Quantcast

Protecting Organic Seeds From GMO Contamination

Food

Organic seed should be free of genetically engineered (GE) DNA, because organic regulations prohibit genetic engineering. Unfortunately, organic crops are threatened by inadvertent contamination from GE crops. In response to the threat, the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) published a workbook, Protecting Organic Seed Integrity: The Organic Farmer’s Handbook to GE Avoidance and Testing.

All crops are at risk of contamination, but seed crops are particularly at risk, because the GE DNA in the seed will carry over to the food crop as well.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Although the workbook itself is geared primarily to seed growers, the integrity of our seed supply is important to all of us. Contamination of seed planted by organic farmers will result in GE DNA in organic food and feed. This is an economic loss for the farmer, because buyers may refuse to purchase contaminated seed. Wide-scale contamination of our seed supply can destroy the genetic purity of seed varieties used by organic farmers. The workbook claims “OSGATA’s membership believes that contamination of organic seed by GE seed constitutes irreparable harm to the organic seed industry by undermining the integrity of organic seed.”

How do crops become contaminated?

There are many ways that GE DNA can find its way into other crops. During the growing season, pollen from a GE crop can travel long distances and pollinate organic crops. To help prevent this, some seed companies require seed crops to be at least 2 miles from any corn plantings, to ensure purity of the seed. Gene flow can occur as seeds are dispersed to new areas by wind, water, and animals. Another important source of GE contamination is through seed mixing. This can occur in the equipment used during planting and harvest, or during transport and storage of the harvested crop.

Why is contamination a threat?

The spread of GE DNA can happen quickly. Within a year of the release of GE alfalfa, contamination was found in the non-GE plantings of alfalfa.

Possible sources of GE contamination can be difficult to identify. For example, test plots of unapproved GE crops can be a source of unknown and unsuspected GE DNA. Before crops are deregulated and commercialized, they are field tested at undisclosed locations. More than 8,000 field trials have been planted, throughout the U.S., often near seed producing areas. Farmers may have no idea that a new experimental crop is being tested near their farm.

If genetic contamination from test plots does occur, it may be impossible to detect. Testing for GE crops is based on detecting the novel DNA that has been inserted, or the proteins made from that DNA. Testing laboratories can use DNA sequences of the approved, deregulated crops, but they do not have access to the DNA sequences of unapproved varieties being grown in field tests. Since laboratories can only test for known DNA sequences, they may be unable to detect contamination that occurs from crops in test plots. Since the location of the test plots is secret, farmers may not even be aware of the need to test. Contamination can become widespread before it is detected.

All crops are at risk of contamination, but seed crops are particularly at risk, because the GE DNA in the seed will carry over to the food crop as well. After GE crops are commercialized, they may be grown anywhere, even near seed crops, and farmers who grow them are not required to notify their neighbors.

How can risk be mitigated?

Growers of organic seed crops are taking a pro-active stance to prevent contamination. They are educating themselves about prevention methods, implementing management practices, and testing their own seed crops. The National Organic Standards Board has discussed seed purity, and plans to continue working on it.

Consumers can support these efforts by purchasing organic food and garden seeds. This is particularly important for corn, canola (and canola oil), soybeans, beets (and beet sugar), and squash.

Farmers and consumers depend on the integrity of organic seed stocks. Without action, organic seed stocks could be permanently contaminated with GE DNA.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A dire new report issued by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) found that the climate crisis is on a worrying trajectory as the crisis's hallmarks — sea level rise, ice loss and extreme weather — all increased over the last five years, which will end as the warmest five-year period on record.

Read More Show Less
Line of soldiers walking. Pexels

By Peter Gleick

War is a miserable thing. It kills and maims soldiers and civilians. It destroys infrastructure, cultures and communities. It worsens poverty and development challenges. And it damages and cripples vital ecological and environmental resources.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
People take part in a ceremony to mark the 'death' of the Pizol glacier on Sept. 22. FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP / Getty Images

Hundreds of activists gathered in the Swiss Alps on Sunday to mourn the loss of Pizol, a glacier that has steadily retreated over the last decade as temperatures have warmed the mountain tops, according to CNN.

Read More Show Less
Luis Alfonso de Alba Gongora, the UN secretary-general's special envoy for the climate summit speaks at The World Economic Forum holds the Sustainable Development Impact Summit 2018 in New York on Sept. 24, 2018. Ben Hider / World Economic Forum

By Howard LaFranchi

When United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres decided to hold a high-level climate summit in conjunction with this year's General Assembly kicking off next week, he was well aware of the paradox of his initiative.

Read More Show Less
Acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan meets with Guatemalan farmers on May 29 in Santa Rosa, Guatemala. John Moore / Getty Images

The Trump administration ignored its own evidence on how climate change is impacting migration and food security when setting new policies for cutting aid to Central America, NBC reports.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Mike Pence brought the first motorcade to Mackinac Island on Saturday. Cars have been banned on the island since 1898. 13 ON YOUR SIDE / YouTube screenshot

Vice President Mike Pence sparked outrage on social media Saturday when he traveled in the first-ever motorcade to drive down the streets of Michigan's car-free Mackinac Island, HuffPost reported.

Read More Show Less
Inhaling from an electronic cigarette. 6okean / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Shawn Radcliffe

  • As illnesses and deaths linked to vaping continue to rise, health officials urge people to stop using e-cigarettes.
  • Officials report 8 deaths have been linked to lung illnesses related to vaping.
  • Vitamin E acetate is one compound officials are investigating as a potential cause for the outbreak.
The number of vaping-related illnesses has grown to 530 cases in 38 states and 1 U.S. territory, federal health officials reported.
Read More Show Less
Activist Greta Thunberg leads the Youth Climate Strike on Sept. 20, 2019 in New York City. Roy Rochlin / WireImage / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

As organizers behind Friday's Global Climate Strike reported that four million children and adults attended marches and rallies all over the world — making it the biggest climate protest ever — they assured leaders who have been reticent to take bold climate action that the campaigners' work is far from over.

Read More Show Less