The use of genetically-modified crops in the United States has been on the rise since they were first introduced for commercial purposes in 1996. Since then, advocates and critics have been vocal in their support for, or concern over, the crops. Engineered at a genetic level to become more resistant to pesticides and herbicides, GM products provide farmers with more resilient and trustworthy crops, allowing pest-control without damage to produce. Critics, however, have raised concerns about health risks and the possibility of environmental damage from pesticides entering the food chain, as well as the environmental ‘arms race’ should pests become resistant to such engineered crops, requiring further changes.
Farmers are seeking compensation from Monsanto for the loss of income.
The regulation of GM crops by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) means that only a few crops are approved for production and human consumption in the U.S. Corn, cotton, soybeans, canola, squash and papaya are currently approved. An ongoing lawsuit between Monsanto and wheat farmers in the Pacific Northwest accuses the company of allowing an experimental GM wheat strain, not approved for consumption, to cross-pollinate with wheat fields and contaminate the crops. When the news broke, several countries and organizations, including the EU, Japan, and South Korea, placed bans on imported U.S. wheat. Farmers are seeking compensation from Monsanto for the loss of income, and the increased burden of having to test and certify wheat fields as GM-free.
Clearly, genetically-modified crops are an important part of modern life. With more than 167 million acres of GM crops worldwide, chances are the food you eat has been affected by this growing global industry. Figures show, in fact, that the U.S. has grown more GM crops since 1996 than any other country on earth, and has more than 105 million acres of GM crops as of 2003. Production tends to focus on soybean, cotton, and corn, although papaya is also grown in Hawaii, with GM papaya now making up 50% of the entire U.S. crop.
Information gathered by the USDA in June 2011 revealed that every state in the continental U.S. now produces some GM crops. The most commonly grown crop is corn, although just eleven states accounted for more than 80% of GM corn production in the United States, with South Dakota leading the way. 79% of the state’s corn crop is GM, while nine other states grow at least 30% of their corn using GM seed. Other major producers included Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan.
Soybeans, though not as widely grown as corn, still account for a large portion of U.S. GM crop production. Fourteen states produce 90% of the U.S. crop, and by 2004, all fourteen of these states reported than more than 70% of their soy crop was GM. GM cotton, meanwhile, has been welcomed with open arms by the main producers of upland cotton. Seven southern states produce more than 80% of all U.S. cotton, with five of those (Missouri, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina) reporting that as of 2004 more than 90% of their crops were genetically modified. Texas and California, although not planting such a high percentage of their cotton crop using GM seed, report more than 50% of their production is now GM.
Around 25% of all cultivated land worldwide is now used to grow GM crops, with major producers including Argentina, Canada, Brazil, China, and South Africa. Consumers might easily fail to realize how much of their food is affected. The FDA notes that foods commonly made with GM ingredients ‘include[s] cornstarch in soups and sauces, corn syrup as a general purpose sweetener, and cottonseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil in mayonnaise, salad dressings, cereals, breads, and snack foods.’
The FDA also states that GM food is just as nutritious as non-GM, and no more likely to cause allergies.
In the end, individual consumers have the right to decide if they want to avoid GM foods or not. Those that have been approved by the FDA have undergone a consultation and approval process designed to determine if there are any adverse effects on health, but no system can claim to be flawless. For now, certainly, the U.S. government considers GM crop use perfectly acceptable.
As for Monsanto and the wheat contamination lawsuit – the case continues, and will for some time.