Safety First: The Role of GMO’s in Cattle Feed

Myth: Feeding cattle genetically modified (GMO) crops is unhealthy for the animals and results in unsafe beef.

The Facts:  Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or biotechnology in plant agriculture is the process of taking a desirable trait in one plant or organism and placing it into another.  Biotechnology is used to create traits that make crops more tolerable or resistant to plant disease, pests and environmental conditions such as drought and crop protection (herbicides).

cattle_feedThese advancements in breeding and seed technologies often allow farmers to use less crop protection tools such as plant fertilizers, pesticides, as well as less natural resources such as the water required to grow crops..

Crops from biotechnology seeds are studied extensively to make sure they are safe for people, animals and the environment before they reach the farm or ranch.  All biotechnologies in agriculture must go through U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make sure that they are safe to grow, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) review to make sure that they’re safe for the environment and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to make sure the meat from cattle fed GMO crops, such as corn and soybeans, is safe to eat.

Learn more about GMO crops:

1. How and why do livestock producers use GMO crops? For 10,000 years, farmers have intentionally changed the genetic makeup of all the crops they grow to produce hardier crops that taste better, resist disease and are easier to grow all while taking up less land. As selective breeding and cross-breeding of crops evolved, more U.S. soybean crops (87% in 2005, the latest data available) and U.S. corn crops (52% in 2005, the latest data available) were grown from GMO seed. Today, eight crops – corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya and squash – are available from biotech seeds for commercial use in the U.S.

Today, farmers and ranchers that raise meat, milk and eggs depend on crops like soybeans and corn as part of the balanced diet for their livestock. So, some of them choose to use GMO crops as critical components in their animal’s feed—others may choose not to use them.

2. How do I know that GMO crops are safe for the animals and safe for humans?  Crops from biotech seeds are studied extensively to make sure they are safe for people, animals and the environment before they can be sold.

According to FDA, “FDA has no basis for concluding that bioengineered foods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way, or that, as a class, foods developed by the new techniques present any different or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding.”

3. Are there any nutritional differences between GMO crops and non-GMO crops? More than 100 studies have examined the effect of feeding GMO crops to various food-producing animals, including cattle.  One such study is from the University of California, Davis titled Genetic Engineering and Animal Feed [PDF]. The results of this study and the others revealed no significant differences in the nutritional value of feed from GMO and non-GMO fed cattle.  Genetically modified GMO crops are digested and processed by cattle in the same way as conventional crops. In addition, the nutrients from cattle fed GMO feed have been found to be the same as cattle fed non-GMO feeds.

4. Why isn’t my meat labeled as “Fed GMO feed”? According to the USDA, labeling is required when the genetically modified food products have a detectible difference in nutritional composition and safety from their non-GMO counterparts.  Since there is no difference, there is no labeling requirement.

5. Can I purchase beef from cattle not fed genetically modified food? Yes, you can.  When shopping, look for beef labeled USDA Organic. The USDA National Organic Program standards prohibit the use of feeding genetically modified crops, although hundreds of studies have confirmed there are no adverse effects on the animal or the resulting meat from cattle fed GMO crops including corn and soybeans, so regardless of whether you choose organic, natural or conventional beef, all beef is safe to consume, delicious and nutritious. 

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