Farm Progress

What’s a GMO? 130222

Not strawberries, not lettuce, not blueberries — and definitely not cows! Here’s a look at common misconceptions about GMOs and a tool to share facts.

Holly Spangler 1, Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer

August 15, 2018

2 Min Read
“All the labels make it harder and more confusing,” says Donna Jeschke of GMOs and non-GMOs. She and her husband, Paul, farm at Mazon, Ill., and do consumer outreach about agriculture.

Mazon, Ill., farmers Paul and Donna Jeschke have talked to hundreds of nonfarm consumers over the past few years, and there’s a refrain they hear over and over: People have no idea what a GMO really is.

“They think everything has a GMO component to it,” Donna says. “They’re always surprised when you mention the 10 that exist commercially now.” 

The 10 crops that are commercially available and approved by USDA, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are alfalfa, apples, canola, corn (field and sweet), cotton, papaya, potatoes, soybeans, sugarbeets and summer squash. 

Paul adds that the most blatant misconception he hears is that people think non-GMO means pesticide-free. “They think GMO is a pesticide-infested plant and that it produces its own toxic pesticide. But it’s hard to blame people for not understanding that.”

Paul will often go on to explain that with rootworm-resistant corn, for example, the corn produces a protein that the bug can’t digest. “Vertebrates can, however,” he says. “And if we don’t use that GMO plant, the alternative is to put a pesticide on the ground in April that’s persistent enough to still be there at the end of June.

“I don’t care to do that if there are other products available.” 

What else do the Jeschkes hear, as they host Chicago tour groups on their farm and moderate discussion panels about the new “Food Evolution” movie?

Consumers often think wheat is a GMO, likely because of the controversy surrounding its initial development — but they don’t realize it was never brought to market. Consumers also tend to think strawberries and blueberries are GMOs, because they’re often labeled non-GMO in grocery stores. They ask what farmers do to cows to make them non-GMO, because they see non-GMO milk labels at the store.

“All the labels make it harder and more confusing,” Donna says — in some cases, intentionally confusing.

At the end of the day, the Jeschkes know food is often an emotional issue, and people will make decisions based on emotions and not facts.

“How do you balance the conflict between emotion and science?” Paul asks. “Especially when emotion is more of a motivator than science for many people.” 

Looking for an easy way to share the facts about GMOs? Check out the infographic below, and download it to share with friends.



About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler 1

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer

Holly Spangler has covered agriculture for the past 18 years, beginning her career with Prairie Farmer before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications. As editor of Prairie Farmer magazine, she brings meaningful production agriculture experience to the topics she covers, including a variety of production, management and issue-oriented stories. She also offers up her generation's take on the issues of the day through her monthly column and blog, My Generation.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is a member and past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. She was named Master Writer in 2005 and in 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn Growers Association and MidAmerica Croplife Association. Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the 2011 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the College of ACES Alumni Board, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth.

She graduated in 1998 from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications, and received the Warren K. Wessels Award for outstanding senior in the College of ACES. Immediately following graduation, she was a founding member of the U of I Ag Communications Alumni Leadership Council, and in 2011, the College of ACES named her an Outstanding Young Alumni.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and cattle on 2,000 acres. Their operation includes 100 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John's parents, and their three children, Jenna, Nathan and Caroline.

Holly is also active in the Illinois Farm Families program, and shares the story of agriculture and communications with a variety of groups and organizations, both within and outside of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations, receiving the Illinois Farm Bureau's Young Farmer Achievement Award in 2007.

Locally, Holly and her husband serve with their county's 4-H program, their school district and in their church's youth and music ministries. 

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