Before I begin, I want to add a disclaimer to the pictures I’m using. Although this is about GMO foods, I don’t have many pictures of fall harvest (corn & soybeans) so most involve wheat. There is no GMO wheat in our food system.
The 2014 midterm elections are now history. Thank goodness! I am so glad my landline phone is now quiet again and the signs that cluttered up the landscape have been removed…until next time.
What isn’t over is the GMO labeling debate. This, too, gets tiresome to see on my social media. I understand the concern of the public…sort of. I understand that if I were afraid of something, I would want to be sure there were warnings to make me aware of the danger. Signs in the mountains to alert me of the danger of bears, labels on chemicals I have stored under my sink that could cause death if ingested, the signs on the combine that indicate possible loss of limbs or death if you fall into the header while in motion. All of these signs warn me of dangers that are certain.
GMO labeling is not certain. As a matter of fact, according to the research that I’ve seen, most of science has made all effort to make people aware that under the past 19 years of scrupulous testing, there is nothing stating that GMO foods cause health issues. I’ve even read several stories of people who did their darndest (Midwest talk) to sway people away from GMO’s who have now changed their mind due to the science. Labels and signs verify danger. Labeling GMO foods will support the fears of the misinformed. They will also encourage people’s thinking that if there are labels, there must be something to be afraid of. And, from what I understand, there is already food that has labeling in place that can support this claim – it’s called organic.
Trying to convince you that GMO labeling is unnecessary is not the reason for this post. The need to write is to express my opinion about something I read prior to the elections regarding GMO labeling. A statement I recently read on a Facebook debate made me realize people don’t really understand what it will take to put that label on their box of Corn Flakes.
The comment was something along the lines of, “how expensive could it be to put a label on food”? Now, I don’t claim to know everything about the process of labeling but what I can tell you is the common sense reality of what it takes to get grain from the field to market. Beyond that, I haven’t a clue. If GMO labeling becomes a reality, the expense it will take to make this happen WILL be passed along to the consumer. Are you questioning why yet? In October 2000, David S. Bullock, Marion Desquilbet and Elisavet I. Nitsi coauthored an article (The Economics of Non-GMO Segregation and Identity Preservation) which can better explain the economics involved with labeling. I can explain the harvest as I see it and live it.
Let me tell you what I see happening in our industry and most of Ag if this happens. The segregation of GMO from Non-GMO products will be based on a tolerance policy put in place by the government. This will mean that a certain percent of GMO product, dust or residue will be allowed for the Non-GMO label. This will require certification. As a custom harvester, I see this as a major issue for our industry. Let me try to explain by beginning with our first farmer customer who raises GMO corn (an example).
The combine will harvest that grain and dump it in the semi to be hauled to the elevator. Once the grain is delivered to the elevator, the grain probe will check for moisture and any foreign matter. This probe is used to test each load that crosses the scale. It will then be dumped into a pit and augured into the holding silo until either a train or another truck hauls it away to the next step in the process. The scenario that I just provided puts that grain in at least seven different locations…combine, truck, probe, pit, auger, silo and train/truck.
Currently, all grain is dumped into the same pit regardless of what brand of seed was planted. This is called “commingling” – defined by Merriam Webster, “to blend thoroughly into a harmonious whole”.
Ok, so back to our world. If our farmer customer #1 grows GMO corn and our farmer customer #2 has Non-GMO soybeans (or corn) that needs harvested, there will be cleaning involved. A LOT OF CLEANING! And without knowing what the rules and regulations would be, it could be very costly for the custom harvester. I recently read that someone calculated it would take four hours to completely clean the inside of a combine (doesn’t seem like enough to me). I honestly don’t know how you can ever COMPLETELY clean a combine of all grain. Not only will the combine have to be completely cleaned, each truck and tarp will also have to be extensively cleaned to eliminate all particles of any GMO product. Will it have to be certified clean by a specific agency? Will there be chemicals involved? Will the chemicals damage the combine, trucks or tarp? In an article I recently read, it even mentioned purchasing a separate combine for GMO grains and another for Non-GMO grains. Do you know what a new combine costs? That would be a measly $500,000+ expense. Maybe while we’re talking two combines for segregation, we should think about separate trucks too. Hmmm…that WOULD take care of the cleaning aspect!
Ok, so now that we’ve visited that scenario, let’s think about the storage facility. There will have to be segregated sections of the grain elevator to separate Non-GMO and GMO grains. This would be costly for the elevators who are currently set up to dump in one pit and moved by belts, buckets and augers. There would be no way to completely empty this pit of all grain between loads. And think of the time involved! We think we sit in lines now!There would have to be a separate pit for each grain. The elevators will either have to double in size OR be reduced in half of their current storage areas. Can they reduce? Some of these elevators can’t keep up now with commingling taking place. More expense and who is going to pay for this?
Once the grain is delivered to the elevators, it won’t stay there. What about the trains and trucks that haul this grain away to the next step of processing?
It overwhelms me to think about what would have to happen if the GMO labeling restrictions are put into place. So many unknowns at this point. But it will all be at an expense. An expense that would have to be passed on to the farmer which, in turn, is passed along to the consumer.
Segregation of grains will require new government agencies with lots and lots of new personnel. Why? Because someone will have to verify that GMO particles and dust have not been found on Non-GMO food products. There will be testing and more testing and certification to guarantee the food you purchase with the Non-GMO label is nearly 100% Non-GMO.
Here’s something else to think about – with all the different steps involved in getting grain from the field to market, will you be 100% sure that no contamination has taken place? Can you be certain the box of cereal that boasts Non-GMO is as it says it is?