GMO–What’s It To YA?

New growth

 

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism.  Since we are gardeners, this discussion will be specifically about GMO seeds and plants and whether or not you should care about using them in your garden.  This is especially relevant now, since this is the time that people give consideration to the purchase of seeds and plants for the upcoming season.

In a previous blog, I discussed the pros and cons of Organic Gardening and Traditional Gardening.  Of course, how you decide to do your gardening is entirely up to you, but after careful study and consideration I have gone organic.  Why?  Organic Gardening concentrates on building up the soil naturally so that a healthy, natural growing environment is created for the plants, one that is as free as possible of any type of unnatural contaminants.  On the other hand, Traditional Gardening is a lot like Traditional Farming—the techniques used are heavily reliant on the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  Traditional Gardening may give quick and easy results, but it does not restore the land itself.  You can get pretty good results, but the chemicals must be used year in and year out or there will be no harvest.  On the other hand, you can get really good results from being Organic, but there’s a lot of work involved in getting those results.

The issue of GMO seeds and plants is a lot like the issue surrounding Traditional Farming and Gardening.  The use of GMO seeds and plants can give quick and handy results with little to no work, but in the course of their use, nature itself is robbed and supplanted with something that is abnormal and potentially dangerous.

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What is a GMO seed or plant?

A seed or plant that is Genetically Modified has had its DNA changed through genetic engineering. Unlike genetic modification that is carried out through time-tested conventional breeding of plants and animals, the genes from one species (plant) may be combined with genes from a completely different organism or species in order to give the plant characteristics that are not naturally found within its species. This is known as “recombinant DNA technology”, and the resulting organism is said to be “genetically modified,” “genetically engineered,” or “transgenic.”

Mendel

“Well, “ you may ask, “isn’t this exactly the same as cross breeding things?”  The answer is NOPE.

In traditional cross breeding, members of the SAME SPECIES are bred through successive generations in order to achieve certain traits.  For example, there are now thousands of different breeds of dogs, all the result of breeding one kind of DOG with another kind of DOG.  The thing is , however, that only DOGS are used in the cross-breeding—a single species, generally canines or  canis familaris.

There are hundreds of different types of corn, of tomatoes, of peppers, of  beans, of squash, and even of flowers, all achieved by cross breeding within the individual plant species itself. The species Corn, for example (Zea Mays) has been cross-bred by humans over the centuries to produce sweeter and sweeter varieties so that we now enjoy the sweet corn we have today. But corn is still corn. One of the things that I warn about is that corn will self pollinate within its species, and that if you want to keep your sweet corn sweet, it must be isolated from other types of Zea Mays. Corn will naturally breed with Corn, just like dogs will naturally breed with dogs.

Up until now, human cross-breeding of plant and animal species only dealt with the breeding of types within the given species.  However, large corporations have seen a profit in combining the genes of plants and animals with the genes of certain bacteria, of certain worms, of certain insects, all by “cracking open” the DNA itself and inserting genetic material from sources that would never naturally get in there.

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Why in the worlds would someone do this?

For the same reason that some people chose Traditional Gardening over Organic Gardening; to get quick and easy results with little to no work involved.  Some people would be lured by the time and labor saving aspects of it all, and that is the problem.

For example, if you could “make” corn resistant to the defoliant herbicide Round-Up, then instead of hiring boucoups people to do traditional weeding of the fields, you could simply overspray everything with Round-Up (or even Agent Orange). The weeds would be killed off, and the corn plants would still be there, albeit tainted with Round-Up.   Certain corn has been bred with the genes from the BT bacteria so that it has a “Naturally” occurring pesticide right within the corn that fights the earworm and borer. There is even some information that  “genes from an arctic flounder (fish) which has antifreeze properties may have been spliced into a tomato to prevent frost damage.”  Such a thing would allow for the harvest of some tomatoes after the fall frosts had occurred, extending their season.  A few years back, there was a potato produced that had a spliced in biotoxin that would kill off the Colorado Beetle.  This potato is no longer in large-scale commercial production, but it is my understanding that it is still out there. What convenience!  Just imagine never having to pick a Colorado Beetle off a potato plant ever again!

But you would wind up with chemicalcorn, fishtomatoes, and bacteriapotatoes, something that I am not so very sure that people would want to EAT.

Genetic engineering for the sake of convenience of large scale growers or farmers may be handy and produce high yields but the use of GMO processes is not precise which can lead to unpredictable effects. And there have been no long-term studies on the safety of Genetically Modified foods.  And GMO plants can spread their strange hybrid ways about by cross breeding with members of their own species from garden to garden, a troubling aspect.

Arrangement of Vegetables

Although GMO seed and plants don’t seem to be common in the gardening section of the big box stores, the fact is that they could still be in there.  It is, therefore, imperative that you take measures to keep Genetically Modified seeds and plants out of your garden completely. .

When we buy plants from a big box store such as Lowes or Home Depot, we are buying plants that are shipped in from big commercial nurseries that are hundreds of miles away.  Local small farms and nurseries, however, often grow their own plants and can tell you exactly where their seeds came from and whether or not the plants were organically grown.  Generally, the local small operations have a reputation to uphold and want nothing to do with Genetically Modified seeds or plants.  Buying local can help you to avoid GMOs in the garden.

Another way is to grow plants from seed YOURSELF.  In a previous post of this blog I went into a great deal of detail in outlining the process of growing your garden from seed.  You can purchase all organic or all heirloom, open pollinated varieties of seed from reliable sources and start your garden from that.  You control the entire process yourself. This is an extremely economical way to avoid the possibility of winding up with GMOs in your garden.

Just some words to the wise as you are considering seeds and plants for your garden this year. . .

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