Frequently Asked Questions

Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) Crops

Q: Are farmers forced to grow GMO crops?

A: No. Farmers have a choice to select the production system that works best for their farm and markets. These choices include conventional crops, biotech crops, organic crops or combinations of crop types. These choices reflect what is best for each individual farmer, geographic location and market demand.  

Q: Are GMOs safe for the environment?

A: Yes. As the world’s population grows and agricultural land resources stay the same or shrink, GMOs are a critical tool in feeding the world without depleting resources or harming the environment. In fact, these biotech seeds help reduce the amount of land, water and chemicals needed to produce more food. This can contribute greatly to conservation and environmental stewardship.

 Growing genetically modified crops allows farmers to make fewer passes through fields to control weeds and insects, resulting in significant reductions in fuel usage and greenhouse gas emissions. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for 2006 was estimated to be equal to removing more than a half-million cars from the road.

Q: Are GMOs only allowed in the U.S?

A: No. In 2010, GMO crops were grown in 29 countries on more than 360 million acres. Of the 15.4 million farmers growing these crops, 90 percent are small operations, many in developing countries. The reason farmers plant genetically modified crops is simple: yields increase and input costs decrease.

Q: Are all crops genetically modified?

A: No. Only eight crops are genetically modified: corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya and squash. All are available for commercial use in the U.S. These crops have been developed primarily for herbicide tolerance, and insect and disease resistance. They often maintain yield while reducing farmers’ investments in inputs and protect the environment.

Q: Are foods made from GMOs safe to eat?

A: Since 1996 when farmers first started growing crops from biotech seeds, there has not been a single documented instance of human harm. GMO crops are digested the same as non-GMO crops. And there is no scientific data to support claims that foods made from GMO crops cause new allergies, gluten intolerance, cancers, infertility, ADHD or any other condition. Plus, plants grown from GMOs are the only type that governments around the world highly regulate and extensively test.

Q: What’s the advantage of GMOs instead of crossbreeding?

A: Originally, scientists would create new plants with the traits they wanted by crossbreeding plants with slightly different characteristics, hoping to create new variety with the desired trait. Crossbreeding shuffles a plant’s genes, but it’s an unpredictable process. With GMOs, scientists can decide exactly which traits they want in the new variety and then insert those traits into the plants, creating a new variety. GMOs accomplish the same thing as crossbreeding, only they are more predictable and precise.

Q: How long does it take to create a GMO?

A: For soybean plants, it takes about 16 years. First, traits are identified that would help farmers grow better soybean plants – traits such as drought resistance or improved oil characteristics. Then scientists find plants or organisms that have those traits and “cut and paste” them into a soybean plant’s genetic code. (Sometimes, the genes for a desirable trait are already within the plant, and the gene can be tweaked to expose it.) Next, scientists and regulatory organizations test the modified plants for several years to make sure they are safe for animal and human consumption. Finally, farmers plant the seeds in the spring, and harvest the resulting plants in the fall.

Q: Why aren’t non-GMO farmers represented in the Glass Barn?

A: Our goal was to share the story of Indiana agriculture through different farm families. Instead of focusing on GMO or non-GMO crops, we chose to feature farmers that raise a variety of crops and livestock. Non-GMO crops are a very small percent of what is raised in the state so that wasn’t what we focused on when choosing the families to feature. 

Q: How are GMOs regulated?

A: Biotech plants are regulated by three federal regulatory agencies: the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Each agency regulates different types of biotech products. Depending on the product, biotech seeds may be subject to just one or all three regulatory bodies.

The USDA is responsible for regulating any plants that could be a risk to other plants, including those that are products of biotechnology. Once a biotech crop or plant is introduced, it is regulated by USDA, which monitors its import, handling, interstate movement and release into the environment.

The EPA regulates all crop protection products in order to protect the environment and public health.

The FDA regulates all food and animal feed, including those with biotech ingredients. All biotech food and feed products are rigorously tested to meet safety standards before entering the marketplace. The FDA also provides a voluntary consultation process to food manufacturers to ensure they are on track to follow regulatory standards throughout the production process.

All of this research, monitoring and regulation mean that biotech crops are safe. These federal agencies would not allow a crop into the marketplace unless it was secure. With more than 20 years of regulation and monitoring, you can rest assured that biotech crops are a safe option for farmers to grow, and biotech foods are a safe option for you to choose.

Pesticides and Herbicides

Q: Why do farmers spray for weeds and bugs?

A: Farmers use a number of management practices to control weeds, pests and disease in their fields, including the use of pesticides. Bugs, crop diseases and weeds are realities of life. Whether organic or conventional, farmers face these challenges every day. If tools like insecticides and herbicides were not available, entire crops could be wiped out. Farmers do not use crop protection products unless the potential benefits – such as improved quality, increased production, aid in harvesting and prevention of crop loss – outweigh the costs of application.

Q: How is my health protected from overuse of pesticides and herbicides?

A: When they use herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers, farmers are careful because they have such great respect for the environment. They follow labels and consider weather patterns that may impact the application. Also, farmers are incentivized to properly manage these tools because they are so expensive.

Federal law requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine whether herbicides, fungicides and pesticides can be approved for use in the United States. The EPA ensures that when used according to label directions, these chemicals can be used without harm to human health or the environment.

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), there is no scientific evidence supporting a link between the use of herbicides and insecticides (when properly applied) and any adverse health effects in humans. The AMA also says public health research shows no link between pesticide use on food and cancer or other human illnesses. 

Q: Organic farmers don’t use pesticides or fungicides, right?

A: Organic farmers have the opportunity to use pesticides and fungicides on their crops, just like conventional farmers. Organic farmers choose from organic certified herbicides, fungicides and pesticides, which are outlined by the USDA Certified Organic program.



Organic Foods, Antibiotics and Hormones

Q: Isn’t organic food healthier for me?

A: Not necessarily. A comprehensive review of some 400 scientific papers on the health impacts of organically grown foods, published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, concluded organic and conventional food remain equally healthy.

Q: How safe is my food to consume –whether organically or conventionally grown?

A: All foods – whether organic or nonorganic – must meet certain health and safety regulations before being sold to consumers. Several U.S. government agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), monitor the food production chain through regulations and inspections from farm to fork to ensure that all food is safe. 

Q: Are there antibiotics in my milk?

A: No. All milk is checked for antibiotics at the processing plant. If any are found, the whole load is dumped and the milk never reaches your refrigerator.

Q: Are brown eggs more nutritious?

A: Unless the carton says they are nutritionally enhanced eggs, all eggs (brown or white) are nutritionally identical. 

Q: What is the difference between free range, cage free, organic and conventionally raised eggs (the ones with NO labels)?

A: Cage-free eggs come from hens raised inside a barn with many other hens. Free-range eggs come from hens raised inside a barn that have access to the outdoors (whether or not they take advantage of it). Organic eggs come from hens that eat organic feed and don’t receive drugs to protect them from disease. Conventionally raised chickens live indoors in a controlled environment. None of these labels mean that the eggs are more nutritious than other eggs.

Q: Are there hormones in my chicken, eggs, and pork?

A: No matter how they raise their chickens or pigs, farmers are not allowed to give them hormones. So, all products from those animals are hormone-free (other than their natural hormones).

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