GMOs are a rather complex and uncomfortable topic especially when you start looking at the effects of GMOs on wildlife and on deer. As someone who studies nutrition and health in relation to food and food sources, GMOs are a slippery slope — and one that I readily agreed to research in relation to wildlife and deer for an upcoming issue of Deer & Deer Hunting magazine.
What is a GMO?
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are plants that are modified through the insertion of DNA from another plant or animal. This modifies the genetic blueprint of the original organism. Many Genitically Engineered (GE) crops are modified to allow for improved growth, pest resistance and the ability to withstand herbicides or insecticides that allow GE crops to flourish while weeds do not. Within the U.S., GE crops have been available commercially since 1996 and, according to a 2014 USDA Economic Research Report, adoption of these varieties remain widespread and a part of the U.S. daily diet despite the growing concerns over environmental and health related issues.
Widespread planting of GMOs is sparking national concern over the possibility of negative side effects related to GMOs on wildlife. In 2011, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service agreed to ban GMOs in national wildlife refuges in the Northeast due to a lawsuit brought against the agency by activist groups that oppose GE crops. In 2013, U.S. Fish & Wildlife also began evaluating the future use of GE crops on national wildlife refuges in the Southeast Region where farming is used as a wildlife management tool to meet refuge specific conservation objectives.
Can GMOs Affect Deer?
With multiple modes of GMO exposure (eating GMO food, drinking water that contains runoff, exposure to sprays both in the air and on the ground, exposure to sprays through pollen), studies are only starting to focus on wildlife and on deer. I located two current studies in Montana and Utah that focus on accident-killed whitetail and mule deer. Each study is independent of one another and the findings are similar: fertility issues, reproductive malformation, and multiple birth defects all linking back to increased exposure to Glyphosate (which is found in the majority of herbicide sprays created for use on GMO crops, like RoundUp). With Glyphosate showing up in nearly 75 percent of the rain, water, and air samples taken across the U.S., this is the wake-up call many need to heed. Hunters who want quality deer should understand the present damage GMOs are creating in current herds and the longevity of future herds.
Be Careful What You Bait With
In states where it’s legal to use corn or other bait, be careful of what type of corn you are putting into game feeders. Bt corn is a commercially available GMO that can be used as animal feed. It is created by inserting Bacillus thuringiensis (a soil bacterium) into the DNA of the selected corn variety, which creates a reaction in the plant to produce the Bt toxin.
While Bt corn may be considered safe by FDA’s standard and some farmers may argue that it is revolutionary in battling pest control, reports are beginning to show that Bt is toxic to all mammals. If possible, try to purchase corn or other bait from a non-GMO source.
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