GMOs in Horse Feed: Should We Be Worried?

An article written by Juliet M. Getty of Getty Equine Nutrition graced my inbox a few weeks ago and piqued my interest enough to make me archive it instead of deleting it along with the rest of the borderline-junk emails I get on a daily basis.

The article, entitled “Even Non-GMO is Not Necessarily Safe,” was a very well-researched piece explaining the subtle differences between two popular food labels these days: “non-GMO” and “organic.” Let me preface this by first saying that I don’t intend to sway anyone for or against feeding their horses grains or forage that could contain GMOs or other potentially harmful substances like glyphosate. While I find the information to be useful and probably also very accurate, my takeaway question is this: How do we, as horse owners/riders/lovers/etc. on a budget, decide where to draw the line between what’s best for our horses and how much cash is lining our pockets?

Since I’m not entirely interested in making a claim for either non-GMO or organic horse products, you can take a look at a reprint of the article I’m talking about here. For all you skimmers out there, the general gist of the piece explained that even if you think you’re doing you or your horse a favor by buying foods labeled “non-GMO,” pesticides were most likely used to grow those crops. As we all probably know by now, pesticides aren’t so great for anyone’s health, including your horse. On the other hand, Dr. Getty explains that if you buy products labeled as “USDA organic,” you can rest assured that they’re free of pesticides and other synthetic chemicals.

Here’s the downside. It is much more expensive for farmers/companies to manufacture a “USDA organic” product than it is a “non-GMO” product because of the added regulations required to meet USDA organic standards. This includes using pesticide-free growing methods, as well as no genetic engineering. As you can imagine, increased manufacturing costs translates to a premium price on that perfect bag of horse feed or beet pulp.

In a perfect world, we’d all buy the USDA-certified organic product every single time. But the reality is that the vast majority of us (hence the name poor amateurs) can’t necessarily afford to spring for the more expensive bag, or maybe we don’t even have the choice if we’re at a boarding stable that only offers one type of feed. So does this mean that you shouldn’t have a horse if you can’t afford top-notch everything? Absolutely not. It just means that you need to prioritize your spending based on what you can realistically afford. For example, would your horse benefit more from the pricier organic, non-GMO beet pulp, or the $50/month joint supplement she’s currently on? For my horse, it’s definitely the joint supplement.

Maybe this was a long-winded way of saying that although it’s extremely important to stay up-to-date on that latest nutrition information for your horse, don’t get too caught up with buzzwords like “organic” and “non-GMO.” If you can afford to buy your horse all the premium feed in the world, plus get her three high-quality supplements and still have money left over to buy yourself food, that’s great. If not, don’t sweat it. You’re doing the best you can, and that’s more than enough.

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