GMOs have a large hoof-print in the world of animal-based products. Keeping them out of the food supply and out of your grocery cart is no small task. As National Dairy Month comes to a close, we tip our hats to all the brands that have committed to non-GMO, bringing you an overview of where GMOs show up in the dairy aisle.
You are what your dairy cow eats.
The most common way for GMOs to enter the dairy supply is through animal feed. High-risk GMO crops, including corn, soy, cottonseed, and alfalfa, are prevalent in animal feed. These four crops cover more than half of the cropland in the US. Of that acreage, 92% of the corn grown is GMO, and 94% of the soy. That adds up to hundreds of millions of acres of GMO crops destined for the feed trough.
When products made from animal sources undergo verification, the livestock feed faces extra scrutiny and testing to ensure it meets the Non-GMO Project Standard. Because of the massive scale of GMO commodity crop acreage, increasing the demand for non-GMO feed is the strongest leverage point to move the needle on conventionally grown crops.
In the past few years, new GMO techniques have come onto the scene — leading to dairy products made with synthetic biology and gene editing techniques like CRISPR and TALEN.
New techniques, same GMOs
The biotechnology industry is hard at work to find new ways to bend DNA to its will. In 2015, the first genetically engineered hornless cows were born. Their descendants are expected to be commercially available sometime this year. The goal of the hornless cow is — to put it plainly — to eliminate the stabby-bits, which pose risks for cows housed in tight quarters and the farmers who tend to them. While we are in no way pro-puncture, it’s worth noting the cow horns are unique in that they are an extension of the animal’s sinus cavities. The health of the horns impacts the animal’s health, well-being, and even their social functioning (cows are herd animals, not loners). Since hornless cattle are already produced through traditional breeding, one wonders why GMO hornless cows were thought necessary at all.
We also see a push to change the composition of milk by genetically modifying cows and goats. Cows have even been engineered to produce human breast milk. Or, skipping the cow altogether, synthetic breast milk has been created entirely in the lab. Breast milk is a weighty topic, given its unique role in the bond between a new mother and her baby. While every mother wants what’s best for her child, some women encounter obstacles to breastfeeding, facing heartache and difficult decisions. Does synthetic breast milk — created with new technology in the complex and often misunderstood world of genetics — truly offer parents a better choice?
#BeTheButterfly in the dairy aisle
With millions and acres and billions of dollars at play in the world of genetically modified dairy, what can the lone consumer do? That part is, thankfully, simple. We can support non-GMO in the dairy industry, from what the animals eat to what our families eat. We can support — and grow — the demand for non-GMO corn and soy, and say no to sneaky synbio. Consumer demand drives the market. By looking for the butterfly, we make a powerful statement that our food comes from nature. We want it to stay that way.