An Inside Look into Monsanto and the GMO Controversy

An Inside Look into Monsanto and the GMO Controversy

Monsanto Headquarters

Monsanto Headquarters


Have you ever wanted to get an inside look into Monsanto and learn more about GMO’s and what all the controversy is about? Now, here is your chance.

I recently had the chance to go on another Farm Food Tour sponsored by Kansas Farm Bureau, Kansas Soybeans, and Kansas Pork Association. The first one I attended visited a variety of farms across Kansas which you can read about here.

This tour took us a little deeper into the science of our food where we got to tour the Monsanto headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri. What an eye opening experience it was for me!


Inside Monsanto Facility

I have to admit, I have been a one sided girl on the issue of GMO’s and have been totally against them. I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with Kansas Farm Bureau and attend these tours to get more educated on the issue.

Since the 90’s Monsanto has primarily been a seed company spending most of their research on plant breeding which has been going on for centuries. That is how we have so many varieties of fruits and vegetables. Check out all the vegetables we have now that stemmed from breeding the yellow mustard plant. It’s given us crops like cabbage, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, kale, broccili and cauliflower.


Monsanto does however still produce Round-Up and has two primary sections of the company, seeds and crop protection. Both focus on agriculture just in different areas.

We did not get into too much discussion on the crop protection production side of things at this visit so I cannot comment very much on that issue.

We did however talk a lot about GMO’s. What makes GMO’s a little different then plant breeding is there is more science and biotechnology that goes into making the seed. They look at issues that farmers are facing and try to help develop seeds that help with weed, pest control and other issues.

So here are few questions I had and answers I got.

How did Monsanto make a Round-Up Ready seed?
By doing research they found a bacteria resistant to the herbicide Round-Up and incorporated that bacteria into the DNA of the soybean seed so now when the crop is sprayed with Round-Up the weeds will die but the soybean crop will not.

Does having a Round-Up ready crop reduce the amount of Round-Up needed to kill the weeds? It does not reduce the amount used but changes the what kind of herbicide you can use.

Will using too much Round-Up eventually give us super weeds?
Crop rotation and other farming practices are being used to help avoid this.

What about the virus resistant papaya? How does that work? Do you give the papaya a vaccine like a human would get a flu shot to protect it from the virus?  Check out the short video at the bottom of the page that explains how a papaya resistant to the Papaya Ring Spot Virus was created for the answer to this.

The tour at Monsanto was very interesting and the scientific research they are doing is mind blowing and the more I have learned the less scared I am of them. But my mind is spinning over the controversy of the other side too and I still need to learn more.


I do however appreciate their approach on trying to help people in poorer countries feed their families.

Entrance to Growing Room at Monsanto

Entrance to Growing Room at Monsanto

The Monsanto research facility houses growing rooms where they can replicate the climates of other countries and develop seeds to grow under those conditions. In return this helps farmers and families in underdeveloped areas grow more food to help them and their livestock thrive.

Growing Room at Monsanto

Growing Room at Monsanto



Although, some believe you cannot alter a plant to adapt to climate. Who is right?

The research on developing pest resistant plants is pretty incredible as you can see by the pic below the difference between the plants attacked by the velvetbean caterpillar.


Velvetbean Caterpiller infested plant

Soybean plant infested with Soybean Loop and Velvetbean Caterpillar

Is it safe to put an insect killer in plants?
After many years of research it is deemed safe but the controversy lies that the long term effects are really not known yet and some say it is killing off good insects like butterflies.

For those living in areas where this plant is one of your main food sources to survive, then long term effects and butterflies are probably not as important as is facing starvation.

Their research on microbes (those tiny organisms like fungi and good bacteria) are helping develop better soil for the plant. Think of them as probiotics for the soil that aid the plants root system, nutrient content, growth and protection against disease.


Is this because some people believe Round- Up is destroying the soil and they need to find a way to help?
GMO supporters would say no, those against would say yes.


I think a lot of the controversy about Monsanto stems from Monsanto making chemicals as they used to be an industrial chemical company making things like Astroturf, saccharin and other things. Some of which were made under government contracts that has caused quite a bit of controversy.

I get that some awful things happened and am not sticking up for them in anyway, but a lot of things like that have happened. There was a time when we did not know that cigarets could cause lung cancer and kill you. It can take years to know the effects of some certain things. There are plenty of household chemicals we buy everyday that can harm us as well.

In the last few decades Monsanto has become focused on agriculture and the controversy and questions are endless. I can see there are extremes on both sides, just hang out on youtube for a while.

Do the anti Monsanto videos of skulls and cross bones and people wearing gas masks freak me out?
Sure, they are really creepy and certainly raise some questions.

Do the pro GMO videos make sense as to why they are doing it?
Yes, It seems like a good thing to help starving people.

What about the farmer and having to sign a contract?
We got to speak to a panel of farmers and this just means that the farmer cannot save the seed. Some can look at it that it as just a way for Monsanto to make more money as the farmer has to buy new seed every year. The farmers response was that they really do not want to save the seed as it might not produce a great crop anyway.


Farmer Panel

These farmers have families just like us and in the end want to produce the healthiest safest foods they can for themselves and us in the most effective way they know how.

What about the bees and butterflies? Lots of controversy on this!

Vitamin A Enriched Rice? One side is for it, one is against.

There are hundreds of topics that involve GMO’s each with its own debate that are far to lengthy to cover in one blog post. In the end it all has to come down to a personal choice and educating yourself. The transparency and openness that was shared with us about what they were doing was invaluable information.

My personal choice is to still eat organic and non GMO foods when I have a choice. Although, the more I learn the less scared of them I am. This does not mean I have partaken in the Monsanto Koolaid and am okay with everything they are doing it is just the lifestyle that I live and what works for my family and I until I learn more. I’m also not a fanatic about it when dining out or traveling or even having an occasional indulgence. I believe life is all about balance.

If organic foods are not in your budget, you can still eat healthy. Soy and corn are the most widely used and most of those go into animal feed and some processed food. So if you eat a healthy diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables you are not going to get that many in your diet anyway whether you are opposed to them or not. I’ve listed the GMO crops at the bottom of this post. I have done my best to get the most current but the list is continually growing so always double check as everything may not be listed. The information below is from the site Best Food Facts and is a great site to visit that covers about every topic that involves food.  I’ve also included some links to some short videos that help explain things where you don’t need to be a scientist to figure it out.

Almost everything in this world is two sided and the GMO’s debate is no different. I see valid points on each side. I wish I could give you more of a clear cut answer on who is right and who is wrong but I really can’t. I still need to learn more. I do hope I have at least given you some facts to research to help you make a decision that is right for you.

Please feel free to comment or ask any questions that you have concerning Monsanto, GMO’s or farming practices. I’m really interested in what you have to say. If I don’t have an answer I will try to find it out for you!

I also wish to thank Kansas Farm Bureau, Kansas Soybeans and Kansas Pork Association for inviting me on this tour and providing travel, meals and accommodations. I also want to make clear that in no way was I compensated or influenced by Monsanto. All opinions in this article are my own.

Short Videos


GMO Myths and Truths

How are GMO’s Made (story of the papaya)

GMO crop information from Best Food Facts

Corn (field & sweet)
The GM version of field corn protects the crop against corn rootworms and the Asian corn borer. Like GM field corn, GM sweet corn also protects the crop against destructive pests.

The GM soybean plant is resistant to pests and disease as well as being tolerant of herbicides that are most effective, allowing for less herbicide use overall.

GM cotton requires fewer pesticides and protects against the cotton bollworm.

Canola has been modified through biotechnology to make it tolerant to some herbicides. This allows for a reduced amount of chemicals needed for weed control. The modified plant also has resistance to pests and fungus.

The GM version of alfalfa is tolerant of some herbicides, allowing for a reduced amount of chemicals needed for weed control.

Sugar Beets
The GM sugar beet has increased tolerance to some herbicides, allowing for a reduced amount of chemicals needed for weed control. GM sugar beets also have virus and pest resistance traits.

The GM version of papaya makes the plant resistant to the prevalent Papaya Ringspot Virus.

GM squash has traits that improve the plant’s defense against viruses.

There are other GM crops that are currently being tested, but are not yet available to consumers. For instance, the Innate potato, which the USDA recently approved for commercial planting, is a non-browning variety of potato. And the Arctic apple has GM traits that resist browning after being cut.

Family Farms Across Kansas Impacting the Nation and the Lessons I Learned

Family Farms Across Kansas Impacting the Nation and the Lessons I Learned

If you happen to catch any of my #farmfoodtour pics on Instagram a few weeks ago, then you are aware of the great time I had when I was invited by the Kansas Farm Bureau to spend three days traveling across Kansas visiting local farms. All of these farms are impacting our nation as they supply their goods all across the country and beyond. I also learned many lessons about how are food is raised and truly had an eye opening experience.


farm food tour pics

I love writing about local food and love meeting the farmers behind the food so I was excited to have the opportunity to experience this.

The trip consisted of a handful of writers and bloggers from the Midwest along with our hosts which was a representatives from Kansas Farm Bureau and The Kansas Soybean Association.


There was a lot of talk on the tour about the GMO controversy and although, I get the need for GMO for world hunger, the need for pesticide and virus resistant crops, etc…, I am anti GMO in the foods I eat, against factory farming and am adamant that our food should be labeled if it contains GMO.

So before the tour I have to admit I am the one who only listened to one side of the story and spent too much on organic produce.

There is still much debate on this subject but after this tour I am a bit more relaxed about things. I learned there are only eight GMO crops; corn, soybeans, cotton, papaya, canola, sugar beets, squash and alfalfa. I also learned there is rigorous testing done to ensure safety.

In addition to what I learned on the tour, I have been scouring sources to make the right decision for what I want to feed my family. Each side has a great argument and I am not an expert by any means so it really has to come down to a personal choice.

With a daughter recently diagnosed with some allergy and other health concerns, I am probably still going to stick with buying organic and non GMO foods but won’t freak out as bad if we get a GMO in our diet every now and then.

There is research that states GMO’s don’t cause allergies there is other research that says certain allergies did not exist until GMO’s where introduced. While we are on the topic of allergies there is now talk of making a GMO peanuts that would remove the allergen. There is also talk of a GMO wheat grain that would remove the gluten. For people who suffer from gluten issues or have peanut allergies does that make GMO a good thing?

My daughter is having some gluten issues so as a mom is that something I would try to help my daughter although I have been anti GMO, I don’t know. I would certainly have to do my homework. Again so much controversy that you have to choose what is right for you.

If gluten is an issue for you, do not miss reading about day two of the tour where we visited NuLife Market in Scott City, KS. They have amazing gluten free flour as well as other products.

NuLife Market Sorghum field

NuLife Market Sorghum Field

The labeling issue was another hot topic. I think it is super important for people to know what is in their food but we also need to educate ourselves as well. If you are trying to avoid GMO’s, know what crops are modified so you don’t have to fear if that cucumber is a GMO or not, because it is not one of the eight.

Before the tour I was adamant that GMO foods need to be labeled. After the tour I learned how much labeling laws would increase food cost and no one wants that. I decided that if the labeling is not going to happen then I need to educate myself on what crops are modified, and buy organic when I am not sure. There is already organic and non GMO labeling available that can probably help make the decision I need, so I don’t know that I am such a stickler on that topic anymore.

Other hot topics included antibiotic use, organic produce and crops as well as grass fed beef.

What about grass fed beef? Well, all beef is grass fed because they graze in the pastures. How it is finished is the difference. This is not too much of a hot button for me as my father in law raised cattle and gave them grain and that is all we ate. He recently quit raising the cattle so now I buy organic beef, but do not necessarily focus on grass finished or not. Grass finished has more omega 3 than grain finished but not enough to make a difference in your diet, so if you are looking for more Omega 3 eat some salmon or take a supplement.

What about antibiotics? All of the farms we visited do not give their animals antibiotics just for the heck of it and Good Farm that raises pork does not use any at all. The farmers that do use them explained that they are only used if medically necessary. Just as we get sick and occasionally need one, so do the animals. I also learned that there is a stringent documentation process on what animal got, how much and when it was. There is also a waiting period before the animal can be processed after an antibiotic is administered to make sure it is out of its system.

What about organic? Before the tour I envisioned non organic produce being doused with chemicals and then picked and put on the grocery store shelves. After the tour I am a little less concerned. Farmers have guidelines they have to adhere too on many levels and pesticide use is one of them. There is a certain waiting period they have to follow before they can harvest the crop after a pesticide has been applied. Does this make the fruit any safer to eat? I don’t know but it makes me feel a little better knowing there has been time for rain-showers and other environmental elements to shake off some the residue.

I appreciate that Cal-Ann Basil Farm we visited on day one does not use any synthetic pesticides since that is the brand I buy. I was happy to learn about the waiting period process on harvesting after pesticide use but will still buy organic especially the produce listed on the dirty dozen list because that is what works for me. I will say that knowing what I do now will help me not be so concerned if I see my son eating a non organic apple or knowing my daughter is not getting organic produce in the dining hall while she is away at college.

Me photographing some basil

Me photographing some basil

The last issue we will tackle is Factory Farming. When I hear the term factory farm I envision hoards of pigs or cattle crammed into a tiny pin covered with gunk and who knows what else. The McCarty Family Farms we visited that produces milk for Dannon Yogurt is considered a factory farm and it was a total 360 from what I had in mind. You can read more about the McCarty Dairy on day three of the tour.

Newborn Calf at McCarty Family Farms Dairy

Newborn Calf at McCarty Family Farms Dairy

I cannot say enough about everything I learned and how compassionate these farmers are to make sure the crops they are growing and the animals they are raising meet the highest quality standards. It is truly is all about family and they care for their families as much as we do ours and are feeding them just like us so they want to produce the best food possible in the best way they know how.

I wish to thank the Kansas Farm Bureau and all the incredible farmers for this amazing experience. You can read more about the farms in the links below.

Day one: Cal-Ann Farms, Good Pork Farm, Sawyer Land and Cattle.

Day two: Nu Life Market

Day three: McCarty Family Farms, Blythe Angus Ranch