Horses and Genetically Modified forages: Are we Moving Our Horses Toward Extinction?

Hello everyone. I rarely speak about “issues” in the horse world, but this is too big and too important to walk away from.

Our horse’s forages: alfalfa and hay – are in potential peril, and within a few years may be gone forever. Here’s the story:

All Alfalfa and Wheat may be Genetically Modified in North America in the next few years

GE corporations (Monsanto & others) are working hard to push their untested GMO alfalfa and wheat crops in the US and Canada. The US already has 5332 acres of RoundUp Ready alfalfa (since 2004). There is no wheat yet anywhere. Because the alfalfa was grown before it was approved, it was halted and is undergoing additional testing and environmental studies. No human or horse studies have been done to prove this is safe. No long term studies are ever done on any GMO foods. Many independent tests show serious health issues (Genetic Roulette).

Horses have evolved over thousands of years, naturally

Horses are sensitive to their environments and their feeds: any horse owner who has any level of awareness of their animal understands this. Their bodies have evolved slowly over time to adjust to changing plant types and feeds. However, along came man, and believed that he/she could do better than Mother Nature. As we asked more of our horse, we began to alter the feeds we give them.

The horse, though, has evolved for years, slowly, methodically, and if you look at the timeline to how many years we have been changing his natural diet, it’s really not that long (20-30 years). It has been a dramatic ride for the horse: from field to stalls: from hay to concentrates and feeds he would never find in the wild (soy, corn, heavy oils).

It’s not working. Horses are getting fatty liver diseases, insulin resistance, heart attacks, cancers and the same type of health issues humans have (that eat high fat and carb diets). And now there’s another issue to add to the mix: genetic modification. Thirty years ago this was unheard of. Last year 6 horses under the age of 10 died from cancer in my area.

What is Genetically Modified foods and why should you be concerned for your horse?

Genetic modification has many levels of concern attached to it, from health to environment and corporate control. We’ll take a look at each one so you have a good general knowledge of the problems horse owners may face.


First, to understand potential health issues, it’s important to learn how a plant is genetically altered. To keep it short, the DNA of the plant is changed. Scientists take a gene from foreign sources and add it to the DNA string.

DNA manipulation, through adding foreign genes, is an illiterate and unproven science. When scientists finally get a gene to align with a DNA strand (plant’s code to life) the plant does not know how to “use” the new gene, so additional genes and material is added to “wake” the plant up (promoter) to accept and activate the foreigner.

This is where it gets ugly

Corporations don’t have the luxury of finding natural promoters (time is money), so they use the next best thing: viruses. Viruses are highly active, are almost impossible to kill, and eventually eat their host or victim. Viruses can easily change their genetic information in the DNA of the host cell to multiply, mutate and infect. They are powerful promoters and a good choice to do the job. However, they may not be a good choice for our horses to consume.

Often the gene becomes ‘unstable’ so another gene is added, called a ‘marker gene’. These are often antibiotics. Other foreign substances are added as well, such as Bt toxins, fish/animal/human/rat and other odd genes become part of the plants DNA.

And so we now get to ingest all these wonderful contaminates that have nothing to do with a natural plant. We have no idea what the long term effects of these viruses, foreign genes, toxic bacteria and antibiotics will do to us or our animals.

Nature would never have used these: only man believes he/she can make plants better than Mother Nature.

Genetically Modified Alfalfa is a living pesticide factory and your horse gets to eat it

The GM alfalfa that’s about to be fed to your horse contains the pesticide ‘RoundUp Ready’. Every single cell of the alfalfa plant contains the pesticide – leaf and stalk and roots. The purpose is to make it easier for farmers to spray RoundUp pesticides without killing the alfalfa (since it’s already RR resistant). Also, any bugs that land on it and bite into it will also die. Lovely.

Again, your horse’s system is sensitive to man made chemicals. You wouldn’t spray a field right next to your horse. Yet we don’t realize our horse will be eating RoundUp Ready with every bite.

To date, all RoundUp Ready plants are grown for either commercial biofuel production or animal feeds. This is mainly cows and animals that will be slaughtered for processing. These animals will be fed for short periods of time to fatten them up. Our horses however will be eating RR alfalfa as a main diet for their lifetimes.

The question is, will the horse be able to endure eating RoundUp Ready pesticides for over 20 years, or will the horse succumb to the poisonous feeds?

We already have equine cancer rates on the increase in North America, and no one seems to know why. No one can do a study on whether or not it’s GMO feeds. Monsanto has a court injunction against any independent research on their products. You would be sued by them if you tried to investigate the problem.

If this smacks of corporate control, it gets far worse.

Environmental Issues

The regulatory agencies have given RR alfalfa a boundary area to grow in. This means every RR crop has to have a specific distance from other non-RR crops of the same species.

The problem lies in two things: the GMO genes can transfer within the same species. RR alfalfa can cross-contaminate Non-RR alfalfa within one season. Giving RR alfalfa a border of a kilometer or a mile means nothing: eventually wind will prevail. You may find RR alfalfa growing in your hay fields within a year or two.

And if you’re caught, Monsanto will sue you. They process millions of dollars of lawsuits yearly. After all, RR alfalfa is THEIR patent, and you’re growing it without their consent.

Why the issues about Wheat? Horses don’t eat Wheat.

GMO wheat will also be RoundUp Ready, meaning it too will be a living pesticide factory, only we humans get to eat this in every wheat product we will buy. However, one very, very big problem lies with GM wheat and horses.

Wheat is a grass. Remember the part about cross-contamination? GM wheat has the ability to contaminate every blade of grass on this planet.

That alone has the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. Just envision this: what if our grasses become contaminated, and we find out that horses can’t eat them?

What is Monsanto comes after any and all people who have contaminated fields?

Corporate Control, Monoculture and “No Turning Back”

GMO crops have patents on the seeds. Monsanto has been able to patent life: the very thing humans need to survive. Our food system was not broke: we did not need to fix anything. This corporation and others like it believe they know how to create plants better than Nature. Problem is, these GM crops are monoculture: meaning they are singular are leave themselves exposed to failure. And failure of a monoculture means the elimination of the entire species.

GM contamination is very serious: once GM is out there, it’s almost impossible to eradicate. When it goes wrong (and many have already) it’s impossible to rid your fields of it, especially if it’s contaminated neighboring species.

Once we are in the GMO game, it’s all or nothing. You can’t go back. Ever. This will be your new planet, like it or not.

Why Would Farmers Even Consider Planting This?

Monsanto is really good at convincing farmers their yields will increase. While corn has increased significantly, many haven’t, such as soy, cotton and some canola. Those are the 4 big crops: corn, cotton, canola and soy. Over 90% of North American crops are these 4.

Another reason not to feed your horse soy and corn – it’s highly likely you are getting GMO. You are also feeding your horse the left overs: the bad stuff that humans won’t be eating. Lucky horses….

Once a farmer agrees to GM crops, he can’t change. He relinquishes his farm rights to a big corporation that has no intention of looking after the farmer. It’s all about profit.The farmer loses control over what he can plant each year. If those crops fail, it’s not Monsanto’s fault.

Farmers are in trouble: they are living on the edge of existence. Every dollar counts, and when you’re promised the moon, you’ll take it. Soon after, your seed prices and chemical prices increase yearly, and your bottom line disappears anyway; plus commodity crops fluctuate daily. Some years are good, many are not. Only the massive factory farms make any real money.

Often GM farmers are ostracized from the community. If their crops pollute organic fields, neighbors become enemies, and community splits are common. There is no compromise: GM crops can destroy the livelihoods of Non-GM farmers.

Monsanto is currently in Supreme Court to bring forward an injunction for farmers who sue them. They don’t want to be sued any more, so, just like big drug companies, if something goes wrong, you are out of luck and out of pocket. Your problem, not theirs. There is a class action suit filed by Organic farmers currently in the courts (as of this article). On April 27, 2010, Monsanto will ask for an injunction on being sued ever again. This is a crucial time: should Monsanto get this, no one will have any right to go after the company for damages.

Once the farmer pays big bucks for the seeds (which is every year: they can’t save seed any more) the farmer also has to buy Monsanto’s pesticides. Monsanto is really a chemical company (read more about Monsanto).

I’m not trying to scare anyone, I’m just keeping it real. 2010 is a “tipping point” year for GMO issues. This is the year that decides the fate of this beautiful planet.

Don’t Our Governments Protect Us?

Nope. Not at all. They are all “bought and paid for” by Monsanto. Corporate corruption at its finest.

It’s time to stop looking to your governments to save you.

They’re even letting these GMO companies to alter the brains of cows and meat animals so that they don’t suffer as much. It’s creepy out there and it’s out of control.

Here’s something to consider: the European Union (England, Ireland, Bulgaria etc) do not have any GM foods or crops. The GM foods in their stores are labeled. Yet in North America, our governments don’t see a problem. Why is the rest of the world against GMO technology but not us? Good question…

What Can We Do?

Horse owners need to become aware of this and decide for themselves if it means enough to them to initiate changes. It means every one of us will have to do some extra work, but if our horses are to remain healthy and stay alive, it may mean a small sacrifice from every one of us for a year or so.

First off, you need to write your governments. Letters by snail mail are most effective. Emails help as well. Petitions are less valuable but still influential.

CBAN (Canadian Biotechnology Action Network) has great links and information:

In Canada, write your MP’s and the Liberal and Conservative governments. Their links are here: Liberal MPs Conservative MPs

In the US, write the USDA, APHIS and EPA.

Tell your local feed supplier you will not buy GMO alfalfa or hay. Educate them on the issues. Print out this brochure (coming) and give them at least one.

Email this link to every horse person you know. Get in on every Facebook page you know of. It’s up to every one of us to educate others to this issue.

Ask farmers not to grow GM alfalfa. Let them know you won’t be buying it. If no one buys it, they won’t grow it. No market; no profit.

If you quit buying into a program, there is no program.

Our horses deserve to eat what Nature intended them to. They need to be able to graze without fear of pesticide accumulation. They shouldn’t die needlessly from cancers and liver failure.

It’s in our hands. It’s up to us to take a stand and speak out. Take an action today. Save a horse tomorrow.

Thank you, everyone.

April Reeves, Steering Committee, GE Free BC

11 responses to “Horses and Genetically Modified forages: Are we Moving Our Horses Toward Extinction?

  1. While Monsanto is a big nasty corporation, yes, there is absolutely no evidence that genetically modified organisms do any harm whatsoever to those that consume them. There are several complex processes that are involved in genetic modification, and yes, viruses can be used to “infect” a plant with a gene of interest and insert a snippet of DNA into the genome of that plant. All viruses are is a genome in a protein coat. The action of the virus is determined by the chunk of DNA or RNA contained within it. This piece of genetic material can encode anything, from a gene that causes increased pesticide resistance, better disease resistance to increased biomass conversion. The virus is not going to “eat” the plant, or the animal that consumes it. It is merely a mechanism of injecting a gene. The genes that are put into plants can be found naturally in other plants, or can simply be already contained within the genome of the modified plant, and their production can be increased through modification. Again, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the consumption of these plants is linked to any disease, whatsoever. A horse is not going to be affected by genes, or gene products, found in a plant. The horse’s digestive system is going to take apart everything it eats just the way it has for centuries, and digest everything the same. Genetic modifications have made the world a better place in ways you cannot even comprehend. So much research has been done using transgenic organisms that has vastly improved the health of the human, and animal, population. Cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that plagues thousands of people, will be curable within the next 4 years. How? Through the exact same methods you abhor; through the use of a viral vector, which injects a working gene into cells that lack it, and afflict that individual with a fatal disease. As a geneticist, I am tired of fearmongering regarding genetically modified and transgenic organisms. Knowledge is power, but a little knowledge is downright dangerous.

    • Glad you landed here. Perhaps you can answer these next questions, since you should know these answers, being a geneticist.
      1. Since you seem to know the horse’s digestive system, show me the studies that were done with GE feeds and horses? I can’t seem to find any, and when I talk to Monsanto (sometimes on a daily basis) they tell me there isn’t any. If there are no studies, then isn’t it pure speculation that they may not get damaged from GE alfalfa and grass? If we don’t know, why is it we always assume they will be fine?
      2. Why are many of these products grown only for animal (slaughter) feeds (according to Monsanto again)? Is it not because many of them, especially cattle, will only ingest them for their last month of life? While our horses will be feeding off them for years?
      3. Is it not true that these genes can cross-contaminate (I’ve had every geneticist say yes to this one) from the GE wheat to every blade of grass?
      4. Bullshit on your statement “The genes that are put into plants can be found naturally in other plants” and YOU know that’s not true. How on Earth does a tomato plant find a fish gene? And they would never have to use viruses or antibiotic marker genes to make it work. We have been modifying plants for centuries by cross pollination and natural methods, not from a lab by a group of scientists that never stick their heads into the real world.
      5. Genetic engineering HAS made our world better in ways I DO understand and know fully, but keep the science out of food. I witnessed a few years ago, when StarLink corn was growing, a ladybug landing on the corn. A few minutes later it was dead on the ground. The farmer and I thought “wow, isn’t that cool”! A few days later it struck me,

      Food shouldn’t kill.

      6. Have you ever seen the compost of GE corn three years after? Try it. It’s very interesting. Can’t wait to try this with SmartStax.
      7. Explain to me what we will do when this big experiment goes wrong? How does India get rid of all those cotton plants, which, by the way, killed their sheep within 7-10 days after eating, and killed their cattle within 24 hours? So, how is it that horses won’t be under the same fate?
      8. I work with 2 scientists and one genetic engineer. I am part of an organization that works tirelessly to bring this information to the public. I have a vast amount of knowledge on this subject and speak at least once a week all over to groups of several thousand. The members I work with don’t like GE foods any more than I do. In fact, I gave up my horse training for the year to tour with this message. And I do this because one day we may look back and ask “Why didn’t anyone alert us to this long ago?” How many times have we heard that one? How about: cigarettes (30 years), BSE: Mad Cow Disease, (10+ years), 2-4-D: chemical pesticide, Thalidomide…..
      9. We must stop thinking that because something doesn’t KILL us right away, it should be okay. What if, one day, WE wake up and find that many GE foods are the reason there is a rise in autism, cancer and other diseases? What if?

      The problem is, we DON’T know, so while you sit there in your little lab trying to protect your job security, there are people out on the front lines trying to protect the public from YOUR lack of transparency and studies. You can try to beat the **** out of people like me, but you can never seem to bring forth any studies or proof that GE foods WON’T do any harm to humans or horses over the long term. Because there are NO studies. None.

      Ever wondered why Monsanto is lobbying to stop the lawsuits filed from farmers against them? Is it because they are trying to protect their shareholder’s equity? Surely not to protect us. Or YOU.

      So you can call me a fear monger all you want, and I will wear it proudly. It’s people like me that scare the **** out of you because I compromise your job. So be it. You can either do your homework or stay there, but I do know that people are waking up all over the world about this. I care very deeply about humans and horses or I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today. I have to leave now for a speaking engagement at Simon Fraser University. Until then:

      Keep GE out of our food supply!!! Keep GE out of our horses food supply!!!

      I do expect you to come up with those studies on GE RoundUp Ready alfalfa and wheat on the gut and intestines of horses. Looking forward to it.

  2. I really want to pass this along and could not find a share, email link. Pleas provide one so we can spread the word.
    Today was the 17th of April and it was a very important day for us to protest at the Home Depoits Nationwide against GMO. No one showed!
    I believe no one showed because people just are not informed and when it all comes down to the wire it will be to late. That is why we need a link to share to everyone.Please before it’s to late. Marie

  3. Hi Marie – when you send an email just copy and paste the URL in your browser window. I’m not sure how to do it any other way. I’ve checked WordPress but they don’t seem to have a share button I can use.

    Too bad no one showed. The organizing group may not have been that organized! Each region needs to have it’s own leader and group.

    The main thing is to get the GM alfalfa issue to as many horse people as you can. Unless they realize the potential harm they may not know why their horses fall sick or suffer from organ damage down the road. Thanks for the message Marie.

  4. My horses wouldn’t eat the last hay delivered…so strange, it looked perfect. Too perfect !!! That’s when I started doing some research and found this..It all makes sense now, as horses are the PERFECTLY picky eaters.

  5. My boyfriend has been a farrier for 35 years. When he first started, all the horses he worked on had a concave shape to the bottom of their feet…in other words, the sole was always up and the horses walked on the walls of their hooves, the way nature intended. If a horse suffered from laminitis or founder, of course those soles were dropped (poor horses). Now, so many years later, just about every horse we meet has flat soles (we live in Upstate NY). Most of them are sore unless they have shoes. We’ve been talking and talking about this problem and our only conclusion is that there’s something up with the grain that we feed them…and/or possibly the forage (fresh and/or dried)? We just finished watching a special on TV about Monsanto and GMO foods. We are convinced that our horses are being contaminated by the grain and hay that we buy for them!

    • Susan, that’s very interesting! And now that I’ve read it, I’ve asked many of my students what the bottom of their horse’s feet look like, and they say the same! I have 4 horses with beautiful, natural feet, and have never been fed any GM grain what so ever! I still get emails from a few of the Texas ranchers stating their horses are sterile again for the 4th year.

      As a collective group, we need to speak out to other horse owners about this. We’re a dedicated group and will do almost anything to ensure our animals are looked after. I’m redesigning the GMO And Horses brochure as it needs recent material, and I’ll post it when I’m finished.

      Thank you for the information Susan! Love to talk to you more in the near future!

      • Finally, someone is listening!!! I’ve talked to many horse owners and even veterinarians about this and they all just stick their heads in the sand…it’s called “DENIAL”! While looking for horses for students I see terribly tenderfooted animals who are obviously so sore on their bare feet and not one of those owners, whether backyard folks or professionals will acknowledge the problem.

        How did you manage to never give your horses GMO grain?

  6. This is the most factually incorrect and misguided post on horse feeding that I’ve seen in a long time. Let’s set aside whether you should be feeding your horses alfalfa AT ALL…. your comments about genetically modified alfalfa are simply incorrect. There are no “pesticides” in these hybrid plants. The gene splicing technique that is used to breed GE alfalfa is the most precise technique in plant breeding history – it is much safer than techniques used in previous generations to modify plants — like irradiation! It is simple ignorance of science that promotes these kinds of fears. These techniques allow GE alfalfa to be raised WITHOUT the use of pesticides and with fewer herbicides — saving water, preventing soil erosion and reducing human and animal exposure to toxic pesticides.

  7. Couldn’t disagree with you more Casey: you are either not doing the research or you’re selling GM alfalfa…

    First, as an Alfalfa grower, we don’t use pesticides and never will need to, so why modify the plant in the first place??? Oh, right, shareholder value. Forgot.

    The Bt toxins in GM plants have been found to be as high as 4000 times above what an organic spray would be. And you think that’s okay for a horse to eat? Like to see the long term study on that…

    Also, the gene splicing is anything but precise. Now that’s one I can say I’ve spent time in a lab watching. I don’t come by this because I read a few posts on a blog somewhere. I spent time at UBC (years) with real scientists and it’s anything but “precise”.

    Never seen soil erosion around alfalfa before either. The roots of the plant can grow as long as 100 feet, and alfalfa is brilliant at “holding” banks and slopes together. I have it on some very major slopes here. No erosion.

    Speaking about the “science” – I’m working with a group of scientists and alfalfa breeders in the US: they have found that GM alfalfa may not fix nitrogen like conventional does. Should this be proven, that would be a huge blow for Monsanto, as that is one of the values this crop has as a rotation. Looking forward to this research.

    For anyone to put their energy into promoting a product who has no long term studies attached to it, you’re either foolish and lacking any form of vision as to what a planet out of control could look like. No one I know is remotely interested in being a guinea pig for a corporation whose sole mandate is to shareholder value, above and beyond human suffering.

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