Monday, February 6, 2017

5 Misconceptions of My Son's Homework

4th Grade in our house has been nothing short of difficult!  Up until 4th grade school has been sort of a breeze.  This year though comes more challenging state test preparations, studying state history, more difficult spelling words and math problems that this mom is challenged by!  Oh and did I mention reading and vocabulary?  

The other night, I sat down with my 4th grader to observe and get a handle on what he is doing.  Since the beginning of 2017, our teacher has decided to implement a "homework" requirement that requires the students to log onto a specific website each night to log at least 20 minutes of commitment to math and 20 minutes to reading.  I do not have a problem with either of these expectations - if I knew I could get away with it, I would have him commit to more studying time.

This particular evening he went through his list of options to study while I was getting a start on our evening dinner.  He mutters under his breath, "oh no...", "you're not going to like this one, mom."  How offensive or boring could an article be?  So, I walk over to the laptop where he is sitting at the kitchen island.  Much to my horror, the title, "Genetically Modified Foods:  Are They OK?" (mind you, the subject he chose for his reading requirement this evening was Evaluating Arguments).  Just reading the title, I was angry and my young son knew the look of defeat on my face.

As a mom and consumer, who also happens to be a farmer, farmwife, "hired" hand, and jack of all trades I can relate to many other moms and consumers when it comes to the confusion of things that we are reading and seeing in our marketplace and now, in school homework assignments.  As I read through the article with him, trying to sort out what was being shared and trying to explain things along the way to him so that he could have a clear viewpoint on the argument, it struck me how much more challenging understanding these materials can be for those that don't have the luxury to have grown up around farming their entire lives.

There are many articles sharing lots of information that are floating around.  The waters become muddied with what is right and what is wrong.

Here are 5 things that I discovered to be misconceptions when I read this article of my son's homework:

FALSE:  ALL crops, grains, etc are GMO (this article specifically identified corn and wheat)...

TRUTH:  Firstly, wheat (no matter what wheat seed a farmer decides upon) has ZERO GMO traits!  Secondly, not all corn and soybeans have GMO traits. There are several traits that are available to us when we are making our seed choices. We have several corn and soybean options that do not have any GMO traits all - they are what we call Conventional seeds.  (More to come on this in a future post)

FALSE:  The US isn't keeping the population safe by encouraging the use of GMO products...

TRUTH:  GMO applications DO increase the safety of our food and water supply. With GMO access we are able to reduce our amount of pesticide and chemical use by a significant amount as the particular traits that can negatively impact our crop CAN been found and can be "shut off" so that the pest or weed can't impact the production of the plant. Less pesticides and less herbicides also equates to less volume of these types of products to run off into water sources and less environmental impacts overall.

FALSE:  GMO's alter the genetic code of plants and animals to produce a desired trait...

TRUTH:  Firstly, GMO's are not used to "alter" anything in animals, with the exception of one species, Salmon.  Secondly, GMO's do not produce a desired trait.  GMO's work within a trait that already exists and is "turned off" in order to make the plant less susceptible to disease, particular weeds, insects, etc.  As an example, one of the traits that we have chosen (depending on insect concern) is a corn trait that makes the plant resistant to the Corn Root worm bug...without the GMO application to identify this trait in the corn seed, we would be spraying 3-4 times as much pesticide on the crop in order to control the root worm from completely destroying our corn. WITH the GMO trait, we don't have to spray a pesticide application across the corn field because we've chosen a seed with a genetic trait that prevents the root worm from eating the plants. 

4.  FALSE:  "The fact is that most crops are sprayed with toxic chemicals to protect them from bugs and pests."  (These are the exact words of the author of the homework article).  Genetically modified organisms are designed to resist pesticides so the chemicals do not affect the plant.

TRUTH:  Toxic chemicals is a "skull and crossbones" definition.  The chemicals we are using on our farms today are substantially more safe than they were, say, 40 years ago.  Additionally, we are using less of these products than we have ever used for weed and pest management.  The GMO traits allow us to actually reduce the amount (or not use chemicals at all, in some cases) when there is risk for pest infestation or weed concern.  Without GMO, we could have complete crop loss in a year when specific weeds or insects have great impact on the crop. GMO protects our plants from these dangers.  On our farm, we don't make a blanket decision to spray for insects.  We monitor situations every year to determine infestation risk relative to the management decision whether or not to treat.

5.  FALSE:  Wildlife such as birds and insects are affected by the use of GMO's. 

Humans, birds and insects (unless the insect is a predator insect that we are specifically trying to target and prevent from being in our crops) are not affected by the "use" or science of GMO.  The GMO trait is IN the plant - it is NOT the chemical that may or may not be used to treat the crop.  GMO is a characteristic of the plant that changes it's DNA, or internal make up.  GMO is not going to change the DNA make up of the bird, the insect, or the human that eats it.  I like to think of it this way, if I eat a carrot, no matter if that carrot is organic, conventional, or GMO I will not become part carrot.  Such is the same for the bird, if the bird eats a kernel of corn or a bean from the pod, it is not going to become part corn or bean.  Nothing about us or the animal is changed internally.

GMO is an interesting topic, but it doesn't have to and shouldn't be scary. 

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