Good Intentions and Unintended Consequences

Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND

I’m exhausted. Tired of the drama. Weary from the fight. Worried about the future.

Our food system is being held hostage by activists with agendas and confused consumers with good intentions who are making demands without understanding the consequences.

Every time I see another product labeled “GMO-free” I cringe. Do my cats really need non-GMO cat litter? Every time I hear someone proudly proclaim they only buy organic I sigh.

People feel virtuous when they buy these products, and marketers know this. But do many appreciate the impact of their food choices on the environment, particularly from a climate change perspective?

Did you know that when land is transitioned from producing biotech crops to non-GMO or conventional crops the land must be tilled more to control weeds? Tilling soil releases carbon into the air, contributing to climate change.

Did you know that growing crops with biotech seeds allows farmers to use no-till practices, planting the seeds of the new crop over the remnants of the previous crop? Tilling soil is one of the primary methods organic growers use to control weeds. They also use pesticides to control weeds and bugs.

The misinformation and confusion in our food system over agricultural production methods is maddening to a farmer’s daughter like me who appreciates the multitude of decisions farmers must make every day to balance environmental impact, financial success, and lifestyle.

Farming is a business, mostly run by families. Did you know that 97 percent of farms in this country are family farms? Less than 2 percent of the U.S. population are farmers, and only half of them make a full-time living in farming and ranching. The other half rely on other sources of off-farm income to survive financially.

There are rarely if ever definitive answers to questions about sustainable agriculture. There are various trade-offs in the return on investment of time, effort, and cost that farmers must consider.

I once asked one of my brothers why he grows biotech soybeans. He explained to me that there are many benefits for him. First, he can use low-till practices, thereby promoting soil health in his fields. He also sees a greater return on his investment. Yes, the seeds cost more than the conventional seeds, but because he gets larger yields with the biotech soybeans, he earns more per acre. But for him the biggest benefit is the time he saves, not having to till the fields repeatedly to control weeds, which leaves him more time to spend with his family, including six children.

The next time you criticize a farmer or a food company for using or supporting a certain agricultural production practice, please take time to seek to understand all the factors that go into making on-farm decisions. Don’t rely solely on third parties for your farm information; talk to farmers about why they do what they do. This farmer’s daughter is confident farmers across the country will appreciate your efforts in this area!