Why Farmers Take the “Non-GMO Project Verified” Label Personally

I’m a farmer that likes to leisurely scroll through Twitter a few times a day. A lot of my feed is fellow farmers sharing the things they are doing, reading & thinking. Earlier this month one popped up from a farmer in Manitoba. He was criticizing the move by a local cheese maker of his to paste the Non-GMO Project Verified label on some of their products.

It started up a conversation that I’ve seen a hundred times online. Should companies have the right to sell whatever products they want & market them however they want, in hopes of getting a premium price (although they don’t always admit it). Or, whether there should be more responsibility in what is safe in agriculture, and ensuring that a more expensive product isn’t trying to show-up its cheaper counterpart with buzz words or fear marketing.

I’ve been asked that same question many times over. A lot of times it comes from articles and tweets criticizing companies like Post Cereal, Minute Rice, Certified Humane, and several others.

But as I thought about it this time, I realized that it goes far beyond what I believe to be solid evidence and what a company thinks would help their sales numbers. I’ve decided the reason I get upset seeing the Non-GMO Label on items, or other fancy, feel-good phrases, is that I can’t help but take it personally.

You see I’ve committed myself to the same job that tens of thousands of other farmers have committed to as well. It is about pride of care, quality and constant betterment. But most of all, it’s about pride in the product that goes out of my driveway. I know my parents who farm here as well are proud of that, and I know my grandparents who farmed here were proud of that.

That means that I’m willing to back up everything that leaves this farm. Whether that’s a wagon full of soybeans, truck full of a corn, or tanker full of milk. All of it, I stand behind. The guilt would eat me alive, if I ever learned that one of the things from my farm hurt someone. It would make me seriously reconsider what I do for a living.

In fact, I believe in it so much, that I feed my kids regular milk, just like the milk we send off to go into bags and cartons. I look for Canadian canola oil that I’m confident has been grown using genetically modified seed in Western Canada (since it is a standard in the industry) and I actively set meat back down on the meat counter if it claims hormone or antibiotic free. Why? Because I know hundreds of other farmers from around the country that feel the same way I do, no matter what type of food they produce.

On the livestock side, farmers choose to give a sick animal an antibiotic to help it get healthy, and then wait a set number of days, weeks or months before sending it to market to ensure that none of the antibiotic residue is still there. After all, simply leaving an animal sick , without modern medicine just wouldn’t be the right thing to do. For hormones, only one animal in this country can use growth hormones, a beef animal. If a farmer chooses to do that, they’ve chosen to implant a small tic-tac sized pill under the animal’s ear several months before sending it to market, so that it will take less feed and less water to produce every pound of beef. That also means greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. (I’ve talked about these in more detail in the past, available here.)

Bottom line, I trust these tools that have been used for decades and I trust the farmers that use it.

As for the GMO debate, we too grow some GMO crops. If I didn’t, I’d have to cultivate my soil more often in order to reduce weeds from taking over a healthy food crop. I save hundred of litres of diesel fuel from burning with that move. Some then worry about pesticides being sprayed on GMO crops. Unfortunately for them, the fact is if we didn’t, weeds would strangle out some of the crop, insects would feast on what did grow, and fungal diseases would kill out what was left. Something is always trying to reduce the quality of the crop. We fight to protect it, and then we are proud of what we have to show for that year long fight. Plus, hundreds of organizations from the World Health Organization to the Food & Drug Administration to the Royal Society of Public Health agree that through the approval process that is in place to get GMO seeds to market, they are proving to be as safe as non-GMO seeds and do not pose a public health concern.

So where do the concerns used to justify these labels come from? Usually those concerns can be sourced right back to companies that are simply trying to sell you the alternative. Just Label It is sponsored by Whole Food, Stoneyfield Organics and dozens of others. Non-GMO Project Verified was started by two ‘Natural Food’ stores. Citizens for GMO Labelling is sponsored by companies like Amy’s & Deans Beans, again two that are happy to sell non-GMO products. They are building up their businesses, trying to make me and my family the bad guys – as we try to simply do what is best for our farm, the environment, our community, our family & our customers.

So does it get me upset when I see a claim that flies in the face of what’s be proven to be safe & effective? You bet it does. It’s a gut punch to this family farmer and thousands like me. Is today’s food system perfect? Of course it isn’t. That’s why we keep working to make it better, just as education curriculums, transportation safety or environmental standards are improved. We all want better. But how we did it 50 years ago isn’t better.

I hope you are proud of what you do for a living and the impact you have.

As a farmer, I know I am.

 

Andrew Campbell

Andrew is a dairy farmer in southern Ontario who also specializes in helping farmers learn about social media and advocacy. Once broadcasting farm news reports on the radio, he still likes to keep a close eye on news and issues relating to agriculture. Andrew is the owner of Fresh Air Media (http://www.thefreshair.ca), has a mild addiction to Twitter and believes the Brier & Scotties are the most important sporting events in the country. @FreshAirFarmer

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22 Comments

Wayne

The only thing I can say is Andrew you need to learn a lot more about the SOIL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Robert Wager

Hi Wayne. Can you please tell us your experience with soil management and what specifically you would do different from Andrew to improve the soil. Thanks

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Wayne

Well Robert ‘IF YOU HAVE HEALTHY SOIL” it goes a long way to reducing the amount of chemical you feel you have to use.
Please tell me why Health Canada had to raise the allowable limits of glyphosate on our FOOD? Just maybe you are using to much roundup on the grains you are selling!! How many farmers have died in the years following the introduction of pesticides? If you believe Big AG then ask them why they are so interested in SOIL HEALTH all of a sudden? Just maybe they have hit a road block that is hindering THEIR POCKET BOOKS!! Sorry I got carried away! Use cover crops to improve your soil!

Happy Trails

Many of you will hang on to the Chemical companies mantra for a long time after others have moved on and consider the health of the soil and the health people are intrinsically tied together. What’s interesting is there is no discussion about microbial health of the soil, soil organic matter and so on. Wake up the world of agriculture is changing and your sitting on the curb waiting for the same bus to come. It took a long time for some to accept that the world was not flat.

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Eric Bjerregaard

Nope, he clearly understands quite well. That is why he uses no till when practical.

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Nathan Macklin

I just sent the following email to Mr. Haney’s email address:
Dear Mr. Haney. I just read an opinion piece in your publication online titled “Why Farmers Take the Non-GMO Project Certified Label Personally”. While I understand this is an opinion piece and the author is entitled to his opinion, the article contains the following inaccurate and potentially libelous statement: “Unfortunately for them, the fact is almost every crop, whether it is a GMO or not, organic or not, livestock feed or human food, all gets sprayed with a pesticide.” As I’m sure you are aware the Organic regime in Canada and all countries with equivalency agreements is governed by a legislative framework which forbids chemical pesticides. Organic producers are also under the supervision of certification bodies which audit their operations yearly to ensure they are not using unapproved substances. This inaccurate information in effect does exactly what the author is bemoaning in the article, namely, misrepresenting the product that I and many other organic producers like me produce to those who don’t know better.

There is one other troubling aspect of this article which implies that the primary use of antibiotics in agriculture is for treatment of sick animals. The article appears to deliberately omit the fact that the vast majority of antibiotic use in agriculture is in confined feeding operations in general rations as a growth aid and/or preventative measure to animals that are not sick.

I ask that you publish a public correction on the first point and be more vigilant in the future in preventing misleading or inaccurate statements such as these being published on your platform. I am also forwarding this email to the “Organic Alberta” in the hopes that they can offer your organization with information and resources in the future should you require clarification on organic agriculture practices in Canada.

Thank you,

Nathan Macklin

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Food, Beverage, and Humane Animal Auditor

I work for a 3rd party certification body and pesticides ARE indeed permitted regardless of the label. Organic has just a shorter list. As for antibiotics, there is a proper withdrawal time needed before slaughter, which means it is out of the system. Be careful doesnt seem that you know all the rules yourself.

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Jen

Nathan, I think you are confusing the terms “chemical” and “synthetic”. These are not the same thing. “Natural” chemical pesticides are certainly permitted in organic agriculture. These natural chemicals do have toxicity profiles that sometimes require a safety assessment and approval. What is not allowed in organic agriculture is “synthetic” chemical pesticides. In my opinion I think it is very unfortunate that the organic industry takes this non scientific approach based on an ideology of only using natural substances, rather then making decisions to ban substances based on toxicity and actual risk (hazard x exposure). Certainly nature is not benign and we have used pesticides dating back before Christ (things like heavy metals and arsenic), that have toxic effects

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Stephen

Organic pesticides and herbicides are still often chemicals. Lots of the time whether an agent is organic or not just depends on the source. It could have the exact same active ingredient as a non organic agent produced a different way. A good example is BT toxin. Applying it one way is organic, the other non organic. Ironically the organic approach results in food with much much more BT than the non organic BT food.

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Stephen

You’re totally right about the antibiotics though. I messaged him about that too.

disqus_jNoY6uPqwL

Well said Andrew. But alas, I fear the general public will fight us to the bitter end even when the evidence shows them otherwise. Anyway, you and I will continue to farm with the same passion and pride that our forefathers had.

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Pinito Parra

Hi Andrew. Nice article. Andrew, I am new to all this. My question to you is how did farmers do it before pesticides? And was the average land size that was farmed during those non pesticide times? Thank you, and Happy New Year !

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Ian

I respect the angle on this article but many of our crops (wheat, barley, oats, flax, peas, fababeans, mustard and CL canola) are non-GMO. I get paid a premium for CL Canola because it’s non-GMO. Transgenic technology have allowed some wonderful new ideas to take root but cheap glyphosate for preburn and post harvest control as well as conservation tillage and VRA fert application have a lot to do with productivity increases. I think the farmers deserve more credit on implementing strategies than the companies developing patent genes.

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Stephen

We need streamlined GMO regulations. That way instead of having to grapple with 3-4 government agencies ag tech companies would only have to deal with one. This would save a load of money for the companies, that would hopefully result in cheaper and more varied offers to the consumer.

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richardbarrett

Thanks for doing your best to feed us with your limited knowledge. To increase it and to change it, this will be upsetting emotionally. The methods we use to grow food is changing. Watch, GFE 2016 -Ray Archuletta “It Starts With the Soil” Youtube. At 23 minutes into the Youtube see the dry soil that had water running off it minutes before. Gabe Brown of Bismark, N.D. has 19% higher honey production on his land than everywhere around his county. Gabe has the highest net profit per acre of all his neighbours with no chemicals or fertilizers. High Brix levels cannot be achieved with chemical use. Use a Refractor meter to test your crops. Synthetic fertilizers burn the soil (microbes) food web with its high elecrobytes. Fertilizers are high in salts and acidity. Natural fertilizers like cover crops (365 days) and manures rely on microbial activity to feed plants which results in less pests on plants / toxins in our body. How much carbon is in your soil? How much rainfall can it hold before running off? How many earth worms (life) are in 1 square foot of your soil? How many animals are on your acres?

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Darryl

Those are all interesting points. As a conservation minded farmer using pesticides and farming next to organic (its a choice by the way) we see many comparisons. Our earthworm population has exploded since the introduction of glyphosate to the point that after a heavy rainfall they migrate onto the highway to get dry. Our organic neighbors rely on tillage which is most damaging to earthworms and micro-environs. The dirty 30’s were a result of heavy tillage/plowing and took till the 80’s (which were dry again) to eliminate tillage. This has greatly increased organic matter (which was depleted to near 0) and has returned earthworms, soil health and wildlife like deer, antelope, moose, cougar, etc. Many of the positives of organic also apply to my way of farming (such as stands of alfalfa) and we learn from each other. Unfortunately, organic lacks many tools and is not sustainable without depleting the soil. I fully support growing gardens, supporting you local farmers market, etc. But keep in mind, that Italy alone sells an estimated $3.6B. of fake food to Canada alone, much of which is labelled organic. The market for organic grows while places like Australia and UK have seen the number of organic farmers drop by 40% in one year. Is there a reason or are they just uninformed or uneducated as you suggest?

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Stephen

I know what you’re trying to say but Water is a chemical, air is chemicals etc.. I’d recommend trying to use the most appropriate terminology whenever possible, perhaps in this case “Agro chemicals” would have been better.

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richardbarrett

“The quilt would eat me alive, if ever I learned that one of the things from my farm hurt someone. It would make me seriously reconsider what I do for a living.” As you open yourself up to hear hundreds of medical conditions and how they improved by changing their diet, you will know what you have to do. May God grant you and many farmers the wisdom and the knowledge of what to do. Even to write this, it is effecting me.

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Cyril Carroll

THIS article is complete bullshit. My grandfather and greatgrandfather nerver used roundup or any other pesticides and had good returns. These products are killing our bees and poisoning our future generations, are you happy with that and how are you going to justify that.

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Paul

I read the entire article. I respect farmers I think more than any other class of people. However I think this farmer needs to read the scientific studies regarding GMO crops, glyphosate, and the harm they are doing to the individuals who blindly consume them. The leading researcher into the effects of these harmful products, Dr. Don M. Huber said it best: “I believe that future historians may well look back and write about our times, not about how many pounds of pesticides we did or didn’t apply, but how willing we are to sacrifice our children and jeopardize future generations with this massive experiment that’s based on false promises and flawed science just to benefit the bottom line of a commercial enterprise”.

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Gary

Andrew. Great article! While not a primary producer, I have worked in the Ag industry for 40 years and am very proud of the advancements in quality & productivity. I also am deeply offended by those that fear monger with unscientific information to promote their unfortunate agendas. Modern sustainable agricultural technology is contributing to people living longer, healthier lives. The ag industry needs to be very proud of these significant achievements.

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