Why papayas GMO's?

fabaceae_nativeFebruary 25, 2013

I was surprised to read that most papayas sold in the US are genetically modified. This makes them one of the very few things in the produce section that are a GMO.

Anyone know anything more about this? What could "most" in 'most papayas sold in the US' mean? Are they certain varieties only, or fruit from certain countries? What foreign genes are they using, and why?

I always thought papayas grew like weeds, and produced prodigiously without much help from us, so why would they go through the trouble of artificially messing with their genes? Is it one of those roundup ready deals so they can spray herbicides like crazy to kill every other plant around?

Of course I would not have to ask this question if companies like Monsanto had less power over the US government and allowed the labeling of GMO's here like in other civilized nations...

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franktank232(z5 WI)

I would have to dig, but I know it has something to do with Hawaii...maybe some sort of disease/pest there? I know that around here, its mostly the large Mexican ones and they are not GMO. I'm not even sure the smaller Brazilian ones I see now and then are...I always assumed it was the "solo" variety? Not sure...

but yeah.. It would take some massive science to make a fruit resistant to all the things that attack them and even then..how long would it take for that insect to become immune to that GMO tree? Plum curculios, Japanese Beetles, Codling Moth, Multiple variety of borers... Not going to happen...and thats just all the various insects...Fireblight, brown rot!, etc etc...

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 10:32PM
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carolync1(z8/9 CA inland)

"University of Hawaii scientists developed the genetically modified fruit that’s resistant to a ring spot virus that wiped out production on Oahu in the 1950s and was detected in the Puna district on the Big Island in the 1990s."

Papaya ringspot virus can also affect squash and melons. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papaya_ringspot_virus

Here is a link that might be useful: Genetically modified papayas

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 10:46PM
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Thanks so much both of you, that really sheds some light on things. Sounds like a much better intentioned example of genetic engineering than what Monsanto has been up to on the continent. Still read too many studies of risks associated with novel genes inserted into plants, especially given that the health of GM crops is 'monitored' only by the very same companies promoting and making millions off of them.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2013 at 9:52PM
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carolync1(z8/9 CA inland)

Best to evaluate risks and benefits on a case-by-case basis, I think. Monsanto gave away patents for "Golden Rice" which apparently could already have saved the lives of millions of children if it were not opposed on the basis of ideology rather than science.

I am not familiar enough with details of testing on other GMO crops to really make a reasonable risk/benefit assessment. However, one would think that the potential for lawsuits would tend to favor caution on the part of firms developing such crops. Adaptation to Bt by insects, for example, seems to me to be a reasonable concern with regard to the introduction of some GMOs.

Here is a link that might be useful: Golden Rice

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 12:36AM
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Evaluating risks and benefits on a case-by-case basis only works if we understand the risks and assume that money isn't capable of influencing/distorting the system of evaluation, either nefariously or innocently (because certain kinds of studies are more expensive than others) or in the gray area in between (political donations, the "revolving door" between regulation and industry, etc.) As far as the potential for lawsuits favoring caution, that didn't save Prince William Sound, the Gulf of Mexico, Fukuoka, or the sub prime mortgage market. If you're an executive officer making a salary of millions (or tens or hundreds of millions) of dollars a year by making profits in the short-term, you're going to take big risks. If there's a huge loss, worst case the shareholders lose their stock value, which will only affect most shareholders pretty marginally, and maybe you won't be able to make millions of dollars per year any more -- then again, there's a good chance your personal career could recover -- but you'll never make those millions in the first place if you don't take the risks (and they'll find someone else that will -- foolish risk takers aren't that hard to find, especially not at the extreme margins.) Of course, the benefits are straightforward (i.e. fully understood), and it's presently possible to understand a lot of the costs of taking control of our food supply out of the hands of farmers and communities and giving more absolute control to large corporations, and on those bases alone, even before we assess the unknown risks, I have no trouble saying GMO crops are categorically foolhardy. But as to the risks, introducing kudzu "genes" into the Southeast seemed like a good idea 50-ish years ago to the powers that be (were) then, too. So did a "contained" study of Africanized ("killer") bees in South America. These are largely irreversible decisions. Wild mustard is already "round-up ready." Meanwhile scientists really can't explain the recent advent of Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees, and who knows what's going on with less studied pollinators. Of course, if biotech winds up killing off the pollinators, that's just an opportunity to sell us fruit trees genetically modified to produce fruit parthenocarpically. And why wouldn't the agri-science/chemical companies want us to buy all our fruit from the big, much more chemical-dependent growers anyways? Is my argument "ideology" and yours "science"? Does "science" mean rejecting common sense, the lessons of history, and all our understanding of human nature and the corrupting power of money (and we might add risk assessment on the basis of ever evolving and disjointed scientific studies, which is anything but "scientific")?

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 8:06AM
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Actually, quite a few things in the produce aisle are GMO. Pretty much anything with corn or soy in it is GMO, as is most american produced sugar. If you eat cheese, its technically all GMO as the rennet comes from GMO bacteria.

Most of what you eat now, and have eaten for decades, is GMO.


This post was edited by Edymnion on Wed, Feb 27, 13 at 10:29

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 10:16AM
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I'm sure what Fabaceae meant by the produce section is the section of where the fresh fruits and vegetables are. Of course, there wouldn't be corn or soybeans "in" anything in that particular section because produce doesn't have ingredients per se (e.g. there isn't corn "in" a tomato.) Sweet corn, summer squash, and papaya would be the only exceptions to the rule Fabaceae laid out. As you suggested, though, Edymnion, the rest of the supermarket (animal products and processed/mixed ingredient products) would be very heavily GMO.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 1:41PM
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chervil2(z5 MA)

There are many GMO papayas sold in markets and coss-pollination is the main reason. Many marketed as organic test out as GMO when we test them in a classroom lab exercise.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 1:42PM
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Wow, I love reading all these knowledgeable replies.

cousinfloyd: I'm totally in agreement with you on GMO's
Edymnion: as cousinfloyd pointed out I was referring to fruits and veggies, papayas being one of the few GM products there... But you are so right about so much of our food being from GMO's without us even realizing it -- that is the crime that other countries have been so opposed to. The powers that be want us to think that genetic engineering is the saving grace for the consumer, for farmers, and the environment, when in reality most of it is purely to line executives pocketbooks.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 2:06PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

I'll add a thought or two to this discussion. I'm sure my perspective is not at all congruent with most folks on this forum, but I'll share it anyway, believing that diversity of ideas is generally a good thing. Hopefully we can avoid judging one another because of that.

I think GMO technology has a place in modern agriculture. World population is expected to increase more than 20% by 2050. This in the face of an ever shrinking arable land base.

In my opinion, GMO crops as well as other technologies will need to be brought to bear if there is to be hope of feeding an ever expanding population. Mainly for that reason I do not oppose human gene manipulation of plants or animals, the same which also occurs naturally.

Of course GMO has other applications as well. From a fruit perspective, improving the nutritional or cancer fighting benefits of the fruit can have value, as well as disease resistance. As I recall, the technology is available to make current plum cultivars resistant to plum pox through GMO.

Regarding Round Up ready crops, they have significantly reduced overall herbicide use and land erosion. Before their advent, farmers had to spray more herbicides and those herbicides were generally more damaging to the environment. Or farmers had to do a lot more cultivation, tilling the ground more frequently for weed control which caused more erosion, more wear and tear on equipment and more fuel consumption. Round Up ready crops not only significantly reduced all that, but also improved yields, growing more food per acre.

Certainly there have been problems and there are risks. Wild mustard is not the only weed that has become resistant to glyphosate. As I recall, there are now over 20 weeds that are resistant to the herbicide. It may reach a point where glyphosate will no longer be a useful tool to fight weeds, but in the mean time Round Up ready crops have allowed us to grow more food on our land for the past 20 years and are still doing so today. Perhaps GMO technology will allow researchers to develop crops resistant to other herbicides so they can be "rotated" to prevent or slow weed resistance.

Obviously there can be long term unintended consequences from the use of GMO crops, so their development and introduction should have have a high degree of impartial oversight.

Philosophically, I tend to look at things based on the current alternatives vs. an ideal vision. It's a very messy and pragmatic approach I admit, many times involving the lesser of the evils, but it seems to me the best fit for the universe we live in. It's this philosophy that causes me to look differently at the GMO debate and other issues as well.

As an example, It's based on this view that I think the use of DDT was a good thing. Not that I think DDT is good for the environment, but it was much safer and better for the environment than the pesticides it replaced. DDT outlived its purpose and was rightly replaced by organophosphates and other organochlorines as a better alternatives. Now later generation pesticides have evolved to become safer or better for the environment, and are slowly replacing organophosphates and organochlorines.

Likewise my view of "killer bees" is not as negative as others. They were intended to be introduced to peoples (some impoverished) too close to the equator to produce honey from European honey bees. My understanding is it did end up achieving that result. Killer bees have resulted in some deaths, but they have also done people some good. I don't know if the benefits have outweighed the costs, but I know there have been some benefits.

(As an aside, may sound extreme to weigh benefits against the deaths of human beings, but in reality, society does it all the time. We drive cars despite the extreme loss of life it causes, fly in planes, ect. I'm referring to societal considerations, not some individual or company making life and death decisions based on greed (like the Johns-Manville asbestos scandal, or the Ford Pinto scandal). Society has a right to make those decisions about itself, companies do not have a right to make those decisions based on their bottom line.)

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 3:53PM
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oregonwoodsmoke(5 OR Sunset 1A)

Ring spot was wiping out papaya production. The "genetically altered" papayas are a lot more like "inoculated" against the virus than they are like "gene spliced". No goldfish genes have been inserted.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 2:50AM
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I'm sure what Fabaceae meant by the produce section is the section of where the fresh fruits and vegetables are.

I see fresh corn in the produce aisle every day, its GMO. I see plastic bins full of soybean sprouts all the time, they're GMO. I even occassionally see sugar cane sections in the produce aisle, they're GMO.

GMO is not the big scary monster thats going to give us all cancer and bring on the zombie apocalypse like vocal alarmists would have you think. At their core they aren't about making mountains of money for Monsanto either (although they are certainly being abused in that manner).

Why are crops genetically modified in the first place? To make them immune to diseases and pests that would otherwise wipe out entire crops or require massive amounts of environmentally dangerous chemicals to control. They are modified to be more drought tolerant so that they can be grown in drier areas. They are modified to be more nutritious.

Frankly in my mind it boils down to two alternatives:
1) Embrace GMO products
2) Let the world starve

No hyperbole there. Organic farming *CANNOT* be scaled up enough to supply the world demand, it just can't. We are *FAR* over the point where our species can be supported by natural methods. Our only options are to take unnatural steps like GMOs, or to reduce the population, drastically. And a population reduction on the necissary scale requires worldwide famine and plague (the natural mechanics that keep populations in check), billions would need to die.

GMO or starvation, take your pick.

This post was edited by Edymnion on Thu, Feb 28, 13 at 9:34

    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 9:32AM
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Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but I am disappointed to see how much wool has been pulled over the eyes of some folks regarding genetic engineering. Yes, I agree that it deserves a place in modern agriculture, but ONLY if it is proven to be absolutely safe, which it has NOT in every case.

Consider the following facts:
- The first GM tomato variety that was available caused cancer in laboratory animals, Monsanto pulled it from production under pressure to avoid a scandal.
- It is well understood that there is NOT a global food shortage, only a distribution problem, as well as increasing soil and water contamination due to chemical agriculture
- GMO's have been shown to increase the use of pesticides and herbicides by 20%, despite the claims of their inventors.

Olpea: how does a crop designed to withstand an herbicide limit the use of that herbicide? Well of course it does not, it actually has the opposite effect.

Edymnion: I think we can agree that not ALL GM crops are so designed to escape pests and disease (take the roundup ready instance).

Can we also agree that the many problems inherent in modern agricultural practices (mono-cropping, reduction of beneficial insects with pesticides, destruction of soil structure with heavy equipment and petrochemical fertilizers, pollution of waterways, selection of varieties for shipping at the expense of other attributes, etc, etc,) have got use into this mess in the first place?

    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 11:11AM
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alexander3_gw(6 Pennsylvania)

>The first GM tomato variety that was available caused
>cancer in laboratory animals, Monsanto pulled it from
>production under pressure to avoid a scandal.

Do you have a reference for that research?

    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 1:35PM
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Thanks for keeping me honest, alexander3... And these risks are not made up...

I borrowed info from the article entitled "The Truth About GMOs" in the Jan/Feb issue of Mother Earth Living. This article was well researched, citing studies published in the journal Lancet, and the European Journal of Histochemistry, among others.

Now I have to admit my error, namely that the Flavr Savr tomato I mentioned caused stomach lesions that could lead to life-threatening stomach hemorrhaging in 7 or 20 rats that ate it. OK, I misquoted: stomach lesions, not cancer.

However, the article elsewhere states "GM crops have been linked to health problems as diverse as reproductive damage, CANCER, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes". Also (published in the European Journal of Histochemistry), " the reproductive organs of mice and rats fed Roundup Ready soybeans showed dramatic changes". And, "At a symposium in Italy in 2006, researchers shared documentation of DNA changes in embryos of GM soy-fed mice".

The article also points out that 50 other nations around the world that allow GM foods require labeling, including most of Europe, Japan, Russia, and China. "India has recommended a 10-year moratorium on GM field trials".

Are people in all those other countries just stupid? I'd like to suggest that they are the smart ones for practicing caution.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 3:20PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

"Olpea: how does a crop designed to withstand an herbicide limit the use of that herbicide? Well of course it does not, it actually has the opposite effect."


I did not say Round Up ready crops limited the use of that herbicide. My statement was, "Before their [Round Up ready crops] advent, farmers had to spray more herbicides and those herbicides were generally more damaging to the environment."

That statement is true. Glyphosate is such an effective herbicide, systemically killing both grasses and broadleaf weeds (including their roots) that tank mixing multiple herbicides or making multiple passes with different herbicides is no longer necessary. Glyphosate is also easier on the environment than most other herbicides and causes less stress to the crop intended to protect, than other herbicides.

I'd be interested to see the research that GMO crops increase pesticide use by 20%. If it comes from Mother Earth News, I would caution accepting their conclusions without question. Like some other groups, they have been known to hen peck from studies, bits and pieces that support the philosophy of most their membership, taking the conclusions farther than the researchers of the studies themselves.

Re: Your comment on global food shortage, I think that's hard to say whether one currently exists or not. Certainly in wealthy industrialized nations there isn't a shortage of food, but there is in poorer nations. On a world basis, I don't know. I'm not even certain what minimum level of calories is required before someone is considered "short of food". I know most people don't like to be hungry (and no children should have to be in my opinon).

For those clearly short of food, I don't think it's merely a distribution problem. It's a poverty problem. For the most part, basic food stuff prices are determined on a world market. Modern technologies like GMO reduce the cost of food on a world scale, ultimately making it more abundant or affordable for lower income nations.

Even if the world currently grows enough food, my point is that with the population expected to increase by 20% by 2050, we will need to increase the food supply 20% to maintain current standards.

"Can we also agree that the many problems inherent in modern agricultural practices (mono-cropping, reduction of beneficial insects with pesticides, destruction of soil structure with heavy equipment and petrochemical fertilizers..."

No I wouldn't necessarily agree with that, but will perhaps save most of my comments in that regard for another thread or post.

I would point out that destruction of soil structure by heavy equipment (i.e. tractors) and the use of pesticides (i.e. herbicide) are not mutually exclusive as your statement suggests. Generally speaking weeds are either controlled with herbicides or cultivation (which not only destroys soil structure, but increases erosion). I tend to think herbicide is the better choice of the two.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 5:38PM
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Olpea, I think you have some fair points insofar as your dichotomy holds, but I don't think the dichotomy you suggest between conventional tillage and herbicides really has that much basis in reality. What percentage of the corn crop (our most planted field crop), for instance, is even used for food (as opposed to fuel or feed or other non-food uses)? Is it even 10%? And how much of that goes to sodas, and what's the nutritional value of a soda? Instead of contrasting conventional tillage with herbicides we might contrast small, labor-intensive farms with lots more grass/pasture (replacing most of those feed crops) that doesn't hardly require any heavy equipment OR herbicides at all -- pasture, after all, makes a lot more sense on the kind of farms that can't/aren't using all the high tech inputs -- farmed by families that eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and live much more food secure because they're living closer to the land, on the one hand, with high tech farming totally dependent on diminishing fossil fuels that are meanwhile shooting up in price and leading to food insecurity and serious nutrition problems (caused by, for one example, drinks made from corn syrup) in concentrated urban populations that are so disconnected from the land and ignorant of land use issues that they're practically incapable of supporting good stewardship of the land and so they live by supporting every unsustainable shortcut in land (and water, etc.) use that money can buy and are so energy hungry in the process (commuting to their office jobs and big box stores, shipping their food across the country, engaging in fuel-intensive recreation to escape their lives, etc.) that they wind up using more of their corn crop for fuel than any other use.

And I think the PR campaign suggesting that "no-till", round-up ready crops prevent erosion is hogwash. If you're comparing conventional tillage to herbicide-intensive "no-till" on the same land, then there would be some truth to the claim, but as with the false dichotomy above that's not what happens in the real world. In the real world chemicals (and GMO crops) replace labor, which means bigger and bigger farms, so what really happens with GMO's, etc., is that you get farmers growing on an ever increasing scale, taking out fence rows and grass and other "obstacles" that naturally slow down the flow of water and prevent erosion, row cropping highly erodible hillsides and ground that wasn't row cropped at all before "no-till", and farming far too many acres -- most of which are leased and so the farmer doesn't really have a long-term interest in their fertility, and he's not farming in a way that his children are likely to want to continue anyway, even if they could manage the debt through a generational transfer -- to pay close attention to where particular problems are happening.

I had a Soil and Water Conservation guy come out to my place last year, and he said the gully through the woods on my property was caused by farming practices uphill that led to rapid run-off, and that gullies like that just didn't happen before large acreage row cropping. In other words, there's erosion in my woods, because most of the ground above my woods is one big field of conventional crop land (mostly GMO corn and "no-till" small grain). Not only has it caused erosion problems downhill, but I've collected nearly 10" of eroded soil deposited in the grass across the fence line in just one big storm from the neighbor's "no-till" field, so there are clearly very serious erosion problems on that land, too. I doubt he even knows about the problem, though, because no one is even in the field except 6 or 8 times per year and then only in the cockpit of some big, fast-moving machine, and more often than not that person is working on a contract basis, often as the employees of farm service companies. In short, it's the opposite of care, and a big part of why, in the real world, herbicides increase erosion.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 9:08PM
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All I ask for is full disclosure. Let the buyer beware. Organic growers need to document that they are truly organic - why can't "conventional" growers list out the pesticides/chemicals they use? Let the consumer vote with their dollars.

The PLU codes on stickers of GMO fresh produce will start with the number "8", but there is no way to know with a box of corn flakes or corn meal. I've seen many a papaya from Hawaii that did not have an "8" on the sticker (they are all GMO). Go figure.

It's a rigged game -- we need to demand equal transparency/disclosure for all products be they organic, GMO or conventionally grown. Who do you think would win in the market place if full disclosure were required across the board?

    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 11:55PM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

I was reading what Billy Meier, [new Prophet] had to say on GM, ...it's here to stay for the better,..

From Billy
This development truly cannot be repressed, although many sectarians, pseudo-humanists, pseudo-seers and -thinkers continue to rebel against it today, as they stupidly holler against this progress and invent laws to prohibit it.

: But how can this be reconciled with the
technological and medical progress human beings are
making? I am speaking here of
genetic technology, for instance,
as well as genetic therapy,
genetic medicine, genetic adjustments and genetic
manipulations and so forth. As part of this
progress, I would include also the creation of a bionic man, clones and human-genetic
modifications, even though many of these items are
still in their early stages of development.

: An immutable law states that progress cannot
be stopped regardless of
all the degeneration
and destruction. At some point along the way, stagnation will occur; but progress will
continue until that time and then taper off very slowly.
: Yet all of the things I mentioned before will
continue to be developed or may be even newly
discovered and augmented until perfection, so to
speak, or the highest possible status has been
achieved. This will occur in spite of all obstructions and bans, concerns and the screeching of
some individuals who wish to obstruct progress, particularly however the sectarians and
government agencies. According to them, all of this is against nature and all ethics, and it is
blasphemous beyond compare �" which is total nonsense, of course. In my opinion, and
judging from everything I have learned from yo
u people, the entire development related to
genetic sciences, gene manipulation, genetic
modifications, genetic interference, genetic
transformations, genetic medicine, gene technology as a whole, cannot be stopped. After all, it
is an inevitable result of evolution. Therefore, the whole genetic technology will make its
breakthrough in spite of some opposition. In fact, for the time being, breakthroughs won't be
repressed in any sector of life, even though, so
me day, it may come into play. In the future

Man will create genetically manipulated clones and artificial humans, such as androids, who
will be equipped with a half-machine, half-bionic body and an artificial, biological brain. This
will be done in the same way that human beings are genetically modified. Doubtless to say,
humans will soon live very much longer, possibly even for centuries, through genetic manipulations and influences. Likewise, genetic modifications will be performed on animals,
plants, food items, medicine and so forth. This development truly cannot be repressed, although many sectarians, pseudo-humanists, pseudo-seers and -thinkers continue to rebel
against it today, as they stupidly holler against this progress and invent laws to prohibit it.
Such laws are wrong even today, and individuals who fight for them are acting irresponsibly.
Fighting against progress is only appropriate when there are actions against Creational laws
through genetic manipulations, as is the case when life is destroyed or propelled toward
degeneration in behavior, actions or living. Genetic technology makes possible freedom from
suffering and illness. It also brings innumerable advantages, relief and an immeasurable
progress that is capable of preventing any further increase in overpopulation. It causes much
suffering and misery to disappear as long as this
development is accorded the required space
and necessary understanding.
: Your words are in total accord with my own views.
: Many people concern themselves with this subject, but many others are of the silly and
uneducated opinion that everything
is pure fantasy. It has always
been like this since olden
days, which is the reason why Jules Verne and
Leonardo da Vinci and many others have been
defamed as charlatans and fantasists. The full
truth is, however, that there is absolutely
nothing that Man is capable of
inventing, dreaming, thinking and fantasizing which cannot be
realized. The reason is that Man
cannot think, fantasize, dream
or invent anything that cannot
be manufactured, realized or produced, respectively. Anything Man thinks, invents, dreams or
fantasizes, can be realized or
effected, one way or another,
technically or by way of the
consciousness. Hence, there is
nothing in the entire Universe
that Man cannot effect or
produce once he has invented, thought, fantasized or dreamed up something. The only things
he cannot realize, produce
or achieve are maniacal ideations, such as those religious manias or fanaticism or illusions for instance, that impair
the consciousness of individuals afflicted with
the mania as maniacal ideations and illusions.

: You have expressed yours
elf very appropriately.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 1:26AM
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Konrad raises another question with the alleged "inevitability" of GMO's. Whether and to what degree it will happen or not doesn't mean we should be glad for it, accept it, support it, or rush toward it, but that's often implicit in the arguments of GMO's proponents and foolishly so. There are highly "effective" (narrowly understood as is typically the case with the proponents of high tech) technologies with which mankind has shown considerable restraint, so varying degrees of restraint are certainly options. Nuclear weapons and chemical weapons are two such examples of technologies that are highly effective at accomplishing their superficial goals but that mankind has mostly kept itself from using. Much of the world is doing likewise with GMO's. Slavery, although not a technology, has close parallels as well. That in itself doesn't make GMO's good or bad, but it makes the choice for or against GMO's real. And, most significant, each of us can choose what to grow and what to eat. To MrClint's point, some options (esp. processed foods like Corn Flakes) don't come with non-GMO options. Obviously the market for products made from crops that have already been genetically modified is a lot larger in the US than the market for non-GMO alternatives. Sure, there are going to be more and easier options for consumers in larger market segments. Personally, I'm quite content assuming that everything that doesn't give me good reason to believe otherwise comes from the bottom of the barrel. In other words, assume the worst, buyer beware. Lots of consumers might prefer non-GMO but not enough to sacrifice the ease and the options. But for those willing to pay the full cost of an alternative to the GMO mainstream (which is only the mainstream for 8 crop species so far), there are definitely choices, and the more of us make those choices the more our agriculture will reflect it. That's what's inevitable.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 8:13AM
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The finding that GM crops increase overall pesticide/herbicide use comes from a Washington State University study, but I misquoted again, it found the increase in their use was 25%, not 20%. This was across the board with the big three GM crops: corn, soy, and cotton.

Roundup may be a lesser evil, but is still linked to a number of maladies, including cancer.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 10:22AM
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One must also be careful in reading some of those reports.

When it says there is a link between two things, it does not necissarily mean that one causes the other. One only has to look up to see if drinking alcohol is good or bad for you and you'll find studies saying there are link both ways.

You also have to be very careful about biased reporting. One will often times see it claimed that X causes Y and that it has been shown in clinical tests, only to find out the dosage required before any symptoms show up is far beyond what any normal person would ever consume in their lifetime.

For example, look up "popcorn lung". Its been shown that the butter flavoring used in popcorn can cause lung damage, but it requires massive exposure over long periods of time (aka people working in popcorn factories that breath the stuff day in day out for years at a time).

You also have to watch out for studies that are biased in showing that these things like GMO cause Condition X and imply that it is because of the genetic modifications when in reality consuming the same amount of the non-modified substance causes the same effects.

One has to be *EXTREMELY* careful when casually reading these sorts of things. People with agendas on both sides will spin findings to support their own side, and even when they are not outright lying to do so they will often intentionally set the information up in such a way to get the reader to jump to the wrong conclusion.

A good non-food example, there is a statistic often thrown around by people that claim chemotherapy does more harm than it does good, that chemo has only been shown to be effective 2% of the time and cite a study that says exactly that. However, when you go and read the actual study, you find out that it was a study for the effectiveness of chemo in cancers that chemo specifically is not designed to be effective against. Chemo works best for cancers of the blood and lymph systems, the study was on solid tumors. While the study itself was 100% honest and entirely right that chemo was of little use in those very specific conditions, it has been widely taken out of context and applied in general.

Never trust a "finding" given out by a group with an obvious bias. A respectable source of information is not going to be telling you that all GMO is evil and is going to kill you and then site studies that support that viewpoint, they will show you the studies and point out there may be some correlation.

You want to get to the science at the bottom, and science does not use emotional pleas or try to scare you. Science just deals in cold hard facts.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 11:56AM
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Edymnion, we should also be EXTREMELY careful about claiming that GMOs are going to save the world, just as you are so careful about biased reporting.

The claims of big agriculture, tied to the fortunes of companies like Monsanto are going to be way more biased about this stuff than an independently researched article in Mother Earth News!

Finally: If GMOs are so harmless and such a wonderful thing, why doesn't Monsanto (and every other huge food/drug corporation) want them to be labeled in the store? Because they know that people will start wondering about their safety and find the documented evidence of their risks. That is why Monsanto spent $9 Billion to shoot down the labeling legislation in California. It's all about keeping Americans ignorant, so companies can continue making their fortunes without a worry about as to the risks. Genetic engineering perhaps has its place, but right now is not being used for good.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 2:01PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

"What percentage of the corn crop (our most planted field crop), for instance, is even used for food (as opposed to fuel or feed or other non-food uses)? Is it even 10%"


I'll address your question, but keep in mind we are not just talking about corn. According to ISAAA, worldwide 81% of soybeans, 64% of cotton, 29% of corn, and 23% of canola are from GM seed.

As to corn, on a global basis about 15% goes to fuel. Although the residue (distillers dried grains) is sold for animal feed, I have general concerns about growing food for fuel. 85% of the corn is eaten by humans in one form or another.

Generally opponents of modern farming don't count row crops grown for animals as a legitimate food source. I assume you take the same view. In that regard, I don't know what percentage of worldwide corn production is used for animal feed. In the U.S. it's somewhat less than 50%. In the rest of the world I assume a larger percentage of corn is directly consumed by people. Unlike the U.S., many third world nations use corn as a main staple of their diet.

"Instead of contrasting conventional tillage with herbicides we might contrast small, labor-intensive farms with lots more grass/pasture (replacing most of those feed crops) that doesn't hardly require any heavy equipment OR herbicides at all"

Yours is a common argument and there's a lot to unpack in there.

First let me state in general, there's a vision by many, of millions of small farms across the country growing organic crops, using companion planting, organic fertilizer, harvesting a bounty of fresh produce to feed the masses, all the while living in complete harmony with mother nature. Unfortunately, this vision cannot exist given the constraints of the world we live in.

I think this vision comes largely from people who have little experience in farming, but a lot of experience in gardening. They think that farming is simply gardening on a larger scale. But this is not so. Rarely do gardeners grow all the food they eat, or garden for a living, or even consider if they could garden for a living.

Sometimes organic/environmental groups will hold up a few farms as small scale high labor organic operations that have had some success. But what these groups really do is carefully "scan" the whole panalopy of data looking for a few exceptions and claim we can scale our whole agricultural model likewise. If you look at those exceptions, they are generally in dessert type climates (for fruits) and are forced to charge double and sometimes triple the going market price to make a living. It's really a model to grow food for only the wealthiest of people. This can be easily verified by anyone who has purchased "grass fed beef", or "range fed" chickens (I'll note even range fed chickens, as well as pigs, are fed corn and benefit from high tech, monoculture, polluting, fossil fuel guzzling farmers.) This visionary model did exist somewhat at one time, when 50% of the population was farming (in 1880).

I'm not at all against small farms. I have one myself from which I sell fruit at roadside and farmer's markets. But I have no illusion that the farm model I use could be used to feed the world. My labor intensive farm forces me to charge about double ($2/lb.) for the same fruit that is mass produced for the grocery stores (and I'm not getting rich doing it). Like most people who sell at a farmer's market, it's a niche market where my customers know they are paying double the price but also know the same quality can't be found at the grocer. Even then, my product is not organic and fairly monoculture.

One underlying, almost subconscious, assumption in the vision for an idealistic farm is that labor really isn't important when it comes to farming. That may have been true in 1880 , but the population has increased multi fold since then, people expect a higher standard of living, people are living longer and a larger percentage of their lives is spent in older years forced to depend on others for their food. Food production has had to become more efficient to meet those needs. Currently 1% of the American population is directly involved in farming. Shifting back to a labor intensive model not only would make food completely unfordable for all but the wealthiest, it would also essentially redirect much of the labor for all the other professions humans consider worthwhile (construction of houses/roads, medicine, automotive, etc.) Adopting a farm model from the 1880s would have correspondence to a standard of living from that era.

I understand you detest our current farm model, but I'll note that developing nations are rapidly trying to adopt it because it feeds people, even as well fed wealthy Americans (by world standards) want to reject it (wealthy and well fed precisely because only 1% of our population is required to farm, leaving vast amounts of labor to produce other goods and services).

This post is getting awful long, but I'll address a couple more arguments.

"And I think the PR campaign suggesting that "no-till", round-up ready crops prevent erosion is hogwash."

In the 1990s, I owned a 125 acre farm. My occupation was a pig farmer, so I wasn't interested in crop farming the land. Of the 125 acres, about 80 were "cropable". I could not have crop farmed the land if I'd wanted to. By the time I bought the "heavy" equipment to farm with, I would have never been able to pay for it with only 80 acres. Yes I could have run cattle on it, but I would have had to hire more labor for that and in the end probably would not have made any money that way either.

The when I bought the farm, it was being farmed with conventional tillage. I knew the drawbacks of conventional tillage - erosion, soil structure depletion, etc. and chose a farmer who had no till equipment to farm the land. My neighbor, had a farm or similar size and he continued with conventional tillage. Even after 5 years, the difference in soil was noticeable. His soil became more depleted, while ours improved.

I understand your suggestion that we could switch all crop ground to feeding beef cattle, but it would require a lot more labor and land resources, again making the price of beef much more expensive and less of it. Here we could do with less beef consumption, but in the rest of the world they eat more grains directly for food. Chicken and pig diets still require heavy supplementation of feed grains. The bottom line is that more of the world will need to adopt industrial agriculture to feed itself in the future.

I'll admit mechanized, fuel consuming, fertilizer and pesticide using modern farming is not tenable long term, but neither is an ever expanding population of billions of people. The two are inextricably tied together.

I would like to see the Washington study that purports GMO's increase herbicide use. If they are comparing conventional tillage of running a field cultivator up and down the rows several times vs. GMOs, then yeah conventional tillage will use less pesticides, but the imminent soil erosion and depletion is not worth the trade in my opinion.

Below are some quotes from Kansas State University well documented fact sheet (my alma mater).

"Other benefits [of GMOs] include increased productivity, cost reduction and environmental benefits through reduction in the use of conventional pesticides (James, 1998)"

"A survey of farmers in the U.S. found the top two reasons for adoption of both herbicide- and insect-resistant crops were increased yields through improved pest control, and decreased pesticide input costs (USDA, 1999)."

"Chemical inputs are usually still required on herbicide-resistant crops, however, they are used at a lower application rate, require fewer applications, and are more benign than traditional herbicides (USDA, 1999)"

"Internationally, an Irish study on herbicide-resistant sugar beets reported a 60-70 per cent reduction in active herbicide elements (Burke, 1998)"

The fact sheet goes on to say why some of the studies suggesting an increased use of pesticides from GMOs are flawed. I posted the link below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Genetically Engineered Crops and Reduced Pesticide Use

This post was edited by olpea on Fri, Mar 1, 13 at 23:55

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 2:13PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

"Finally: If GMOs are so harmless and such a wonderful thing, why doesn't Monsanto (and every other huge food/drug corporation) want them to be labeled in the store?"


Again I agree GMOs are not a panacea, but it's not surprising Monsanto is opposed to labeling. GMOs already have such a negative perception (as evidenced by comments on this thread) and for those that no nothing about it, think how weird it sounds to eat something labeled "Genetically Modified". They would probably think they are eating Soylent Green.

Manufacturers are naturally opposed to using package space to negatively influence its purchase. It would be the equivalent of asking lumber companies to stamp on their lumber how many trees were cut down to make a bundle. They are not going to willingly do it.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 2:25PM
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If GMOs are so harmless and such a wonderful thing, why doesn't Monsanto (and every other huge food/drug corporation) want them to be labeled in the store?

Because there is currently such a vehement smear campaign against GMOs aimed at people that generally demonstrate little to no understanding of the actual science behind them?

Good example, remember a few years back when that woman claims she found a severed finger in her bowl of Taco Bell chili? It wasn't true, she was convicted of fraud for it, but Taco Bell still took a big hit that year because everybody heard it and didn't bother to think about it and just assumed whatever horrible things were put in front of them must be true.

The loudest GMO opponents are out there making signs of fish made out of corn to protest GMO salmon as if it were some fish/plant monster hybrid. Why do they do things like that? Follow the money. The biggest opponent to GMO salmon isn't a health group, its the Alaska wild salmon fishing companies. They are afraid that GMO farm raised salmon (that grow twice as fast as the wild, slow growing salmon) would be a threat to their business, so they start a smear campaign.

It has happened repeatedly through history. Do you know why marijuana is illegal in the US? It was grown as hemp for everything from lamp oil to clothes to cheap durable paper, so why did it suddenly become illegal? Because a lumber and an oil tycoon couldn't compete with it (hemp paper was cheaper to make and higher quality than wood pulp paper, the US Constitution is even written on hemp paper), so they started a smear campaign saying Mexican immigrants (a hot button issue at the time, more so than it is now) smoked it and raped all the white women and just go crazy. They also made sure to refer to it only as marijuana and not hemp to temper public opinion against it without making it easy for them to see what was actually going on. The stuff is illegal to this day.

The producers don't want it labeled as GMO not because they're afraid of honest discourse on the subject, they're afraid because their competitors have launched horrible smear campaigns and mass fear mongering to turn the public against it without letting them see both sides and form their own opinion, and they know the general public won't give it a fair chance because of it.

All I ask for is full disclosure.

I agree. On both sides. I would like to see full disclosure as to who is paying for both sides of the debate. I think you would be surprised to find out how little of all of this has to do with the actual dangers or benefits of GMO, and how much it has to do with established companies being afraid of competition.

This post was edited by Edymnion on Fri, Mar 1, 13 at 19:50

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 7:44PM
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Olpea, I appreciate your comments. I think you have a reasonable and intelligent argument, and I think you draw out some notable shortcomings (dirty secrets) of the whole organic crowd, but I also think you're stretching your case well beyond GMO's versus non-GMO and the related question of "no-till" versus its alternatives.

As to what percentage of the corn crop goes to feed people in one way or another, I think global numbers miss the point, particularly in a discussion about GMO's when most other countries aren't growing GMO corn (and given that corn plays very different roles in different countries.) Yes, other crops certainly matter, but corn is our most significant field crop, and so it's a good case study for the US. More of the US crop is used for ethanol than for any other purpose. Yes, the second leading use (appoximately one-third) is animal feed, and animal products certainly "count" as food, but we could enjoy a whole lot of animal products (granted, not the exact same ones in the same proportions, but certainly much more than just beef) with just a small fraction of that acreage in annual crops. In any case, the percentage of the US corn crop that Americans use directly for food -- that's not discounting animal products, only discounting the need for corn or other annual crops to raise animals -- is in the 10% range, and I believe corn syrup is the leading share of that. My point is that, given what poor and marginal uses we're finding for our corn crop now (and the erosion and all the other problems that come with it), the argument that we need GMO's so we can have *more* is awfully weak.

You're right to talk about labor issues and the trade-offs involved there. GMO's are much more about "labor-saving" than increasing yields. There's very little yield (or soil erosion) difference between modern herbicide-intensive, synthetic fertilizer-intensive non-GMO farming and GMO farming. In fact, European countries that grow non-GMO crops in highly chemical-/input-intensive ways (because they want to get the most out of their more expensive land) typically achieve higher yields than American farmers with more fertile land. My point is that other factors are much more important than GMO's with regards to yield. What GMO's really do is "save labor" (which is a terrible euphemism), leading to all the problems I briefly outlined already.

Insofar as any of us lives closer to the land from relatively smaller farms in ways that require less fuel consumption than our present hyper-industrialized model any of us can probably save enough energy to do without the otherwise leading share (ethanol) of our corn crop. If we additionally cut way back on the corn syrup drinks, then we'd surely free up enough additional pasture to produce just as many calories of animal products and probably even more (which we're probably over-consuming in America anyway, especially meat), which would be worlds more sustainable than our present agriculture, in terms of pesticide dependency, heavy machinery and fossil fuel dependency, in terms of soil erosion, fertilizer run-off and water pollution issues, etc., etc. If we really want our children and grandchildren, etc. to be able to eat, we can well afford to do without GMO's, but we won't be able to afford the continued and escalating costs of GMO agriculture. Yes, there will be a very real labor cost (that the organic crowd grossly misrepresents), but that's the real cost of continuing to "feed the world."

This post was edited by cousinfloyd on Fri, Mar 1, 13 at 22:16

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 9:32PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)


I think we may agree regarding the bottom line of corn. We certainly agree about soft drinks (although in the interest of full disclosure, I drink more soda than I should).

Since we are discussing U.S. corn, I went to the National Corn Growers Website to get the actual stats. which ultimately come from the USDA.

In 2011, 27.3% of U.S. corn went to fuel, 48.5% is fed to livestock (this figure includes 12.2% of dried distillers grain), 13% is exported, 4.1% is high fructose corn syrup, and 7.1% misc. (i.e. cereal, starch, seed, etc.) See link below.

In terms of the breakdown of corn used for feed, 29% is fed to beef cattle, 29% for poultry (broilers and laying hens), 24% to hogs, 16% to dairy cattle and 2% to other livestock (2000 stats.)

I mention the animal feed breakdown because only feeder cattle can be raised without any annual feed grains (Dairy cattle can produce on alfalfa, but it's a fairly intensive crop, even though it's a perennial.)

All that is to say we do consume a fair bit of corn for food in the U.S. and we'd still need a sizable amount even if we pastured all feeder cattle. As I'd aside I'll mention Americans don't eat all the meat we produce, since we are net exporters of animal meat.

All that said, I agree that GMO corn doesn't substantially help to feed people. I suspect elimination of GM corn would not have a large impact on yield. Non-GM corn seed has the potential to yield just as good or better than GM corn if carefully managed. The real benefit is a reduction in pesticides or a reduction in tillage with a corresponding reduction in fuel consumption and improved soil conservation.

Of course we are just focusing on corn. There are other crops in which yields have substantially benefited from GMO. As the technology moves forward, I expect higher yields in more food crops.

I agree we could do w/ less meat consumption in the U.S. I also don't support using corn for fuel. Furthermore, I think we should eliminate all farm subsidies (not that they are huge, but they are significant). Row crop farmers don't need them and there is no reason taxpayers should have to pay them. It's an issue near to my heart. When I was a pig farmer I worked at least 60 hrs./week for years and never received subsidies. Row crop farmers work hardly at all (except during planting and harvest) are some of the wealthiest people in America and still receive government payments. Ridiculous.

Here is a link that might be useful: 2012 World of Corn NCGA

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 11:42PM
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Olpea, thanks for the numbers. Here's something else. This is the kind of story I was taking as fact. I wonder if the difference is how the numbers are calculated (i.e. if that 12.2% could be counted as ethanol, which if subtracted from feed and added to ethanol would make the difference), or if the Corn Growers numbers pre-date the change in leading use, or both.

Quote from NPR story from April 2012:

Last year, for the first time ever, more corn in this country was used to make ethanol than to make livestock feed.

University of Missouri agricultural economist Ron Plain says that's an incredible change.

"Ten years ago, we were using about eight times as much corn to feed livestock and poultry as we were to make ethanol. And now we're using more corn to make ethanol. So it's a dramatic change," he says.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 6:55AM
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Olpea, eliminating corn subsidies sounds like a good idea to me, but I wonder if they're really benefiting corn farmers, or if they're just causing the price of corn to go artificially low and therefore causing us to use even more corn than the market would otherwise demand. Anytime there's a shift, I'm sure there are winners and losers, and to be sure corn farmers are very wealthy (the ones that have survived anyways -- I'm sure we had a whole lot more corn farmers 30 years ago than we do now), but it's still a competitive (lowest price sells) market, and it would seem that the main effect of giving corn farmers subsidies would be to just push prices down. I'm sure it's not that simple, though.

As far as how much feed corn goes to what animals and how grain-dependent those animals are, the first thing I'd note is that those numbers are based on cheap corn and discounting the long-term costs (erosion, etc.) of corn. If we did away with the subsidies and took more of those costs into account, we would surely eat differently. If you take chicken as a "meat," for example, I would guess Americans eat at least 10 times as much chicken as we would have 150 years ago (in absolute numbers or even as a percent of total meat and poultry calories.) I think the reason we assume we should eat so much chicken is because as long as any of us has been alive, what we eat has been influenced by cheap corn policies and farming practices, and if you're trying to make food out of corn, chickens make a lot of sense. On the other hand, some traditional farm animals that have all but disappeared from the American diet -- I think largely because they make better foragers than confinement corn eaters -- are sheep, goats, domestic geese, ducks... Of course, most Americans wouldn't think of eating those animals any more, but I'm fully convinced the reason for that is simply the unfamiliarity that comes from a society and agricultural model built for a long time now around unhealthy, over-production of annual field crops (and corn, in particular.) Despite our prejudices, it's certainly not the case that people that have been accustomed to eating goat meat are happy to give it up once they arrive here in the land of cheap beef, etc. My point is that our eating preferences have grown out of our farming practices, and that there's plenty of potential to slowly change these things at the margins.

Even our cattle and especially dairy cattle, which traditionally wouldn't have eaten much (if any) grain at all, have been bred for optimal performance on diets of mostly grain and silage. I keep a couple modern-type Jersey cows, and I haven't fed anything but forage and hay (and some insignificant garden scraps) to them for the last few years, so I know it's possible to keep even higher needs dairy cattle on a diet free of grain crops, and that's despite 50-100 years of breeding working in the other direction. I hear about New Zealand (which, incidentally, is practically free of market distorting farm subsidies) doing a lot already even in the global dairy market with heavily grass-based dairy cattle. Again, I think there's lots of potential to make big changes over time.

I think it's something of an exaggeration to say that only cattle (of the animals you listed) can be raised without annual feed grains. I worked on a relatively small but commercial, commodity market hog farm for a couple summers that raised about 300 hogs farrow to finish every year on nothing but restaurant scraps and stale bread from bakeries cooked up in a big cauldron of cheese making whey. (Of course, annual feed grains go into those products, but they're not grown to feed animals.) There's a very substantial potential for that kind of pork production from what's mostly just a waste liability now.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 7:59AM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

" I wonder if the difference is how the numbers are calculated (i.e. if that 12.2% could be counted as ethanol"


Yes that's right. What the NGCA numbers mean is that the 12.2% dried distillers grain was first used to make alcohol and the byproduct was then sold as feed, so it can be classified either way, being used for feed and ethanol. Ron Plain is counting the 12% toward alcohol (fuel). Perhaps for our discussion we could split the difference, say 6% for feed and 6% for ethanol. That would make corn breakdown 33% fuel and 42% feed.

I do think corn subsidies benefit corn farmers, although I have trouble using the word "benefit" since the word implies there is a need (again these subsidies go to some of the wealthiest people in America). Direct U.S. government payments to corn farmers are currently about 5 bil. Total U.S. corn production is 12.3 bil. bu., so on a bushel basis the subsidy is about 40 cents which isn't a lot. On top of that, the price of corn is figured on a world basis (since it's a global commodity) and the U.S. produces roughly one quarter of the world's corn (27%). I'm guessing U.S. subsidies lower the global price about 10 cents/bu.

Of course that doesn't count other developed nations who also subsidize their farmers, nor does it count the ethanol subsidies. I'm guessing if you combined all the subsidies, taxpayers worldwide probably subsidize corn anywhere from $.50 to $1 per bu. U.S. ethanol subsidies were finally allowed to expire in 2012 (long overdue IMO).

All that's to say I don't think subsidies (as much as I think they should end) have much to do with our corn production. It's really more to do with the efficiency in labor and land, and of course abundant fossil fuels.

Regarding land efficiency, I've no doubt more efficient cattle (both beef and dairy) can be developed for range grazing, but I don't think the system will ever be as productive on a meat/milk per acre basis as feeding corn. Corn is so energy dense and so much can be produced per acre (about 150 bu./acre - over 4 tons - for the national average) that regardless of how efficient cattle could be bred at foraging, they will never be able to forage the amount of calories that can be grown on an acre of corn.

I'd love to have some of the raw milk from your cows (I grew up on it) but I'm sure the lbs. of milk your cows produce from grass is nowhere near the industry standard. And it takes more land to produce that milk vs. cows supplemented with feed grain.

Again our model is dependent on abundant fossil fuels, as is just about every aspect of society.

I think row crops can be grown without destroying soil. When I first owned the 125 acre farm, corn yields were about 150bu./acre and 40 bu. beans. I still talk to the person who owns the farm now and he says yields are closer to 200 bu. for corn on the land now. It's not a completely fair comparison, because the ground is fertilized with hog manure, but It's been documented that leaving crop residue on top of the soil (not plowing it under) actually builds soil. It takes a lot of horsepower and fuel to turn soil over, and it's not good for the soil. Of course herbicides are required for no-till.

I agree we eat more meat than we should. It's probably more a result of our wealth in general. Wealthy nations "eat like kings" as the saying goes. In terms of the types of meat, I don't think that's changed much. Geese, sheep and goats have never been a major food source in America (not that they couldn't be).

The ratio of corn fed to livestock hasn't changed that much either (at least in the last 50 years). In 1960, 40% of corn went to hogs, 20% to poultry, 30% to cattle (beef and diary) and 10% to other livestock (probably horses mostly, since they were more common on a farm 50 years ago). See link below.

Pigs can be produced on restaurant scraps, but it's never been a significant amount and never could be. There's just not enough scraps to go around. Years ago, farmers used to feed their hogs table scraps but it doesn't happen anymore. Experts discouraged it because of trichinosis. I'm sure you know what it is, but for others, it's a very nasty disease caused by eating severely undercooked pork that has been fed raw human garbage. That's why it's illegal to feed restaurant scraps to pigs unless it's been through a big cooker. In the 1990s only about 1% of pork was fed cooked garbage. I'm sure that number is less now. Packing plants are required to treat all hams for the parasite, even though it's pretty non-existent in modern pork production. In the U.S., there's only about 2 cases/year and those are mostly from wild game, or "backyard" hogs which are made into summer sausage. 140 degrees will kill the parasite.

We've kind of covered the gambit here, but it's been an interesting discussion. I hope someone else has found it as engaging as you and I.

Here is a link that might be useful: Uses of corn Iowa State University

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 11:14AM
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Olpea, I'm sure I'd very much enjoy the opportunity to pour you a glass of fresh milk sometime and visit with you. Come by if you're ever in the western Piedmont of NC.

Of course, you're right that I'm not (and not trying) to keep cows in a commercially viable way for any normal market, but consider New Zealand, a major dairy exporting country. Here's something I randomly found from the Ayrshire association of New Zealand:

"Over 90% of the New Zealand dairy industry is based on seasonal totally grass fed production. Whole herds are calved in spring and dried off at the beginning of winter. New Zealand's herds average around 230 days in milk.

"The average herd size in 1998 was 220 cows with herds of over 500 becoming common and an increasing number of farms milking over 1000 cows. As a result cows can have intensive grazing competition as well as long distances to walk each milking to and from the dairy. Because of these factors the average production yields of New Zealand dairy cows are generally lower than in countries where the feeding of meal and concentrates as well as year round milking is the normal practice.

"For New Zealand dairy farmers the production yields are offset by lower farm input costs, the main focus being the grazing of sufficient, good quality grass. Farm profit is often measured by EFS (Effective Farm Surplus), the dollar profit per hectare after farm costs have been paid. Milk payments are by a system of A + B - C per kilogram, fat + protein less a per litre deduction for volume to reflect cartage and manufacturing costs related to the handling of bulk milk."

If yield were the first priority, some of New Zealand's yield disadvantages could be mitigated by accepting higher labor costs (i.e. with smaller herds/farms they could get more yield per acre), but in any case highly grass-based farms are a price competitive model in today's market already, even despite all the short-lived advantages corn-based dairies currently gain from heavy fossil fuel inputs. As the price of petroleum/fossil fuels goes up, the advantage will only shift further toward the grass-based model. And it's certainly suspicious that a country without agricultural subsidies skewing the market is leading the way in grass-based dairying. Doesn't it make you wonder if our corn subsidies aren't the difference between corn-based dairying in America and grass-based dairying in New Zealand?

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 7:29AM
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I can't resist adding yet one more thought. Sure, the ratio of livestock hasn't changed much in the last 50 years, but I think it's an exaggeration to say that geese, sheep, and goats have never been a major meat source in America. In fact, I'd bet they were (at least together) much more significant than chicken for a time, sheep especially. Before some of the cotton processing inventions of the 1800's, sheep were even more significant, and surely a lot of meat would have gone along with that (unless asymmetrical colonial trade with England was skewing our consumption of sheep, in which case sheep and lamb/mutton would still have been a major part of the agricultural market we lived from.) Hogs and cattle seem to have always been significant meat sources for Americans, but weren't a lot of hogs raised primarily on forage for a long time and then rounded up about the end of acorn season? Surely they weren't primarily grain-fed animals in the 17th and 18th centuries? The other big non-grain fed meat source Americans would have enjoyed in substantial quantities up until the era of fossil fuels (which may be closing at the margins now) was wild game. Some of those potentials can be imitated in managed farm models. My point is simply that shifting away from corn (and annual grain feed crops) doesn't require that we eat the same animals in the same quantities and ratios, things which are always changing over time anyways.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 7:47AM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)


I see your point and agree with it to a degree. We don't have to eat the same animals we do now.

And yes, ultimately none of the domesticated animals we eat were fed grain, if you go back far enough.

Of course none of those range bred animals were as productive (on a per land basis) as grain fed animals, so again I don't think it's a model for feeding an expanding population on a shrinking land base. That's really been my central focus in this discussion.

That said, I don't think variety is a bad thing. There is a buffalo farm about mile and a half from my new peach planting. Of course buffalo don't need any grain, being native to the plains. It's my understanding buffalo is now somewhat popular with chefs because it has that "wild" flavor. The owner of the farm charges more for his buffalo than for the going price of beef. That's understandable to me, I can't imagine buffalo being very productive on a land basis, very thin and rangy looking with not much meat on their frame compared to cattle. They are really tough though, and I enjoy watching them as I drive by.

Likewise with hogs. I first started out in hogs in Arkansas (razorback country) before I moved to MO. If you look at pictures, razorbacks were aptly named. Not much meat on their frame.

These animals could theoretically be bred for improved gain from land foraging (In cattle, there is a trend out there to do that) but I can't see they'd ever be as efficient as grain fed animals on a land basis. Progress is not only being made for range fed animals, but also continuing to improve yields for corn. I once read corn yields will be over 200 bu/ac. as a national average before too long. For a long time, the NCGA has held an annual yield contest. For the top contestants, 300+ bu/ac. is not at all uncommon.

I am somewhat familiar with how hogs used to be raised a few generations past in AR (at least from what people told me). After the pigs were weaned, they would turn them out to forage in the forest. Then gather them back and feed them some grain before slaughter. I'm sure if you go back far enough, they didn't even feed them any grain.

Someone from down there once told me a story I found somewhat entertaining. You need to understand a lot of the forest down there is National forest with a good part of the remainder owned by lumber and paper companies (International Paper, Georgia Pacific, etc.)

People used to turn their hogs loose to forage in the National forest. At some point the the officials in charge decided they were not going to allow people to let their hogs forage in the National forest any more. They claimed the hogs were causing too much damage. (Something I've witnessed time again. Someone I knew once described the pig as having a "built in" pry bar for a nose, and goes around using it all the time.)

Anyway supposedly there was a meeting where the farmers in the area were called in and delivered the news that their hogs could no longer forage in the forest. One old timer studying his hands asked, "What are you going to do if they do?" The forest ranger responded, "Were going to shoot any hogs we see in the forest.?" The man looked up and said, "You won't see the hogs for the smoke."

You'd probably have to live in AR to get the humor, but it was a response delivered with a little "rebel pride". You typically wouldn't tell a forest ranger you're going to set his forest on fire.

Again I thank you for the discussion and I've learned something from it. At the beginning of our discussion, I started out thinking GM corn not only reduced pesticide use, but improved yields. While it does reduce pesticide use, I came across information (through our discussion) that it doesn't necessarily improve yields. This was very surprising to me because I've seen non Round Up ready crops severely stressed by herbicide use (yellowed leaves) after an application, whereas Round Up ready crops don't seem to show any stress at all from a glyphosate application. Timing of application is probably more critical for non Round Up ready crops, if crop stress is to be avoided. But apparently yields of both types of crops can be comparable.

There are food crops that do yield more with GMO technology and overall I think GMO technology is a good thing, but I think it's important to have thorough unbiased oversight assessing the risks, before any GM products are released.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 3:13PM
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