Over the winter, I reached the conclusion that it's time for me to change the way I feed animals on my farm. Since I started raising critters for direct sale, I've maintained diets for pigs and chickens that were free from antibiotics and other growth stimulants. I've even replaced commercial worming medicines with all natural, organic clays that, as far as I can tell, do as good or better at keeping pigs worm-free than the toxic commercial stuff.
However, since I've depended on purchased grains for at least some of my animals' feed rations, I haven't been able to say with certainty that my products are raised without the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). And over the past year or so, that has really started to bug me...
What are GMOs?
In agriculture, GMOs are plants that have had their DNA modified by adding genes from other plants (or animals) into the plant's DNA to give it a trait that makes it resistant to herbicides or insect pests.
These transgenic crops have been in commercial use since the early 90s, and they have taken over the market so swiftly and completely that it is hard to find seed for things like corn, soybeans, cotton, even sugar beets, that aren't transgenic seed. So even if the farmer is uncomfortable with the idea of GMOs, he doesn't have a whole lot of alternatives to using them, if he wants to grow those affected crops.
What's my problem with GMOs?
I have lots of problems with GMOs. The one that worries me most, and the reason for my decision to go GMO free, is the safety issue. The manufacturers of transgenic seeds have gone through the motions and received approval to market them from the federal government, but that's absolutely no consolation to me. (An interesting aside--Europe and many countries in Asia ban the use and sale of GMO crops. Why not the US?) Even if their approval wasn't a result of more corporate-government hand holding, the amount of time spent researching the effects of GMOs was far too short to be conclusive.
The true effects of GMOs on the environment and ecosystem, on the health of livestock, and most importantly, on the health of humans, won't become known for decades. Like so very many things going on today, the truth will only become obvious when viewed through the lens of history. And I'm no longer willing to sit around and wait for that revelation.
So, as of yesterday, I began phasing out the use of GMOs in the diets of my animals. I started by planting oats, which I will use to replace some of the corn in my current ration. It will take me almost a year to become GMO free, since I will have to grow literally all of the feed my animals consume myself. I will need to formulate new diets that use things like oats, and also wheat, rye, barley, and GMO free soybeans for the pigs and chickens. This may mean that it takes longer to grow the animals to their usual slaughter weights, and it will definitely cost more to do so.
But it's the right thing to do, for them and those of us who eat them.