The Non-GMO Project label is increasingly appearing on food products in the U.S. and now seed companies are starting to display the butterfly label. A few seed companies, seeing the growing demand for non-GMO products, are getting seed varieties Non-GMO Project verified though the numbers remain small compared with the number of non-GMO verified food companies.
“As demand for non-GMO choices continues to rise, farmers are seeking more non-GMO seed,” Megan Westgate, executive director of the Non-GMO Project, said. “Similarly, smaller farms and home gardeners are choosing to plant more organic and non-GMO varieties.”
High Mowing Organic Seeds Leads the Way
Vermont-based High Mowing Organic Seeds has been the leader in Non-GMO Project verified seeds. All 700 of the company’s organic seed varieties have been verified because of customer demand, according to company president Tom Stearns.
“We’re continuing to hear concerns about GMOs from our customers and while we are certified organic that doesn’t say anything about GMO contamination,” Stearns said, who worked with the Non-GMO Project to develop a non-GMO verification program for seed. “We’ve spent a huge amount of time implementing (GMO) preventative measures and did GMO testing but we felt this wasn’t enough. We wanted third party verification of our claims.”
Stearns said there are many more GMO plants than people think.
“There are some 40 GMO plant species, including things like petunia and endive,” he said. “There are contamination risks even when a GMO crop is not commercially approved, such as when crops such as GMO wheat escape field trials.”
High Mowing Organic Seeds had all of their seed varieties verified to assure their customers.
“If we were to just verify 15 percent of our varieties that have higher GMO risk, our customers may have wondered about the other 85 percent,” Stearns added.
Having all seeds verified also allows High Mowing Organic Seeds to be ready if more GMO varieties come to market since they will have GMO prevention systems in place.
“If GM lettuce is introduced, we are prepared,” Stearns remarked.
Tough Standard to Meet for Corn
Minnesota-based Albert Lea Seed House has begun getting some of its organic seed varieties Non-GMO Project verified.
“There’s a huge demand for non-GMO and we wanted to be on the leading edge,” Mac Ehrhardt, owner and manager Albert Lea, which sells organic and conventional seeds to farmers, said.
Albert Lea sells Non-GMO Project verified varieties of organic oats, rye, wheat and barley.
“We started with seed varieties we could get a handle on,” Ehrhardt said. “Once we know what it takes, we will move forward on others.”
The verification process was not that difficult, said Matt Leavitt, who handles organic certification for Albert Lea Seed House.
“It’s not unlike organic certification and we’ve had systems in place for isolation and minimizing commingling for 20 years,” Leavitt said.
Albert Lea Seed House also plans to get corn and soybean seed varieties verified but these will be more difficult due to GMO risks in those plants.
The Non-GMO Project’s standard sets a GMO threshold of 0.25 percent for seed.
“It’s a tough standard to meet for corn and also challenging for soybeans and alfalfa” Ehrhardt added. “It has to meet expectations of consumers, but must be achievable for farmers.”
“We need a substantial amount of seed at those low levels in order to support the Project’s 0.9 percent human food threshold over the long term,” Westgate said.
Ehrhardt doesn’t yet know how his farmer customers will respond to the non-GMO verification.
“There’s huge demand for non-GMO but I question whether our farmers are interested in the label,” he said.
Iowa-based Blue River Hybrids put two of its PuraMaize pollen-blocking corn hybrids through the Non-GMO Project verification.
Blue River Hybrids President Maury Johnson sees value in the verification for providing assurance to grain buyers and as a marketing tool.
“For a farmer who is growing organic and concerned about GMO content, this is a pretty handy way to buy seed that is non-GMO verified and has minimal or no GMO content,” Johnson said. “That’s a good first step.”
Similar to Albert Lea Seed House, Johnson plans to get more seed varieties Non-GMO Project verified.
Costco Requested Non-GMO Verification
At Utah-based Mountain Valley Seed Company, retail giant Costco provided the impetus for getting seed varieties Non-GMO Project verified.
“The Non-GMO Project is very predominant in Costco and our Costco buyers wanted the verification,” Robb Baumann, Mountain Valley Seed Company partner, said. “That’s what led us to do it.”
Mountain Valley Seed Company sells 16 organic seed varieties at Costco.
Baumann said his company receives calls “every day” from people asking about GMOs. “The number one question we get is about GMOs,” he said.
Still, Bauman has mixed feelings about non-GMO verification.
“Certainly there is value in that customers see it as something good,” he added. “But it is an expense. Organic is already expensive. In a way it’s taking an organic product and putting another label on it that said the same thing twice.”
Conventional Seeds Also Non-GMO Verified
While most Non-GMO Project verified seeds are organic, there are also verified conventional varieties. Washington-based Mighty Mustard sells three varieties of non-GMO verified mustard varieties that farmers grow as cover crops to suppress weeds and increase soil organic matter.
In Oregon, Pure Seed became the first seed company to sell non-GMO verified forage seed for animal feed and turf seed varieties for golf courses and municipal parks.
General Manager Lucas Solis said his company wants to be ahead of the curve.
“GMO has become a bigger topic in turf grass and some companies are developing GMO varieties,” he said. “We see the advantage of being non-GMO from an education standpoint and we are doing our best to maintain the integrity of our products.”
Further, Solis said Non-GMO Project verification provides assurance to customers, particularly international customers in countries that have strict GMO policies.
Need for Clean, Non-GMO Seed
While there is growing interest in Non-GMO Project verification among seed companies, there aren’t many incentives for companies to have their seed verified because the Non-GMO Project focuses more on food.
“The Non-GMO Project Standard focuses on post-harvest testing, so there’s no requirement to use verified seed,” Westgate said. “The challenge is that without verified seed being required, there’s less incentive for that sector to engage.”
The Non-GMO Project has organized a Seed Advisory Committee that will examine ways to encourage more seed companies to get their products verified.
“We need to find a solution to creating more engagement,” Westgate said.
While demand for non-GMO verified seed is not that strong, the need for it is, said Westgate.
“Seeds are the foundation of the food supply, so it’s essential to preserve and build sources of clean, non-GMO seed,” she concluded.
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By Tara Lohan
Warming temperatures on land and in the water are already forcing many species to seek out more hospitable environments. Atlantic mackerel are swimming farther north; mountain-dwelling pikas are moving upslope; some migratory birds are altering the timing of their flights.
Numerous studies have tracked these shifting ranges, looked at the importance of wildlife corridors to protect these migrations, and identified climate refugia where some species may find a safer climatic haven.
"There's a huge amount of scientific literature about where species will have to move as the climate warms," says U.C. Berkeley biogeographer Matthew Kling. "But there hasn't been much work in terms of actually thinking about how they're going to get there — at least not when it comes to wind-dispersed plants."
Kling and David Ackerly, professor and dean of the College of Natural Resources at U.C. Berkeley, have taken a stab at filling this knowledge gap. Their recent study, published in Nature Climate Change, looks at the vulnerability of wind-dispersed species to climate change.
It's an important field of research, because while a fish can more easily swim toward colder waters, a tree may find its wind-blown seeds landing in places and conditions where they're not adapted to grow.
Kling is careful to point out that the researchers weren't asking how climate change was going to change wind; other research suggests there likely won't be big shifts in global wind patterns.
Instead the study involved exploring those wind patterns — including direction, speed and variability — across the globe. The wind data was then integrated with data on climate variation to build models trying to predict vulnerability patterns showing where wind may either help or hinder biodiversity from responding to climate change.
One of the study's findings was that wind-dispersed or wind-pollinated trees in the tropics and on the windward sides of mountain ranges are more likely to be vulnerable, since the wind isn't likely to move those dispersers in the right direction for a climate-friendly environment.
The researchers also looked specifically at lodgepole pines, a species that's both wind-dispersed and wind-pollinated.
They found that populations of lodgepole pines that already grow along the warmer and drier edges of the species' current range could very well be under threat due to rising temperatures and related climate alterations.
"As temperature increases, we need to think about how the genes that are evolved to tolerate drought and heat are going to get to the portions of the species' range that are going to be getting drier and hotter," says Kling. "So that's what we were able to take a stab at predicting and estimating with these wind models — which populations are mostly likely to receive those beneficial genes in the future."
That's important, he says, because wind-dispersed species like pines, willows and poplars are often keystone species whole ecosystems depend upon — especially in temperate and boreal forests.
And there are even more plants that rely on pollen dispersal by wind.
"That's going to be important for moving genes from the warmer parts of a species' range to the cooler parts of the species' range," he says. "This is not just about species' ranges shifting, but also genetic changes within species."
Kling says this line of research is just beginning, and much more needs to be done to test these models in the field. But there could be important conservation-related benefits to that work.
"All these species and genes need to migrate long distances and we can be thinking more about habitat connectivity and the vulnerability of these systems," he says.
The more we learn, the more we may be able to do to help species adapt.
"The idea is that there will be some landscapes where the wind is likely to help these systems naturally adapt to climate change without much intervention, and other places where land managers might really need to intervene," he says. "That could involve using assisted migration or assisted gene flow to actually get in there, moving seeds or planting trees to help them keep up with rapid climate change."
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis. http://twitter.com/TaraLohan
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.
The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.
"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."
The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.
The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.
The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.
To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.
Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.
It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.
"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.
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