GMO Feed: Could 33 Million Dairy Cows Be Wrong?

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By: Jim Dickrell

There’s been a lot of hullabaloo about labeling genetically-modified food on grocery shelves, and there is now an effort underway to rationalize the state-by-state insanity with one federal regulation.

That makes some sense, I guess. Here in the land of the M-W, for example, we can’t even agree on fireworks and Sunday liquor sales. (Minnesota doesn’t allow them; Wisconsin does.) Having state-by-state genetically-modified organism (GMO) food labeling regulations would be even more of a mess.

I also understand marketers violate at their peril the mantra ‘the customer is always right.’ But being ‘right’ doesn’t mean correct. When it comes to GMO food safety, maybe we should ask the animals.

John Vicini, a Senior Research Fellow for Monsanto, points out that more than 100 billion food animals have been raised on GMO feed here in the United States since 2000. That’s when GMO soybeans, and to some extent corn, became widely available.

Vicini points to an exhaustive study done by University of California-Davis researches Alison Van Eenennaam and Amy Young.  In this Journal of Animal Science article published last November, Van Eenennaam and Young calculated the number of cattle, hogs and poultry that have been raised in the United since 2000.

They then looked at rates of gain, milk production and health events for those animals both prior to and after the introduction of GMO feed.

Milk production per cow continued its upward slope at the same rate both before and after GMO introduction. Somatic cell counts actually declined dramatically. And the percent of postmortem condemned dairy cows in slaughter plants has also been dropping.

Researchers are not saying milk production is increasing and health factors are improving because of GMO feed.  That’s likely happening because of better genetics and management, says Vicini.

But if GMO feeds were bad for cows’ health, you’d expect lower milk production and more health problems. “The point is that milk production is not going down and health problems are not going up,” he says.

And if you don’t believe 33 million cows, says Vicini, ask a chicken. Nearly 95 billion broilers have been raised between 2000 and 2011. Chickens, which increase their bodyweight some 50- to 60- fold in their six- to seven-week feeding period, are very susceptible to feed disturbances. And yet, between 1985 and 2011, broiler feed-to-gain rations have dropped from 5 lb. of feed per pound of gain to 3.8. That rate of improvement never changed or slowed as GMO feeds were introduced and then became predominant in broiler diets for the past decade.

The point is this: U.S. farmers are now producing more milk and chicken on less feed per pound than at any time in our history. More than 100 billion head of cattle, hogs and chickens attest to the safety of GMO feed. All of this is good for the environment, consumers’ pocketbooks and food safety. If 100 billion food animals are telling us GMO feed is ok, where does that leave anti-GMO activists?