I think sometimes the fear itself or unfamiliarity can be more detrimental to your health than the actual substance...the truth is out there.

Westbrook, CT(Zone 6a)

You are brave to insert yourself into this sensitive topic, but I think your reasoned approach is much to be preferred over those who would either automatically reject or embrace any new approach, and seems to be echoed by other experts I respect.

SW, AR(Zone 8a)

Today there are over seven billion (and multiplying) people to be fed, an arduous task. Imagine how much more strenuous if ancient wheat and teosinte had not been developed thousands of years ago.

Back when, did agricultural Luddites huddle near and tsk tsk one to the other, “Gregor is doing unnatural things to those peas?”

Today, if new technologies aren’t employed to increase food production, is there a Malthusian tragedy in someone’s tomorrow?

New technology is not the problem. The eternal choice of avarice over wisdom is the the rub.

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)


It is sensitive to many people and I understand that and respect that. I know for some it is also a moral or religious issue and who is anyone to make anyone feel bad about their faith. I don't grow any GMO vegetables in my garden nor do I spray pesticides if I do not have too. But I believe our conventional food production is very safe and healthy especially if it comes from a domestic source which includes GMO's and pesticide use.

But many of the arguments I hear against GMO's arent based on any truth or science and are based on emotion or fear.

We really have opportunities to make plants resistant to many diseases and insects. We have the potential to reduce pesticide use, increase production, enhance quality and nutrition through this technology.The agricultural industry hasnt been very good at explaining the technology, its benefits etc.

Breeding and modification of plants has been done for thousands of years. Even our prized hierloom varieties have gone through hundreds or thousands of years of changes. Almost every fruit and vegetable we eat today doesnt resemble the wild types.

I'm not saying all GMO's are necesarily good. But they have the potential to be good...and so far the work that I have seen done has been to improve the varieties and improve production, and reduce pesticide use. And to me that is a good thing. They still need to be tested and regulated.

It seems like reducing inputs and ecological sustainability is the basis for an organic system and here we have an organic community opposing a technology that can do just that...they should be the ones embracing it...and some are. For instance environmentalist and former anti GMO Mark Lynas:

"I apologize for having spent several years ripping up GM crops,” he said. “I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonizing an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.”

A great article to read in Forbes regarding mark Lynas:

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)


Here's a great video that outlines this challenge...and the progress made so far.


Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)


Thanks for providing some detailed comments. You were loaded for bear! I'm glad to hear you work in field and I would love to hear more details if you're willing to take the time to post them. Far too much “garden wisdom” is based on groundless opinion, not science. As to the comments in your first response, the answer to your questions “Have you considered...” is pretty much “Yes, I have considered those points”...and more. Here's a link to a an article written by Mark Lynas that has been on my desktop for several months:

In general, I see GM technology as a significant refinement of hybridization and I am generally supportive. I am concerned about some individual cases, Bt is one. I think we still have a tendency to think a bit short sightedly and we continue to make mistakes equivalent to releasing rabbits in Australia.

I am in agreement with you about "organic" pesticides. Too many equate “organic” with “safe”. They're still poisons and I generally try to minimize the use of all poisons in my garden. Broad use of a wide spectrum poison upsets the ol' ecology! My favorite insecticide is insecticidal soap, which pretty well targets only what I want to kill. I have yet to use any of it this year as no pests have been a problem. I am not totally rabid about avoiding “chemicals”; I have used glyphosate twice to control Bermuda outbreaks in the last year (the Bermuda was probably brought in with a load of "organic steer manure", a bit of irony), because once Bermuda is loose in the garden—you're doomed. People forget that even Rachel Carson was not opposed to all “chemicals”, just overuse and careless use.

As to Roundup ready, I'm not sure I understand everything you said. Did you say that crops were already directly sprayed (“over the top” means ?). If yes, why doesn't that kill the crops? Or are most herbicides selective enough to target only “weeds”? If that's the case (and I'm guessing you said it is), then we apparently consume even more residues than I have assumed. Are most herbicides as easily absorbed into the plant as glyphosate? It isn't at all obvious to me that a single application of glyphosate is adequate weed control. It definitely hasn't been in my experience. Why do you say it is? Also, let me make it clear that consumption of Bt is NOT a concern of mine.

I'm not clear on how my comment regarding insects evolving resistance is inaccurate. I do understand selection and I do understand that a genetic characteristic—say, the ability to tolerate a substance-- must be present in order for selection to act on it. Perhaps I should have said “as Bt resistance spreads more widely in the population”? I certainly understand that tolerance of almost anything will occur in a species over time if selective pressure is great enough—look at the number of antibiotics that have become less effective. As for Bt in particular, my understanding is that it is still generally quite effective and that resistance is not widespread at this time. If that isn't true, please correct me. My concern with Bt crops is indeed that a useful and quite safe pesticide will be made useless. A comical side note here: I have never used Bt as I have never had a need. I handpick what few hornworms I have and I've never needed to use the “i” or 'sd” strains either.

I do think that we rely too heavily on pesticides in general in the home and home garden; I like the IPM approach. I am most thankful that my livelihood does not depend on raising food. If my crops fail, I don't have any tomatoes or green beans in the freezer. If a farmer's crop fails, he or she has no income. That's a heavy “selective” pressure in itself! My thanks go to those who raise our food.


Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)


Thanks for your message. Most farmers use IPM. They do because it is cost effective. Why spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on various acres on a pesticide and application if it isnt needed.

For insects a threshold population is known for each pest and when it is reached, at that time a pesticide application is needed and justified because the cost of not treating will be higher than treating. So most growers will accept losses up to the cost of the pesticide plus the cost of the application. So when pests are below threshold not insecticide is applied. When they are above threshold then an application is made. Growers try to rotate the modes of action of their pesticides to extend the use of the products and minimize resistance.

For diseases it is a little more challenging since most of the fungicides are not curative in nature....which means that if you start applications after you discover the disease, then you have started too late. They are protective and so they must be applied very early. It is important to scout fields and use modeling that predicts disease development and most growers use these models to predict conditions conducive to certain disease development before starting applications. When the favorable conditions for disease development stop then they stop applying.

For weeds it is almost a given that they will be a problem every year and are the biggest concern for a grower. Most herbicides are selective...meaning that they dont kill all weeds and crops but only a certain spectrum of crops and weeds. Some kill mainly grasses, others kill mainly broadleaves. Some kill some broadleaves and some grasses but not all. Others only kill some grasses but not all grasses. Some kill only some broadleaves but not all broadleaves. Some have foliar activity or postemergence activity and others have preemergent activity only, which inhibits a seed from germinating. Some of these preemergent herbicides work only on small seeded broadleaves while others on grasses etc. So the types of herbicides and what they control is unique to each product out there. A grower has to know what weeds he has and what herbicides can control them and in what crops they can be safely used in. Some herbicides are generally placed preemergence at the time of planting to prevent weeds form germinating, but then follow up applications of a postemergence herbicide can be made numerous times throughout the season to control any weeds that do emerge.

A number of different postemergent herbicides may be used to acheive control of a diverse weed population. Preemergence herbicides arent perfect and do not always last long in the soil. They need moisture to activate. In dry years they dont work. In dry years more dependence on postemergence herbicides are needed. Roundup is only a foliar has to be applied postemergence to growing weeds to control them. Roundup is non-selective which means it kills all weeds.

Prior to the Roundup ready system it was very complicated to know which premergence herbicides to use. This would be based on weed problems from previous years. Sometimes 3 to 4 different herbicides would be applied preemergence to try and cover all the potential weeds that would emerge. This included products like atrazine which potentially have negative affects on the groundwater and environment. Also it was common for both preemrgent and postemergent herbicides to harm the crops from time to time under certain enviromental conditions.

Then the grower might use several postemergence applications with 2-3 different herbicide cocktails to control emerged weeds.

RoundUp simplified this. You only had to use one herbicide at the early post timing and it would kill all the weeds. For short annual crops like corn or soybeans the first 6-8 weeks are most critical for weed control that 1 application worked well. In severe cases a second application could be made. So tillage at planting, an EPOST appliication when corn and bean were about 6 inches tall would kill everything and then the crop would start shading the plots and very little weeds would grow after that. It was very easy for growers. Much less herbicides were needed. Growers controlled their weeds better too, yield increased.

Glyphosate isnt absorbed into the crops anymore than any other herbicide. It replaced where 3-8 or 9 herbicides were applied in the past. Growers wouldnt have adopted the technology if it wasnt beneficial. Nobody forced them to buy Roundup and GMO seed...but the benefits outweaighed the previous way of doing it. The adoption rates were tremendous with 85% of corn growers using Roundup corn in a 3-4 year period.

In my opinion Roundup ready systems significantly reduced the total number of applications and total amount of herbicide on active ingredient significantly. It also likely reduced the amount of herbicide residues in crops.

In terms of IPM, which means applying a product when a pest reaches threshold...Roundup makes sense. You apply it when the weed threshold is reached. With preemrgent herbicides you are applying whether you know if weeds are going to grow or not. Of course there are other postemergent herbiocides out there but you may be using several different ones to kill all the weeds a grower might have verses one application of Roundup.

Roundup was seen as the silver bullet. The only problem now is that some weeds are developing resistance to Roundup. But not to fear there are several other non selective herbicides and crop herbicide resistance has been developed for them as well. These systems can be rotated to prevent resistance.

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

Explanations appreciated. What means EPOST?

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

It is a typical herbicide application interval

PRE = preemergence
EPOST = early post emergence. For most crops its the 2-4 leaf stage.
POST -postemergence
LPOST = late post emergence

Kankakee, IL(Zone 5b)

I very much enjoyed reading this thread and learned a few things along the way. :)

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

In the area of unintended consequences, the planting of GMO corn and soybeans and the subsequent spraying of fields with Roundup is impacting the Monarch butterfly. This article is from 2011, but the population has really crashed this year due to continued eradication of this butterfly's foodplant from thousands of acres in the Midwest. Naturalists are finding that there simply are few to no Monarchs to be seen in their usual habitat, and while significant numbers were typically noted as they migrated south, there are almost no signs of them this fall.


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

GMO DG posts 2

>> New technology is not the problem. The eternal choice of avarice over wisdom is the rub.

That's the best comment on the subject I've read in years.

>> those who would either automatically reject or embrace any new approach,

>> People forget that even Rachel Carson was not opposed to all “chemicals”, just overuse and careless use.

This thread is full of gems!

>> Because I know GMO crops have less pesticides on them than non GMO crops(unless they are certified organic). They are also more sustainable and better for beneficial insects. They require less fuel to produce.

That's probably the next-best comment. Less-toxic and less persistent pesticides and herbicides can be usedwith GM crops.

Comparing GMO crop practices to "traditional modern agriculture practices" (persistent chlorinated hydrocarbons and organophosphate nerve poisons) makes GMOs obviously preferable by a wide margin. And we used to use arsenic and nicotine!

>> unless they are certified organic

Personally, I think that's the hub of the debate. If you can afford to pay 2-3 times as much for your food, and get greatly reduced productivity per acre, and can acquire and afford huge amounts of compost every year, organic practices surely pollute less and avoid possible risks like "who ever really KNOWS what might be discovered decades from now?"

I'm sympathetic to people who trust nothing the hear from Monsanto, or the government, because there have been unintended consequences, arrogance and greed. But we have to separate the wheat from the chaff. Some of the "anti" hype is as manipulative and untruthful as it's possible to be.

Except for one thing, I would say that the Third World NEEDS GMO crops to avoid famine - deaths and wide-spread malnutrition.

The "one thing" is the long term question of what we will do if world population keeps growing and absorbs any increase in productivity until 10 billion people, or 15 billion people are at the edge of starvation?

That's a problem that needs to be solved, whether the world has 7 billion people or 12 billion, spending 10% of their income on food, or 25%.

Similarly, if global climate change is going to reduce arable areas or productivity, we may ALL NEED higher productivity and/or fewer people. Anyone who now lives where crops may stop growing REALLY needs solutions. In the short term, that sounds like GM crops managed with wisdom instead of avarice.

I would hate to think that World War III could be fought over food, arable land, or water. If that could be averted by the WISE use of GE and climate modification technology, we should.

Organic farming methods may be the answer for people so affluent and with so much good crop land and water that they can afford to pay 2-3 times as much for food grown on twice as many acres.

Or organic food may be the only food - when the 2-3 billion survivors of some global climate catastrophe, do without any pesticides or diesel fuel or refrigeration because there isn't any.

The "post-apocalypse" scenario is too alarmist, at least for the next few decades.

But if we are concerned about the remote possibility of hypothetical, subtle, long-term GM food dangers, let's also think about the certainty of ongoing famines and poverty. And here-right-now limits on irrigation water and salinization.
And totally plausible long-term climate concerns.

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

lots of good thoughts there! I am enjoying reading about everyones perspectives.

Your points about organic are well taken. Organic on the surface appears to be "good" but you mention the reduced productivity form those systems that would lead to world wide starvation if adopted everywhere. Not only would it lead to starvation becase of reduced efficiency and yields on a per acre basis but it would require much of our natural and or protected lands, lands in conservation to be used for growing food. There also wouldnt be enough natural fertilizers nor labor etc. To truly go all organic at least 30-40 percent of the population would need to go back to the farm and spend all day hoeing weeds.

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

I get awfully tired of hearing that GMOs are necessary to feed the world and with organics we'd all starve. Please see these articles:

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

"Can Organic Farming Feed Us All?"

Those articles do make the point that organic methods would be more productive than some traditional practices in the parts of the Third World where rural poverty is the norm.

"organic and sustainable small scale farming could double food production in the parts of the world where hunger is the biggest issue."

"Small scale farming, according to the report, can serve to create self sustainability amongst those in rural poverty."

The second article also admitted that the main place where organic methods would be beneficial is in the Third World.

True, probably what's being done now by desperate people with no resources and little education would be greatly improved if they did (and could) adopt improvements such as "lots of compost" and crop rotation including cover crops for green manure.

That isn't comparing organic methods to intensive chemical-fertilizer-and-'cides methods.

It's comparing modern organic practices measured in places like Switzerland and the US to traditional Third World methods that were probably determined by a total lack of resources.

(By the way, if they were only talking about what would help the Third World, those articles should probably also point out that where famine and productivity are worst, they can't afford tractors, combines, fertilizers, GM seeds and pesticides anyway.)

To clarify what I'm saying: probably organic methods WOULD improve yields where severe poverty and starvation are most rampant. IF they could afford to raise green manure on some of their fields or raise enough animals to provide brown manure, the yields in their other fields would go up. Or there are practical ways they could apply organic principles, like composting vegetation cut from nearby forests, or gradually converting infertile slopes into mulched hugelculture terraces.

And that is much more plausible for them than to suggest they can or should buy into the Green Revolution of whichever incarnation, when they plain, flat can't afford to.

I don't think anyone is suggesting that. What some of us question is how the billions that are now fed by relatively few acres and few farmers using "factory farming" will afford groceries if those same acres were converted to organic methods, and the supply of compost, manure, mulch and green manure stays the same.

Those articles are persuasive about the case where almost everyone is a peasant farmer doing hard hand labor all day every day, trying to bring their few acres up from starvation level to subsistence level.

But that has almost nothing to do with the industrialized world, where there is a choice between intensive technological agriculture and organic methods.

THAT is a good question, worthy of being addressed factually, and not with straw-man arguments like "advanced organic methods would be more productive than the very worst methods used by the most desperate and uneducated farmers anywhere".

For a practical attempt to teach organic methods usable by people in poverty with little infrastructure, see The Farmer's Handbook.

The Farmers' Handbook, ISBN 99933-615-0-X.......
Translated from Nepali by Chris Evans
Nepal Permaculture Group, P.O.Box 8132, Kathmandu, Nepal

Permanent Publications
The Sustainability Centre
East MeonHampshire GU32 1HR
tel: +44 1730 823311
[email protected]

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> >> I get awfully tired of hearing that GMOs are necessary to feed the world and with organics we'd all starve.

I wish I had more time to address the parts of those articles that seemed to address the question of relative productivity of organic and "factory" farming in the industrialized world, where we really would rather have enough productivity that we didn't turn every acre into farmland or pasture, and 80-90% of the population want to be able to afford to buy most of their food instead of being farmers.

2nd article:
"Where there is a yield gap, it tends to be widest in wealthy nations, where farmers use copious amounts of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in a perennial attempt to maximize yields."

That sounded a lot like conceding the point.

Then it challenges the idea that "there wouldn't be enough compost for every farm in America to go organic, by citing one study that shows there's only enough manure for 1/4 of the farms".

Their 'refutation' was to say that organic farmers depend on much more than just manure. Those four words were almost the only thing I noticed that was really on point, for a topic like "Can organic methods feed everyone".

Then they went over to the straw-man argument, which I think of as changing the subject, instead of saying something like "only this much non-agricultural land would have to be used to grow cover crops to provide all those factory farms with compost and mulch" or "this many trains and trucks could haul that much green manure to all those factory farms".

I suppose I'm skeptical, but if there WERE reasons that organic food costs 2-3 times as much, and there WERE reasons that agribusinesses (who care only about tons per acre and profit) don't use organic methods, that did NOT prove agribusiness is more productive and efficient in dollars per acre and yield per dollar, that DID look good for organic methods, that organic proponents WOULD BE stating those reasons.

Instead, there are vague or narrow claims like

"There are actually myriad studies from around the world showing that organic farms can produce about as much, and in some settings much more, than conventional farms."

(It's vague & substantiated to say "there are studies".)
(It's narrow and misleading to say "can produce as much" - that claim could have compared the most productive organic farm in the most favorable, irrigated environment and 12" of compost added per year to a dryland pasture that some conventional farmer is trying to coax a meager crop out of with minimal investment.

if someone who is trying to make a persuasive point stoops that low, my first assumption is that their best shot is really lame, and they don't have any truly persuasive studies to cite.

"More up-to-date research refutes these arguments. For example, a recent study by scientists at the Research Institute for Organic Agriculture in Switzerland showed that organic farms were only 20 percent less productive than conventional plots over a 21-year period. Looking at more than 200 studies in North America and Europe, Per Pinstrup Andersen (a Cornell professor and winner of the World Food Prize) and colleagues recently concluded that organic yields were about 80 percent of conventional yields. And many studies show an even narrower gap."

Now, that would have been interesting if they had also said anything at all about comparable costs and comparable climates or any kind of control at all to relate productivity starting with the same kind of soil.

Did they leave out details that would have clinched the argument they re trying to make?

Or did they leave out details that would have clarified that the 80/20 claim was actually comparing apples to ants?

Switzerland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and ANY agriculture there is going to be the most intensive and well-managed imaginable. So I can well believe that they have defined the state of the art in organic productivity.

But their comparison was to "conventional yields", not "yields where an equal amount of money and resources were spent as in the organic farms we selected when trying to see how productive organic farming CAN be".

Anyway, those were at least claims that would interesting if true and done in a balanced and representative way, not biased.

So I went to look them up. Quotes like this made me think the article was reputable and would cite support for its claims:
"Looking at more than 200 studies in North America and Europe, Per Pinstrup Andersen (a Cornell professor and winner of the World Food Prize) and colleagues recently concluded"

That article had NO citations. Page after page of rhetoric, I had to scroll past, trying to find out what "studies" they were referring to.

They were clearly pushing an agenda, stretching and using straw-man arguments to sound like they were proving more than their facts supported, AND were unwilling to provide links to what they were claiming as facts.

So I stopped reading. When Monsanto's flacks show clear bias and a willingness to stretch, but cite no facts, I stop reading.

Sadly, I was much more sympathetic to the anti-GMO and pro-organic arguments before I started reading their literature carefully. I had always assumed that the blatant propaganda and scare-mongering were the exceptions to the rule, and reasoned arguments were also out there somewhere.

These were far from the most slanted articles I've read, especially on the subject of GMO crops, but the bias was still clear, repeatedly, in the pages that I did get through.

Joe McCarthy made a name for himself by waving blank pages of paper and claiming the have documents that proved whatever agenda he wanted to push. But the he self-destructed because not everyone is credulous, and his bias and agenda were clear.

That doesn't PROVE that they are wrong. Saying they must be wrong because they are willing to stoop to rhetorical tactics and misrepresentation would be like an argument ad hominem.

But I see tons of slanted rhetoric and NO references to something where you could ferret out the actual facts behind the vague claims in unspecified studies. Either they are only preaching to the choir and want "feel-good" prose instead of reasoned argument, or they DON'T have any facts that favor their agenda.

I had an open mind before I started reading the literature. There is so much blatant propaganda and so little substance that now I'm struggling to keep an open mind despite the arguments I read. When reading one side's literature pushes you away, it's not a good sign.

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

I'm loving these posts and the discussion!

Let me be up front about my preferences: In my own garden, upon which my livelihood is NOT dependent (just my taste for good tomatoes on my BLT), I prefer an organic approach and I rarely use poisons of any kind, organic or "chemical". I have come to believe strongly in a diversity of plant and animal populations. I believe that careless use of pesticides often causes more trouble than it solves. I am not a particularly good gardener, as testified to by the fact that most of my 'mater plants died this year, but I rarely have a pest problem serious enough to warrant my attention, much less the use of a poison. In my opinion, an organic approach in my own garden makes a lot of sense and is somewhat intuitive. Of course, intuition can be dead wrong at times. Adding organic matter to my sandy soil dramatically increases water retention, a big deal here in these here dry parts of the country.

I have spent quite a bit of time reading books and magazines, listening to gardening shows, attending Master Gardener conferences and such in an attempt to learn the "truth" about the "best" way to garden. Rick Corey, my conclusions are, I think, similar to yours. There's just too [email protected]@ much propaganda. One side, the "chemical" folks (Jeez, isn't there a better term than "chemical"?) do have science and data for support since a substance can't be released for use without meeting some control and regulation. My big concern here is unknown long-term effects, not just on the health of consumers but larger effects on the environment as a whole. It's like I mentioned in an earlier post--the rabbits in Australia problem. As a current example, what's happening with bees? The cause of Colony Collapse Disorder is still unknown, but it seems likely that the problem is "stress" caused by poor nutrition and continuous exposure to low levels of insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides,not to mention being carted all over the country on a semi truck.

On the organic side, most all advocates are well intentioned, but they surely lack data and often even accurate information. Like you, I hear repeated claims but all too frequently no evidence. One of my favorite scare tactics is citing that chemical fertilizers came from explosives production (for the most part true enough). So what! Armies use metals and fabrics, and soldiers eat food. Is that reason to give up pots and pans? Clothing? Sandwiches? A radio talk show host of a gardening program (one I like and listen to) hawks a particular brand of bottled water that has only "natural" minerals, not "synthetic" ones" I am pretty sure that we are not yet capable of synthesizing minerals, at least not the elements that make them up. What is a "synthetic mineral"??? Another claim I often hear is that "chemical" fertilizers destroy soil life. This sounds plausible to me, but is it true?

It'd be most interesting, informative, and enjoyable if we could get Dave's Garden readers to post links to scientific studies supporting various claims.

Here are some books that I have enjoyed: Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food". Any of several books by Professor Jeff Gillman of the U of Minnesota. Joel Salatin's "This Ain't Normal".

I hope we can keep this thread going and learn something to boot!

Alexandria, IN(Zone 6a)

Let's compare what I believe is a parallel situation. This situation is comparing pharmacetical drugs to natural health supplements like herbs, vitamins, anti-oxidants, etc.
Drug companies may spend a billion dollars and more bringing a new profitable drug online. They may have reams of data and citations.

A new product of natural alternative ingredients may be quite useful to thousands of people, but there just isn't the money to run millions of dollar trials and still keep the product affordable to thousands of people.

I compare the drug companies to the big agriculture interests and the cheaper natural supplements to the organic type of interests.

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

Quote from WillyFromAZ :
One side, the "chemical" folks (Jeez, isn't there a better term than "chemical"?) do have science and data for support since a substance can't be released for use without meeting some control and regulation.

Unfortunately the FDA and ag interests allow the companies that are producing the product to conduct the studies; these companies also make it difficult if not impossible for neutral researchers to evaluate the material independently because they cite patent laws which they use to prevent access. However, here are a number of studies and articles which suggest that considerably more research needs to be conducted before GMO products are distributed freely:

I thought it was impressive that an organization as mainstream as Consumer Union would take that stance.

This message was edited Sep 22, 2013 8:54 PM

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

Right now we are barely producing enough food to feed all of the worlds population. If we shifted even 10 percent of the land into organic production, not only would food become more expensive...but there just wouldnt be enough food to go around to feed everyone. This is a fact. Historic world food stocks have been declining which has lead to an increase in the price of food as several of the last few years consumption has outweighed production due to drought and ethanol production.

As far as having people in the third world adopt organic techniques to become self sufficient those are noble goals but very unrealistic considering that most in the 3rd world do not even own or have access to land or even credit to buy seeds or tools or the know how to make this all happen.

I agree that right now GMO's are not necesarry to feed the worlds population. But conventional production agriculture is essential.

GMO's are however reducing pesticide use in total active ingredient going out per acre as well as number of sprays right now as wee speak. Less sprays also means less fuel etc. They are more green. They are more efficient. To me GMO makes as much sense as solar or hybrid cars. They are more efficient and better for the environment.

I believe that GMO's will however be critical to sustain food production output into the future. Through this technology we will be able to develop plants able to grow on soils that currently arent suitable such as saline and sodic areas. There are already GMO's plants with drought tolerance, disease resistance, and insect tolerance as well as herbicide tolerance.

A pesticide takes about 10 years and 250 million dollars to develop. It takes a company 10 years of testing before it can start selling a product. It goes through a 2 year process of review by the US EPA, USDA, and FDA...three government organizations that evaluate its safety, environmental impact, and risks. These products are also evaluated by each of the 50 states with CA and NY having even more rigorous standards. Some of these products are approved and some arent. Other countries including Canada, Japan and in Europe also independently evaluate these products. Some of the testing is some by the companies but much of it is done by universities and other 3rd party labs and contract reseach companies and state agricultural experiment stations. Pesticide registrations are three times more rigorous than pharmaceuticals. It takes ten years because of the numbers and types esperiments the government agencises require that are done. It is really quite extensive what is required. Here is an article from Canada called "Lab to Label" which outlines pesticide development and registration. A similar process happens here in USA.

Patent on a pesticide is 17 after registration that leaves 7 years to recuperate the investment. These regulations which are good in many ways but has made producing pesticides so expenseve and so time consuming that it has reduced the numbers of companies able to invest and develop them. Many companies have gone out of business because of the regulations.

Agriculture is not a very profitable enterprise. Whether you are a farmer or a pesticide company profit margins are not very good with at least one out of every three years being a bust.

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

By the way I work for a major ag chemical company. We have numerous "organic" products as well as conventional ones. All of the Ag chemical companies also produce organic products. So Ag chemical companies certainly arent against organic products like some seem to insinuate. Its simply another segment. Organic products can actually be more profitable.

One thing to note is that organic products tend to not work as well. Biologicals are not as effective at controlling pests.

Also think about this....right now organic growers are relatively few...but lets just imagine an organic apple grower. In most cases he is surrounded by conventional apple growers who are regularly spraying for diseases and insects. Even though he isnt using any conventional pesticides on his apples, he is benefitting from the fact that those around him are to reduce innoculum and insect populations. If all the growers around him also became organic the levels of insects and diseases would increase and organic would be alot more challenging than what it currently is. Just a thought!

This message was edited Sep 22, 2013 10:36 PM

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I agree that the most likely long-term effect will be on the environment. first, caused by the fact that there so many of us! Second, by the loss in genetic diversity of food crops, and wild species. Third by the drift of selected or other-species genes into non-GMO crops and weeds (and possibly insects and microbes).

I'm just not very worried about the remote risk of "who-knows" long term effects from eating our current level of GE crops. I consider climate change a much more likely problem, just not THIS year.

I grew up with second-hand smoke, leaded gasoline, aerial spraying of DDT over residential areas and open-air nuclear testing. Plus, I worked in the chemical industry and saw some of THEIR pollution.

I think that those combined were 1,000 or 10,000 times worse than corn syrup made from corn that had RO sprayed on it. Maybe 100,000 times worse. I didn't and don't lose a lot of sleep over those, but I sure did use a mask and gloves when I sprayed with malathion.

(I admit that I had doubts then, and shudder now, to recall that we bought surplus Army DDT "bombs" (aerosol canisters) for spraying INSIDE our Boy Scout tents while we were inside them. Horrible as that was, the health effect was not observable. Hence the remote possibility that some long term effect from RO-Ready soy products MIGHT become observable despite current evidence just doesn't twitch my worry-meter.)

Too bad the "chemical awareness" in the 1950's wasn't 10 or 100 times greater! And maybe the concern of some people today about remote possibilities is 10 or 100 times greater than the evidence would support.

But maybe "today" is a reaction against all the overly optimistic industry spokesmen and public health yes-men from the 1950s.

Maybe it's faint praise to say that GMO crops plus RoundUp pollute less than traditional crops and traditional persistent herbicides ... but true and relevant.

I guess it's in dispute how organic method's productivity compares to "factory framing" methods, and what the costs are to push organic productivity higher, for example on marginal land.

My guess is that "factory framing" is much more productive and cost-efficient than organic farming, unless you are using organic methods on the very best, most fertile and productive soil in the world.

If it were practical and affordable to improve every farm on the planet to that level of productive soil, great, but my unsupported suspicion is that it might take another earth or two with cultivated fields but no population to provide all the compost we would need. Or letting 1/2 or 2/3 of our existing farms to lie fallow or grow green manure crops at any given time.

But what would we do with 1/2 or 2/3rds of our population meanwhile?

>> "natural" minerals, not "synthetic" ones"

That a great argument ad absurdum. If you can extend an argument into an obvious absurdity, maybe the original argument was flawed also.

As a kid, I laughed myself silly the first few times I heard the term "organic food" since to me, the only alternative was inorganic food, and the definition of inorganic was "no carbon". Oh, well, words mean what people make them mean.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> Another claim I often hear is that "chemical" fertilizers destroy soil life. This sounds plausible to me, but is it true?

I can think of three possibilities, one that comes from a textbook on microbiology.

1. Mycorhyza develop in plant roots when needed If the soil has plenty of N and water, far fewer root fungi are seen in the plant roots. That's what I read in one textbook, anyway. Hence fewer of them are found in well-fertilized and irrigated soil. But when it dries out and looses its fertility, the mycorhyza come back from spores and re-infect plant roots..

2. If you rely ONLY on synthetic mineral fertilizers, like NPK but no organic compost, certainly the soil life will consume whatever organic matter was previously in the soil. Deplete the C, then die or sporulate. They can't live without food.

Once compost is returned to the soil, I trust the bacteria and maybe the fungi to come back from spores and dust blown in from other fields, and indeed to be present in the compost that was added.

But what about worms, fungi, insects, and so on, that died when NO organic matter was replenished for several years? The more complex the organism, the longer it will take longer to re-populate a starved soil (in my unsubstantiated opinion).

That's where I get cranky and grumpy about imprecision. If we said "total lack of organic matter matter will eventually starve most beneficial soil organisms", I don't think we'd be having heated arguments. More like, "Yeah, healthy soil needs OM". Chemical fertilizer promotes this season's yield, not next decade's soil fertility.

But when we are imprecise and say "fertilizer kills soil", we're half way to an unreasoned flame war already.

3. EXCESSIVE fertilization might be killing a lot of soil organisms. Heck, too much urea can "burn" plants, so why not fungi? What constitutes excess might depend on soil type, crop, and type of N in the fertilizer, but if you only consider this year's yield when you decide how much to fertilize, it's plausible to me that someone would use more than is good for the soil's health 10 years from now.

Smart farmers with plenty of choices might not use any more fertilizer than is in their long-term interest, unless they're renting the land. But when profit margins are tight, farmers might be as short-sighted as industrial managers and politicians, and push the limits, since a little extra fertilizer is cheap relative to the risk of a crop being stunted or yield being low enough to put you out of business.

Alexandria, IN(Zone 6a)

Rick, I don't mind mixing farming and gardening as I live in the country. Just this morning I was surprised by a very low flying plane across the road flying back and forth over the corn field. i wondered what it was doing this time of year when the corn was beginning to dry up. it turned out that it was aerial seeding what looks like rye grass. A few days ago the same thing was happening in another field the farmer farmed. For the most part I am happy to see a cover crop. Perhaps some things are being taken to a higher level. Only downside is that herbicide may be used to kill it next spring. I don't think that roundup would drift my way much, but 2-4-D is scary concerning volatility....especially overnight hanging vapors.

Gainesville, FL(Zone 8b)

Quote from Indy :
it turned out that it was aerial seeding what looks like rye grass...Only downside is that herbicide may be used to kill it next spring. I don't think that roundup would drift my way much, but 2-4-D is scary concerning volatility....especially overnight hanging vapors.

Annual grasses are widely used as cover crops. They doesn't ordinarily need to be killed in the spring, and even if the farmer did want to kill it, 2-4D isn't likely what he'd use - it's a broadleaf herbicide and grasses typically don't respond to broadleaf herbicides.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> Perhaps some things are being taken to a higher level.

I agree that all kinds of "new thinking" are permeating everyone's beliefs whether or not they look like "New Age" visionaries.

I would say that those ideas are "in the air", but someone might call them mental pollution.

Change is too slow for some, and too fast for others. What is "wisdom" in any given case? Ask me again in 50-100 years.

Hummelstown, PA(Zone 6b)

Most microbes benefit from application of nitrogen to the soil. Yes some Nitrogen fertilizers are more toxic than others to some microbes...but fertilizers actually feed microbes and help them broak down organic matter faster. Adding a little fertilizer to your compost heap is like feeding those is because microbes, though they release nitrogen as they decompose organic matter...they also use it up and it actually can become limiting. When it becomes limiting the decay of organic matter slows down...and when it slows down, Nitrogen from organic matter is less is all a balance. Too much fertilizer and certain forms can be toxic...but soil microbes are not endanged and they recover very quickly and when they die they also release nictrogen and other nutrients beneficial to plants. So killing microbes isnt always a bad thing....they are always dying on their fact that is how the nitrogen is released from decomposting organic matter.

On another farming increases soil organic matter significantly. But herbicides are needed to successfully do it.

In organic production repeated cultivation is used for weed control. This repeated cultivation causes soil erosion, soil compaction, uses more fossil fuels, drys out the soil, reduces the soil organic matter portion of the soil etc.

The idea that organic is better for the environment in my opnion isnt always true. It may reduce some residues on the food...or replaces the residues with "safer" residues. Organic folks never explain that their technology has some downsides.

This message was edited Sep 24, 2013 10:06 PM

Alexandria, IN(Zone 6a)

As a gardener I utilize the best of both and some non-organic. I love to increase and maintain organic matter with good tilth. To my mostly clay loam I have added goodly amounts of sphagnum peat moss from a local the results. In many beds I also used medium/coarse local sand. I chop and mow up plant residues and leave them in place. I have added strawy/hayey partly rotted horse manure in late summer and fall along with leaf compost and shredded leaves. I then till things into the soil a bit. I also used some organic fertilizer and some not as organic fertilizer.

It has worked wonderfully well. I wish to add that I plant tillage type daikon radishes in late summer after the first five plantings of sweet corn are chopped and and the soil has been enriched. Also I plant them in other areas where I can. They are an easy cover crop that smothers out weeds and leaves things so nice in the spring.

This message was edited Sep 25, 2013 11:54 AM

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> fertilizers actually feed microbes and help them break down organic matter faster

>> it is all a balance. Too much fertilizer and certain forms can be toxic...but soil microbes are not endangered and they recover very quickly

I agree with all of the above. Adding N when it is limiting stimulates soil microbes as well as plants (but perhaps only if there is enough organic matter to support lots of microbes. Really excessive N harms both.

But according to what I read, you only see lots of mycorhyza growing in roots (actually interpenetrating the roots) when nitrogen or water are scarce - as if the root "knew" that it needed the help, and only tolerated the root fungi when they helped the plant acquire N and water more than they cost the plant in energy supplied to the root fungi.

If that's true, very infertile soil might not support as many "free swimming" soil microbes, but it does increase the population of root fungi "infecting" roots (a good thing).

Adding a moderate amount of N would stimulate both plants and free soil microbes, but might decrease the number of mycorhyza associated with roots.

Adding excessive N is bad for everything, and some forms of N are worse than others.

... that is, IF I understood what I read, and IF it's true. It sounds like you know what you're talking about, whereas I've just read a few things.

>> In organic production repeated cultivation is used for weed control.

I didn't know that! I thought deep mulching was the rule.

I read elsewhere (if I remember accurately) that no-till practices around the Great Lakes caused many people to use a different fertilization strategy that resulted in increased runoff during a rainy spring.

>> I plant tillage type daikon radishes in late summer

Indy, I thought your balance of techniques made complete sense. I also tried Daikon radishes for tillage one year, but planted too early and they went to seed (tasty seed pods, by the way). Now they keep volunteering around that bed.

However, sometimes the radish wins and sometimes the clay wins. I'll try to get a photo of one volunteer that looks fairly vigorous, except that the top 4-5" of root have pushed up out of the clay like a tiny tree trunk.

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)


What is a tillage crop?

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

A crop planted with the intention of it being "tilled" under to add to the soil enrichment?

Alexandria, IN(Zone 6a)

A crop planted with the intention of it being "tilled" under to add to the soil enrichment?

Actually no. Tillage refers to the deep penetrating root which tills [opens up] the soil in the lower soil horizon. This replaces steel tillage.

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