I have received a lot of emails about GM feeds, so I compiled a post that describes the basic information you need to know about GM in horse feeds, and the potential issues and dangers around them. I also post any new issues at the bottom of this page.
GMO – Genetically modified organisms are mankind’s way of producing desired effects within a plant/animal that nature either has not done yet, or cannot do. GM plants are created in a lab by scientists, that alter the DNA of the plant by adding a foreign gene into the plant’s DNA (one example was the flounder fish gene in tomatoes). It’s not an exact science, in the aspect that it works first time, every time. It can take years to perfect, adding millions to the cost of the experiment. The most common alteration to the plants horses eat (corn, sugar) is the addition of Bt bacteria, which alters the plant to resist the intense continual spraying of pesticides on the plants without killing them. It also allows any insects that come into contact with that plant to die from trying to eat it.
Think about this for a second, and then continue reading.
Your horse has the unfortunate ability come into contact with some of the most “advanced” GM (genetically modified) foods. Why is this unfortunate? Because many of them are not approved for human consumption, and to me, feeding a horse something that may not be good for you is, in no way, good enough for my horse either.
Many will tell you that plants have been genetically modified for years. The truth is, plants have been modified forever, and are being modified all the time in nature, according to their needs and what other plants they come into contact with, naturally. GM is different. This modification is not something a plant would come across in nature. Where would a corn plant find a pesticide gene? Plus the methods used to keep the genes stable come into question as well, as many modifications use virus’ and antibiotics as “marker genes” to keep the gene from becoming unstable.
While this is a simplified writing of how GM crops are constructed, I hope to give you enough information to continue to do some research and come up with your own conclusions. As a trainer, I won’t feed them. As a farmer and food producer/grower, I won’t grow them.
Let’s take a closer look at the crops your horse may come into contact with.
One of the most prolific GM crops in the world, corn, as we knew it before GM, is almost gone forever. The GM corn we find today has as many as 8 traits – meaning there are 8 alterations to the DNA of each cell in the corn plant. This includes gene changes to kill various bugs and pests and resistance to different pesticides.
The only GM corn fit for raw human consumption (eat without cooking) is a sweet corn that came to market in 2010. All other corns are either in processed human foods, or used in non-processed forms for animal feeds. Corn is a poor animal feed, a lousy fuel alternative and an unhealthy sweetener, yet we consume millions of pounds of it a day.
There have been no studies to show the effects of GM corn on horses, but research is coming out that questions specific gene changes within the horse that science cannot explain. According to The Horse.com (XY sex reversal in horses: the genes behind the switch) researchers have found “how” mares are now becoming infertile, but they still can’t tell “why” this is happening. In independent studies done by researchers looking for problems with GM foods, rats and mice were used, and the same problem arose. By the third generation of GM fed mice and rats, the generation was incapable of procreation. Big corporate interests dismiss these findings on the basis they are not scientific, but the facts remain:
- There are no studies that show GM does no harm to horses or humans over the long term,
- Corporate interests are expected to monitor their own research and present their findings, making the whole industry ripe for the challenges of integrity. One only has to question motivation to understand this.
At the writing of this article, GM sugar hangs in the balance of those with integrity and forethought versus those whose greed and the almighty dollar dangle on the proverbial carrot. A US judge has ruled that GM sugar beets are in violation of federal law, and has ordered the uprooting of all GM sugar beet crops.
Sugar is in all sweet feeds, along with corn, and in many pelleted feeds. While no horse should come into contact with sugar, at least in their feeds or on a regular basis, many will not heed this advice and continue to spike their horse’s insulin levels without a full understanding of what happens inside the horse, and not just on the outside. Cushings and Metabolic Syndrome is rising faster than any of the equine diseases, and equine obesity is now being talked about as an epidemic.
I will keep you posted on future changes to this ruling.
Wheat, barley and oats are slated for the near future. They are currently being hotly debated in both the US and Canada. Europe has banned GM foods/crops for years until 2010, when the ban was lifted, giving individual countries the choice to grow or not to grow. It’s unlikely any of these grains will be grown in 2011, but they are posturing for 2012.
GE alfalfa is on the table as I write. 2011 may be a test year for it in North America. Testing is not a good thing. Open crops can cross pollinate, and non-GM alfalfa has the potential to become extinct much like corn is close to becoming. Bees don’t need passports. Alfalfa is a cover crop for organic growers. While alfalfa is not the ideal forage for horses, it is used in mass quantities. Should we not be able to buy non-GM alfalfa in the future, we had better hope this experiment works, or our horses lives are delicately placed on the chopping block. I’m not being mean – I’m just keeping it real. Corporate interests and shareholder value is above and beyond all else.
Although it’s unlikely hay will be modified in the near future, it does come into contact with pesticides from spraying neighboring crops. Pesticides have been linked to cancers and other diseases in humans. Know where your hay comes from. Spend the time to source quality pesticide-free hays.
Equine Health is Changing
Other health issues are cropping up in both humans and horses, such as allergies and genetic mutations. Another article from The Horse.com states that a new genetic mutation was found in Thoroughbreds. While there are many possibilities, such as pollution and pesticides, GM is never analyzed for fear of retaliation from Biotech firms.
Having been around horses for 50 plus years, cancer, allergies and Cushing’s disease was never heard of. A childhood horse died from a heart attack. I remember the vet stating he had never seen this before. Today, it’s becoming common-place. In 2010, in my local area, 5 horses died of cancer, and Max’s neigh-bour was on cancer drugs.
Almost all the crops, short of grass (wheat is a grass) may eventually become your horse’s diet. What concerns so many of those that oppose this technology, is the risk of failure, and the lack of long term studies on internal damage and disease.
What Can You Do
1. Talk to your feed provider. Let them know you are aware of this and that you will not support it.
2. Speak to feed manufacturers and find out where they source their grains and crops. Again, let them know of your discomfort with GM and that you may boycott their feeds should they not have a Non-GM policy in place.
3. Let other horse owners know about GM grains and forage crops. Education is power. The consumer does dictate the future of food, both for themselves and their animals. If no one buys GM, no one will grow it.
My wish: that a feed company would come up with a Non-GM brand of horse feeds. I would pay the price for it!
I urge you to look further into this and if you have questions on GM foods please email me. I have been researching, speaking with scientists, and doing a great deal of “due diligence” on this subject for almost a decade. I use to be excited about this new technology until 1989, when my neighbor showed me how his corn crop can kill a bug in one bite. As we watched the little beetle slowly slip off and die on the ground, it occurred to me – “Food should not kill.”
I encourage everyone to copy and paste this anywhere they like, as long as my name is on it. We need to get this out to all the horse owners possible.
If you want to know more about GM crops/seeds/foods, this PDF may help: GM Crops – just the science
March 2011: Roundup-Ready GMO Crops May Be Causing Animal Miscarriages and Infertility – could Glyphosate pesticides and GE Alfalfa eventually catch up to the horse world in sterility and miscarriage issues?
A new unknown organism, only visible under an electron microscope (36,000X), with an approximate size range equal to a medium size virus, could have devastating effects on our horse’s miscarrying foals. It is able to reproduce and appears to be a micro-fungal-like organism. If so, it would be the first such micro-fungus ever identified. There is strong evidence that this infectious agent promotes diseases of both plants and mammals, which is very rare: link to article.