Quantcast
Food

Protecting Organic Seeds From GMO Contamination

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.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Roderick Eime / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

New Evidence Suggests Ancient Egypt Was Brought Down By Volcanoes and Climate Change

Ancient Egypt is often described as an exotic place—pyramids, hieroglyphics, lavishly worshipped kings and queens.

But in many ways, it has a lot of parallels to modern life. It was an economically diverse, culturally vibrant and unequal place.

The millenniums-old society also struggled with a phenomenon that people today know all too well: climate change. And it may have ultimately led to the civilization's demise, according to a new paper by a team of researchers at Yale University.

The team of researchers studied the tail-end of ancient Egypt during the Ptolemaic dynasty between 305-30 BCE.

Keep reading... Show less
Portuguese youth plaintiffs, from left to right: Simão and Leonor; Cláudia, Martim and Mariana; André and Sofia. Global Legal Action Network

Kids Harmed by Portugal Fires Reach Key Crowdfunding Goal for Climate Lawsuit

As Portugal reels from its worst wildfires on record, seven Portuguese children have met an important crowdfunding goal for their major climate lawsuit against 47 European nations.

More than £20,000 ($26,400) was pledged by 589 people, allowing the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN)—the nonprofit coordinating the lawsuit—to identify and compile evidence to present to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. GLAN now has a new stretch target of £100,000.

Keep reading... Show less
Flying insects such as bees are important pollinators. Flickr / M I T C H Ǝ L L

German Nature Reserves Have Lost More Than 75% of Flying Insects

A new study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE adds more evidence that insect populations around the globe are in perilous decline.

For the study, researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands, alongside their German and English colleagues, measured the biomass of trapped flying insects at 63 nature preserves in Germany since 1989. They were shocked to discover that the total biomass decreased dramatically over the 27 years of the study, with a seasonal decline of 76 percent and mid-summer decline of 82 percent, when insect numbers tend to peak.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics

Pushing Toxic Chemicals and Climate Denial: The Dark Money-Funded Independent Women’s Forum

By Stacy Malkan

The Independent Women's Forum is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that has taken money from tobacco and oil companies, partners with Monsanto, defends toxic chemicals in food and consumer products, denies climate science and argues against laws that would curb the power of corporations.

IWF began in 1991 as an effort to defend now Supreme Court Justice (and former Monsanto attorney) Clarence Thomas as he faced sexual harassment charges. The group now says it seeks to "improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Mladen Kostic / iStock

Toxic Toys? After Nine Years, a Ban on Harmful Chemicals Becomes Official

Phthalates are a particularly harmful type of chemical, used, among a range of other ways, to soften plastic in children's toys and products like pacifiers and teething rings. In response to mounting concern about the serious health impacts of phthalates—most notably, interference with hormone production and reproductive development in young children—Congress voted overwhelmingly in 2008 to outlaw the use of a few phthalates in these products and ordered the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to assess the use of other types of the chemical in these products. After much delay, the CPSC voted 3–2 Wednesday to ban five additional types of phthalates in kids' toys and childcare products.

Keep reading... Show less
Wikipedia

Oil Spills Pose Dire Threats to Marine Life

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says oil pipelines have no place in BC's Great Bear Rainforest. Opponents of the approved Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion to the West Coast and the cancelled Energy East pipeline to the East Coast argue pipelines and tankers don't belong in any coastal areas. Research led by the Raincoast Conservation Foundation confirms the threat to marine mammals in BC waters from a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic is considerable.

After examining potential impacts of a 15,000-cubic-meter oil spill in BC waters on 21 marine mammals, researchers concluded most individuals would be at risk and a few local populations wouldn't survive. Baleen whales, for example, are highly susceptible to ingesting oil because they breathe through blowholes, filter and eat food from the ocean surface and rely on invertebrate prey. Oil residue can stick to the baleen, restricting the amount of food they consume.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Shutterstock

September 2017: Earth's 4th Warmest September on Record

By Dr. Jeff Masters

September 2017 was the planet's fourth warmest September since record keeping began in 1880, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and NASA this week. The only warmer Septembers came during 2015, 2016 and 2014. Minor differences can occur between the NASA and NOAA rankings because of their different techniques for analyzing data-sparse regions such as the Arctic.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals

Shocking Photo of Dehorned Black Rhino Wins Top Award

Africa loses an average of three rhinos a day to the ongoing poaching crisis and the illegal rhino horn trade. In 2016 alone, 1,054 rhinos were reported killed in South Africa, representing a loss in rhinos of approximately six percent. That's close to the birth rate, meaning the population remains perilously close to the tipping point.

This year, the Natural History Museum in London awarded photographer Brent Stirton the 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year grand title for his grisly image of a black rhino with its two horns hacked off in South Africa's Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox