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.
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.