By Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
George Washington once said, “Bad seed is a robbery of the worst kind: for your pocket-book not only suffers by it, but your preparations are lost and a season passes away unimproved.” Of course, he was speaking of buying seed from someone who didn’t know how to save and store it properly and hence, an entire season of growing had been wasted waiting for a good crop that never came. Back then (and for thousands of years before the founding of our country) anyone who farmed or grew their own food understood a thing or two about what good seed was.
Indeed, saving pure seed was a matter pride among families and communities. And while life in those times had their own challenges, George and company never had to worry about genetically modified organisms, terminator genes and biopiracy. They didn’t have to sign a contract in order to grow corn or soybeans, or worry that pollen from adjacent fields might spell complete disaster for their crops and the future of their farms. But we do.
Most people today have heard the terms GMO and Genetically Modified Organisms. But not everyone really understands what they are and what they mean to the average person on the street. But basically, genetically modified plants are those that have had their natural genetic structure altered by mixing them with the genes of unrelated species – including those belonging to unrelated plants, animals, insects and even human genes.
I don’t know what your spiritual beliefs are, but for me, I don’t think God intended rice and mice to splice. And spirituality aside, there are serious concerns as to how these genetically modified plants act upon the bodies of both humans and animals when consumed.
For years independent studies on the effects of GMO’s on mammals and the environment were few and far between. Those studies that came back with negative reports were quickly quashed and the scientists silenced or bullied out of the profession. While there is so much to dislike about GMO’s and the entire empire built around them – the very worst part is that once these plants are released into the environment, they can never be removed from it. This is because genetically modified plants have the ability to pass their genes on to other, non-GMO food crops through the process of pollination.
Keep in mind that Monsanto, and other companies like it, have literally sued the land out from under thousands of farmers all across North America. This trend started within a few years of the release of the first GMO seed crops. Those farm families lost everything because Monsanto found varying amounts of their patented GMO Round Up© corn growing in the farmer’s non-GMO corn fields.
Monsanto sued because they said that the farmers were intentionally growing their patented GMO corn without having signed a contract and paid for the right to do so. The farmers protested, saying that Monsanto’s GMO Round Up© corn must be drifting onto unsuspecting farms from passing grain trucks, or from the seed mill where stray kernels were accidentally being mixed in with other, non-GMO corn seeds. But what the farmer’s didn’t realize at that time was that these new GMO crops were spreading their polluted genes via the pollination process to non-GMO crops – a fact that Monsanto knew all along.
In 1998, a group of University of Chicago scientists were experimenting with genetically modifying a variety of mustard to be herbicide resistant. And although no known gene effecting floral characteristics was altered, the workers noticed that the genetically modified flowers looked a little different from those on the un-altered plants. Though the scientists thought this change was unlikely to be significant, they decided to test the modified plants’ out-crossing rates, or the rate at which pollen successfully pollinates a female flower to produce viable seed in comparison to the non-altered plants.
It turned out that the genetically engineered mustard had over 20 times the out crossing rate of the standard mustard. In short, the pollen from the genetically engineered mustard was over 20 times more likely to successfully reproduce than its natural counterpart growing right next to it! This disturbing fact spelled disaster for non-GMO crops grown in the same region as open pollinated and organic crops.
The terrible outcome of this study has been felt by farmers all over the Midwest. No longer does the American farm family breed and save their own corn, canola or soybean seeds. They don’t dare. And now, literally hundreds of years and generations of traditional plant breeding have been lost forever because it is no longer possible to save pure, non-GMO open-pollinated seeds anywhere that GMO seeds are sown. If farmers want to keep their farms and continue being farmers, they must buy and grow GMO seeds.
With the massive consolidation of the entire seed industry – homesteaders and small farmers must now be prepared for the invasion of GMO seeds into the home market. This is not a conspiracy theory – it is a fact.
Imagine this scenario: all the plants in your garden are literally owned by a few multi-national corporations. You must not only buy their seed, but you may have to pay for the right to grow it, too. And if you save seed or propagate any of the plants vegetatively or save its seed, you may find yourself face to face with a lawsuit and a very real threat of going to jail for patent infringement.
With every new GMO crop that is introduced, one more open-pollinated species will bite the dust. I’m not just speaking of varieties that these companies worked years to develop – I’m talking about old varieties that have been around for 50, 100, or even thousands of years! All these companies have to do to claim a patent on an entire species is to insert one little bit of new DNA. And with that one genetic modification, that plant’s pollen can and will contaminate every single open pollinated variety within the species, and it will do so with amazing speed.
The very real threat is that, in the near future, we may not have the right to save our own seeds because some big corporate giant will own the rights to them. And this begs the question: When will this plant-grab come home to roost and how do we protect ourselves right now?
First of all, by saving and growing our own seed we assert our cultural and indigenous rights of collective ownership (a literal community patent, if you will) to the existing DNA. As a collective body, humankind has a right to use and propagate existing plant species without having them contaminated by pollen from GMO’s.
Secondly, we must begin a rigorous campaign to label all food and foodstuffs that contain or are made with genetically modified plants and seeds.
Thirdly, we must demand completely independent studies and trials of the effects that the consumption of GMO foods have on wildlife, livestock and, most importantly, humans.
Last, but not least, we must demand that those companies who produce GMO’s be held accountable for the pollution of non-GMO crops with GMO pollen.
Whether you have a big garden, a little garden, a market garden, a 1,000 acre farm or a 10 acre food plot for self-sufficiency, protecting your right to grow and save non-GMO seeds begins at home. If you want to protect America’s food sources, avoid genetically modified foods, become more self-sufficient and save money all at the same time, start by learning how to save your own garden seeds and then teach someone else how to do it, too.
Jill Henderson is an artist, author and the editor of Show Me Oz
© 2012 Jill Henderson
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