What’s in a name: Catholic farmers weigh in on ‘bioengineering’ label

WASHINGTON, DC – The United States Department of Agriculture, effective January 1, authorized the replacement of its “GMO” symbol – specifying the inclusion of a genetically modified organism among the ingredients of a product – by a logo “Bioengineering” on the packaging: lots of green, with a stylized barn and field next to the word.

Nothing inside the packaging has changed.

But, according to an Iowa farmer and former Catholic Rural Life board member, the distinction makes a difference.

“There’s so much confusion around labels already,” said Ron Rosmann, who farms 700 acres with his two sons in Harlan, Iowa, in the Diocese of Des Moines.

“It started in 2018 when (then) Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue responded to their (industry) drive to change the label,” he added, as see “GMO” on a product’s box can put consumers off.

“Consumers don’t know what they (the labels) mean,” Rosmann told the Catholic News Service in a Jan. 11 phone interview. “They buy products if they see, let’s just say…a label that says ‘natural pork’ or ‘natural beef’, (and) they think, ‘Oh, maybe it’s GMO-free or not. of pesticides. ” “

But “it turns out (with) natural beef, there are no feed restrictions” for cattle, he explained. “So you can use GMOs and pesticides and everything” in this food.

“The food industry has pushed for” a name change, Rosmann said, especially those related to corn, soy or canola or sugar beet oils.

“So many foods contain these corn oils or sweeteners. If they have less than 5% of this food in a GMO corn sweetener, they don’t have to label it as bioengineered,” he said. “No! In Europe, this limit is set at 0.9%”.

Additionally, Rosmann said, “the new rules do not cover products containing meat, poultry or eggs as the first ingredient. This especially applies to processed foods, not just processed meats, but all processed foods. If the second ingredient is meat – say you bought corn dogs or southwestern tacos with meat – you don’t even have to label it at all, even if the corn in the tacos is genetically modified.

But what’s the point of trying to improve nature?

“They (the crops) are modified so that you can spray certain pesticides on them without killing them, in order to control weeds. This has been done and is still being done. To make corn and soy resistant…to control weeds,” Rosmann said.

“After more than 30 years of this, Roundup (herbicide) doesn’t work like it used to because of weed resistance, so now they’re offering old chemicals that are even more toxic,” he noted.

One of them is the herbicide dicamba, which for a brief period in 2020 was banned from use by the federal government before backing down later that year.

Rosmann is not a fan of dicamba. “It’s terrible. It drifts. For example, in Iowa last summer, well over 50% of the soybeans in Iowa were damaged by dicamba drift. It volatilizes in wet weather” , did he declare.

“So if it goes to organic growers, you know what that means. If it moves to the beans of other conventional farmers who are not resistant to this chemical, it will damage or kill their beans,” he continued. “But they got away with it. So they force farmers to buy these dicamba-resistant seeds as an insurance policy that the drift will not harm them.

It won’t change Rosmann’s farming. He is a certified organic farmer, practicing organic farming since 1983.

In addition to growing soybeans, oats, rye, pasture hay, 20 different cover crops, and an oat-wheat-barley-pea mix he calls “succotash,” his farm has produced “Over 200 bushels of corn this year,” he said. . “It’s remarkable because commodity groups say ‘organic yield’, you keep hearing that you can’t feed the world with organic.”

Art Befort, who farms 600 acres in Smith Center, Kansas, about 180 miles northwest of Wichita, said his wheat and sorghum crops are GMO-free, but corn and soybeans are not.

“It would be really difficult to grow soy without being able to put chemicals in it that would go on a non-GMO plant,” Befort told CNS in a Jan. 12 phone interview. “I don’t know of anyone in the area where we grow who grows non-GMO soybeans. There are a few that occasionally mix in non-GMO corn, but no soy.

Befort said he believed soybeans grown in his area were taken to a pressing facility about 60 to 70 miles away, where they were pressed for oil.

Rosmann, by contrast, said 57% of Iowa’s corn crop last year was destined for ethanol production.

“We don’t grow food anyway, we power our automobiles,” he said. “That’s crazy !”

If it says GMO on a product box, “I don’t mind,” said Befort, who returned to farming after spending 45 years in the aerospace industry.

“We have three children; one is in a farming community, the other two are city dwellers,” he noted. “They are a little sensitive, not overdone. If there were two similar products on the shelf, and they were reasonably priced, they would go non-GMO.

Befort runs a “no-till” operation, which is different from when he was growing up on the family farm.

No-till farming is an agricultural technique for growing crops or pastures without disturbing the soil through tillage. No-till agriculture decreases the amount of soil erosion caused by tillage in some soils.

He recently returned from his ninth no-till conference, this one in Louisville, Kentucky.

“You hear the word sustainability and regenerative farming practices, and there’s a strong movement to incorporate those practices into your farming,” he said. “All of this reduces the chemicals you need. In simple form, we try to mimic nature as best we can and still have products to breed.

Like Rosmann, Befort is big on cover crops, which are planted to cover soil and manage erosion; they are not grown for the purpose of being harvested.

“One of the things cover crops do is they keep the soil biology in good working order. They have a root structure that keeps the soil warm, so if you have water seepage, you can make it…seep all the way,” he said.

Another benefit is “you have weed reduction” as cover crops create their own nitrogen. “You can plant other species that have a deep root structure,” Befort added.

He plants winter wheat, and when it’s ready in July, he has a device to harvest the wheat, leaving the rest of the stalk intact.

“The wheat will generally crowd out the weeds and prevent the weeds from growing until the wheat begins to die, ripen and ripen,” Befort said. “People just don’t have to have GMO wheat.”

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