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customer question about GMOs and pesticides...


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We had a customer on our facebook page publicly ask a question on whether or not we will be using nongmo grain and pesticides. We are working with out farmer partners to clarify their growing practices but I dont know how to respond delicately. Has anyone had to answer a question like that? GMO is particularly nonsensical and I dont really know their intended purpose of asking that. All grain, organic or not, is genetically modified...all of our grain will be tested for the presence of contaminations and macromolecular makeup. Any advice?

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Really they are asking two different questions. First the GMO question will depend on the grain you use. Most cereals actually are not "Genetically modified" with the exception of corn. Barley, wheat, rye typical are considered "non-gmo" type crops because of how crop breeding is preformed. I can go into detail if you'd like.

As far as pesticides go that will depend on where you source your grain. If you do not specific source from "organic farms" I would guess some form of pesticide is used. Does that make the grain unsafe? Honestly with my agricultural background I say no, I have seen organic farms use just as lethal if not worse forms of pesticides than conventional farms. If pesticides are used within the label recommendations there should be no issues. If pesticides were used there would also be a post harvest interval (PHI) on the label specifying a time limit that must be met before the crop can be harvested to prevent and contamination.

Moral of the story, modern agriculture has enable us to more than double our annual production of food to feed an increasing world population. Without the use of modern plant breeding practices and modern plant protection we would be farming in the dark ages.

Hope this helps!

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For our Organic farms certification it was a year long process which we flew in certifying staff from Germany. All processes were documented, soil samples taken (to ensure no pesticides or other damaging fertilizers had been used in the last 10 years) and employees interviewed with their duties at the plant. Our practices are sustainable which crops were "cleaned" with a metal tools (rakes and hoes), not using something worse than GMO farms. That's just my experience, I can't comment on standard industry practice.

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Strike a balance and focus on the importance of local sourcing and supporting local farmers and businesses. I tend to look for the organic label as well, but if you told me that your only real alternative was to truck it in from 3 states over, it's tough to not give that fact serious consideration.

Realistically how important is "organic" considering we are refining out the fermented starches from the grain? Is there a drastic difference in flavor from general-use field corn/rye/barley compared to their organic counterparts? Surely whats left behind in the stillage is what everyone's concerned about when it comes to organic foods, right?

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Realistically how important is "organic" considering we are refining out the fermented starches from the grain? Is there a drastic difference in flavor from general-use field corn/rye/barley compared to their organic counterparts? Surely whats left behind in the stillage is what everyone's concerned about when it comes to organic foods, right?

Two general interests for organic seeking folks:

1. tastes better

2. produced in a more ecologically sensitive manner

I would guess #2 is more applicable to spirits.

fyi, I don't generally agree with either.

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Fun facts from Iowa,

1. Corn was found as a bush and man kind modified it to be a single "stock".

2. If man kind disappeared all corn "field corn" would be extinct in 2-3 years. Field corn comes from seed corn, with out one you can't have the other.

3. If you get field corn at the right time of the year you can cook it and it taste just like sweet corn, only your ear is 3 times the size. :)

4. There is an underground seed storage facility at Iowa State University In Ames Iowa. It stores millions of seeds with millions of different traits.

joey d.

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Two general interests for organic seeking folks:

1. tastes better

2. produced in a more ecologically sensitive manner

I would guess #2 is more applicable to spirits.

fyi, I don't generally agree with either.

Is the ethanol in their car produced from non-GMO?

Ask that.. Your killing your car!!!

What about the farmer that gives gmo corn to the cows, or pigs, or goats, or etc that becomes a food on there plate. Or the cat fish farm that feeds field corn to them....

I can keep going...... What about bananas, there's the regular bananas, and then there's a section that has the organic non-pesticide bananas you can't get away from the stuff matter which way you go. It's part of the problem of the world becoming overpopulated and the need for food is at an all-time high.

joey d

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I understand the Brown-Forman argument, we can't get it (at least at a competitive price), so why use it?

It seems like GMO crops are banned in some 26 countries including Europe, Russia and China (of all places) among other places (see list below), maybe they are on to something? Shouldn't non-GMO for crop production be the standard? Assuming they find that GMO crops do have some life-shortening or other characteristics, do you really want to have a barrel house full of the stuff? I would think of buying organic as 1) offering a deciphering consumer a choice 2) insurance against someone finding a problem when enough time has passed for adequate research to be done (the delayed research to learn more about asbestos and radon gas in homes come to mind)...that's just the other side of the argument that I see.

Since when has big business been an advocate for change, especially ones with a vested interest of increased profits (not having to buy more expensive ingredients) & tens of thousands of gallons of GMO spirits aging? If companies like Brown-Forman made it a priority to source Organic or Non-GMO ingredients, then maybe family farmers would plant more of them? They are basically taking no responsibility, its the farmers and the consumers, not us...that boiler plate paragraph seems like a great cop-out though...an effective way to play both sides of our discussion here. If consumers wake up like Europe and China, we might change our practices, if not, why change the status quo?

Countries not allowing GMOs--Switzerland, Australia, Austria, China, India, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy, Mexico and Russia.

A decent article worth a look:

https://www.alcoholprofessor.com/blog/2014/06/18/omg-these-gmos/

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The biggest issue to emerge with GMO crops - with some decent science to support it - is that they actually increase pesticide use. Insecticide use has gone down, but herbicide use has gone up because weeds are becoming more resistant to glyphosate (RoundUp). There are some associated effects of increased herbicide use, and some research has been done to show causation between increased herbicide use and declining monarch butterfly populations. If you're using any ingredients that rely on natural pollination - apples, pears - then that's a big deal.

All the studies on GMOs (and glyphosate) show that they're safe for human consumption. And for corn, glyphosate doesn't penetrate the husk anyway. However, two things to consider: 1) no studies have been done on the long term effects of consuming GMO foods, and 2) the big ag companies that make the GMO foods (and the pesticides that go hand-in-hand with them) have been involved in falsifying scientific studies in the past regarding the safety of their products.

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The biggest issue to emerge with GMO crops - with some decent science to support it - is that they actually increase pesticide use.

But therein is the rub. Anti-GMO folks say this, Pro-GMO people say just the opposite. It's hard if not impossible to find independent research on these claims. One thing that's not debatable is yield. Corn acreage planted in the US has been pretty flat for the past decade but yield is up 40%.

The real question for craft distillers is, will your customers pay the premium for GMO free spirits? I suspect that's going to be a local market thing.

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(Sigh), not everything is so binary. I don't think most reasonable people, looking at the evidence, would be anti-GMO. However, they likely would be against the way GMO crops have been utilized, which generally has been short-sighted.

Here's something on increases in pesticide use:

http://www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/24

Here's an article in Nature about some of the work on resistance to glyphosate:

http://www.nature.com/news/case-studies-a-hard-look-at-gm-crops-1.12907#/superweeds

And here's something related to the effects on monarch butterflies:

http://discover.umn.edu/news/environment/number-monarch-butterflies-hibernating-mexico-reaches-all-time-low

I think that one links to the study.

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(Ditto on the sigh...)

Centre for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources - certainly no bias there (and if there's any doubt, look at their funding).

The nature article is interesting. Did you read it? Here's some quotes:

"On balance, herbicide-resistant GM crops are less damaging to the environment than conventional crops grown at industrial scale."

"Using chemicals to control weeds is still more efficient than ploughing and tilling the soil, and is less environmentally damaging."

As for the butterflies, milkweed is, well, a weed. Associating the loss of the primary food source for monarch larvae with GMO is patently bogus. Farmers would eradicate it regardless of their seed stock.

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  • 4 months later...

Fred Minnick form the Wall Street Journal has a new book out called Bourbon Curious: A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker in the book Minnicks says that some of the some of the heritage distillers in Kentucky are using non-GMO grains for the simple fact that it makes it easier for them to get their spirits into certains Asian and EU member countries that have bans on products made from GMO. In a taste test he conducted he could not find any discernable difference in taste that couldn't be explained by variables in fermentation, distillation, or maturation.

That aside, it seems like to choice to use or not to use GMO comes down to one's own personal ethic and the market(s) your spirits are in. If using local non-GMO grains is important to your customers, maybe it should be important to you.

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I realise the importance of the question but the fundamental process involved in the process of fermentation and distillation is the use of Yeast to break down the starches into individual chemical components and convert it into Alcohol. GM or no GM the yeast will eat up and convert the base compounds. Personally I really dislike GM compounds and Monsanto. But that isnt relevant for Distillation.

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  • 4 weeks later...

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