The State of Agricultural Research


I'm a big proponent of supporting local farms and knowing your farmer.  Therefore, I was a bit ashamed that I didn't know what really went on at the University of Maryland Farm that is right down the street from the house I grew up in. Luckily, they hold an annual open house that I managed to attend last year.  I took a tractor ride tour of the land.

Tractor Collage.jpg

And felt inside of a cow's stomach. I had seen the whole "cow with a hole in the side of it" thing before on documentaries, but actually putting my hand inside was brand new. I'm still not sure that I think cutting a hole in the side of a cow is particularly ok, but the cow I met was very sweet and didn't seem in any pain. They swear that she was not drugged and that she is, in fact, not suffering.

Farm Collage3.jpg

Some interesting facts that I learned that I really wanted to share with you all deal with the state of agricultural research in this country.  The sad truth is that it is extremely rare to get independent research conducted today.  Students at the University of Maryland, and other agricultural universities, don't receive enough government or university funding for research. Which means that they must go out and get grants elsewhere.  And where do you think they get this money from?  Industry.  

Now think about that.  If the research being conducted is being paid for by the very companies who have a stake in a particular outcome, how unbiased and trustworthy are the results?  

Independent testing is important.  The government is often overly entangled in things in this country, but research is an area where it actually should be, and it is  becoming less and less involved.  Fair and unbiased research is in the good of the country.  

In case you were wondering, yes, the UMD farm plants all GMO corn.  Even BT corn.  Anyone surprised?


Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

Genetically Modified

What the heck is a genetically modified food?

Well for starters, we probably should use a different term: transgenic.  Technically speaking, any deliberate form of cross breeding is a form of genetic modification.  This is not, however, what people are usually referring to when they speak of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  Therefore, I will use the less ambiguous term, transgenic, to refer to the specific splicing of the DNA of one organism and the subsequent insertion of a gene(s) from a different organism.  Although, note that when you see the terms GM or GMO elsewhere it is most likely referring to transgenic organisms.


The process of creating a transgenic organism (whether plant or animal) is not a natural process.  There are many steps involved that require the invasion of a cell usually through a bacteria or virus that has been altered with the desired gene.  The plant or animal that is being modified will have the altered bacteria or virus forced into the nucleus of its cells.  

Here is a great video that explains the process.

The main question is why have biotech companies created transgenic crops?

The original idea is based around improving crop yields.  Whether or not yields have even been improved is up for debate, but what is for sure is that the biotech companies have created a profit generating machine by patenting seeds (live organisms which can replicate and cross-contaminate).  The most prolific transgenic seeds are those that have been engineered to be resistant to a specific herbicide: Monsanto's Roundup Ready Herbicide.  This means that farmers can spray massive amounts of Roundup Ready Herbicide without fear that it will destroy the crop.  Of course, Monsanto is the company that has both patented the seeds and the herbicide.  How convenient?  The company is making money selling farmers seeds and the herbicide.  So, now we've got transgenic food that is being sprayed with a massive amount of herbicide.

There is also Monsanto's Bt corn which is engineered to have an insecticide built into its DNA, which can liquify the stomach linings of insects trying to eat the crop.  What does it do to humans?  We don't know.  

There are a number of others, but Monsanto owns 90% of all transgenic crops and those are the two big ones.  Do not be fooled by Monsanto's claims that it is trying to feed the world.  It is the chemical company that brought us Agent Orange and it is mainly concerned with profits.  Otherwise, Monsanto would perform the necessary tests to determine that it is actually safe to feed the world transgenic foods.

For those of you who may not know much about transgenic foods, the following may come as a shock:

***In the U.S.A., transgenic foods are in as much as 80% of all conventional processed foods***

The following are considered high risk transgenic crops:

  • Alfalfa (first planting 2011)
  • Canola (approx. 90% of U.S. crop)
  • Corn (approx. 88% of U.S. crop in 2011)
  • Cotton (approx. 90% of U.S. crop in 2011)
  • Papaya (most of Hawaiian crop; approximately 988 acres)
  • Soy (approx. 94% of U.S. crop in 2011)
  • Sugar Beets (approx. 95% of U.S. crop in 2010)
  • Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash (approx. 25,000 acres)
  • Also, Animal Products due to contamination of feed and rBGH (Bovine Growth Hormone which is a transgenic hormone inserted into conventional cows)

[statistics from the Non GMO Project:]

Essentially, this means processed foods.  Canola, corn, soy and sugar (sugar beets) make up the majority of ingredients in conventional processed foods.  Also, any actual corn, soy or canola oil that is non-organic and not certified as Non-GMO is almost certainly transgenic.  Alfalfa is poised to become a big factor because it is both easily spread and fed to livestock.

Transgenic crops have been around for well over a decade, which means that almost all of us have, at one time or another, consumed transgenic foods without our knowledge or consent.  This is unique to the U.S.A.  In the European Union, transgenic crops are banned.  Even Russia and China require labeling of transgenic food.

Despite their proliferation in American diets, very little testing has been done on the safety of transgenic crop consumption.  The big biotech companies have a lot of money and have managed to lobby the government to reduce regulations and treat transgenic crops as normal.  Which means that they've entered our supermarkets and our stomachs without extensive testing, causing the public at large to be the biotech industry's own personal guinea pigs.  I, for one, do not appreciate that these companies have placed profits over public health.



Clearly, eating a single serving of transgenic food does not produce immediate, acute effects that are easily identifiable, but what about consumption over time?  The answer is: we don't know.  Biotech companies have attempted to prevent testing of transgenic crop consumption, but slowly tests are coming out and the results are not looking good.  Connections are coming out between transgenic foods and infertility, immune problems and altered organ function, among others.  See the links below:

What does this mean for us, today?

Personally, I want to see labeling on transgenic foods.  This is extremely relevant today.  In an exciting new turn of events, Senator Barbara Boxer (D- CA) and Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OH) have sponsored new federal legislation that would require labeling of all transgenic foods in the U.S.  This is a right to know issue.  

If you do not want to consume transgenic foods your best bet is to: 

  • Avoid processed foods
  • Buy certified Organic and/or certified Non GMO foods
  • Try heirloom varieties of foods

If this resonates with you, please get involved.  Monsanto, Dupont and others spent just under $25 million in order to block Proposition 37, which would have required labeling of transgenic foods in California in 2012 (1).  We need people who will protect the interests of the public, not the interests of company profits. Get the word out.  Encourage people to call their representatives and tell them that they want transgenic food to be labeled.  We have the right to know what is in our food.

Some resources for getting involved and/or learning more:




Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

What is an Heirloom Variety?

Maybe you've seen them before, maybe not: purple carrots, yellow tomatoes, black rice, red potatoes.

Heirloom varieties.

What does this mean?

An heirloom plant is one that has been grown for a long time in human history, but is no longer commonly grown in modern large-scale agriculture.

Heirloom Collage.jpg

These are not new hybrids.  They have been around for centuries.  Not that hybridization is necessarily bad, but lest you fear that these have ben concocted in a lab and tomatoes are supposed to be red, let me reassure you that tomatoes have been green, yellow, orange and red for a very long time.



Modern day agriculture is very focused on uniformity.  As a result, large-scale operations tend to grow only one variety of corn, potato, tomato etc.  While this may be effective at producing french fries that all look the same, we are missing out on a multitude of benefits that various varieties of plants have to offer. Not all potatoes are created equal, for example.  While the common New and Russet potatoes get a bad rap, purple potatoes are loaded with antioxidants.

An article from Rodale with more information: Purple Potatoes: Your New Blood Pressure Medicine

One of the keys to a healthy diet is variety.  We need to consume a variety of foods in order to obtain the vast array of micronutrients that our bodies need.  A great way to do this is to add variety within the foods that you already eat.  Is rice standard in your diet?  Try cooking with different types of rice.  There are dozens of rice varieties, each with their own unique flavor profile that can add to your health and to the deliciousness of your meal.

More information about the greatness of black rice: 

District Avenue Nutrition: White rice, Brown rice, What’s BLACK rice?

Here's another reason to care:

In general, it is hard to find heirloom varieties at standard grocery stores. More health conscious grocery stores, however, do offer a lot of heirloom options and farmers markets are teeming with them. You see, the reason that there are, or at least were, so many different varieties of each plant species is that plants can adapt to be grown in different regions with different conditions.  Through the generations, farmers keep the seeds that thrive and pass those on to their children.  Thus, local heirloom varieties have been adapted over the years to be successful in your local area.  That means that these plants by nature require less external help to deal with pests and weather because they have evolved to be better suited to the climate.  Unfortunately, due to the monoculture mentality of large-scale agriculture, many heirloom varieties have been lost.  We are losing Agrobiodiversity.

Some numbers from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations:


  • *Since the 1900s, some 75 percent of plant genetic diversity has been lost as farmers worldwide have left their multiple local varieties and landraces for genetically uniform, high-yielding varieties.
  • 30 percent of livestock breeds are at risk of extinction; six breeds are lost each month.
  • Today, 75 percent of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plants and five animal species.
  • Of the 4 percent of the 250 000 to 300 000 known edible plant species, only 150 to 200 are used by humans. Only three - rice, maize and wheat - contribute nearly 60 percent of calories and proteins obtained by humans from plants.
  • Animals provide some 30 percent of human requirements for food and agriculture and 12 percent of the world’s population live almost entirely on products from ruminants.

            Source: FAO. 1999b

We have already lost a lot, but we can preserve what we have.  Buy heirloom varieties and support the use of locally cultivated seeds.

Eating heirlooms can be easy substitutions/additions.  Next time you have a veggie tray at an event, try throwing in some purple and white carrots beside the orange ones.  You'll have the most beautiful display and be helping everyone to eat the rainbow!