What Are GMO Seeds: Information About GMO Garden Seeds

What Are GMO Seeds: Information About GMO Garden Seeds

By: Jackie Carroll

When it comes to the topic of GMO garden seeds, there can be a lot of confusion. Many questions, such as “what are GMO seeds?” or “can I buy GMO seeds for my garden?” swirl around, leaving the inquirer wanting to learn more. So in an effort to help develop a better understanding of which seeds are GMO and what this means, continue reading to find out more GMO seed info.

GMO Seed Info

Genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) are organisms that have had their DNA altered through human intervention. There is no doubt that “improving” on nature can benefit the food supply in a number of ways in the short term, but there is much debate about the long-term effects of genetically altering seeds.

How will this impact the environment? Will super-bugs evolve to feed on genetically modified plants? What are the long-term effects on human health? The jury is still out on these questions, as well as the question of contamination of non-GMO crops. Wind, insects, plants that escape cultivation, and improper handling can lead to the contamination of non-GMO crops.

What are GMO Seeds?

GMO seeds have had their genetic makeup altered through human intervention. Genes from a different species are inserted into a plant in hopes that the offspring will have the desired characteristics. There are some questions about the ethics of altering plants in this way. We don’t know the future impact of altering our food supply and tampering with the environmental balance.

Don’t confuse genetically modified seeds with hybrids. Hybrids are plants that are a cross between two varieties. This type of modification is achieved by pollinating the flowers of one type with the pollen of another. It is only possible in very closely related species. The seeds collected from plants grown from hybrid seeds may have the characteristics of either of the hybrid’s parent plants, but don’t generally have the characteristics of the hybrid.

Which Seeds are GMO?

The GMO garden seeds that are available now are for agricultural crops such as alfalfa, sugar beets, field corn used for animal feed and processed foods, and soybeans. Home gardeners aren’t generally interested in these types of crops, and they are only available for sale to farmers.

Can I Buy GMO Seeds for My Garden?

The short answer is not yet. The GMO seeds that are available now are only available to farmers. The first GMO seeds to become available to home gardeners will probably be a grass seed that is genetically modified to make it easier to grow a weed-free lawn, but many experts question this approach.

Individuals can, however, buy the products of GMO seeds. Floriculturists use GMO seeds to grow flowers that you can buy from your florist. In addition, many of the processed foods that we eat contain GMO vegetable products. The meat and dairy products we consume may come from animals that were fed GMO grains.

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GMO Seed Info - Which Seeds Are GMO or Genetically Modified Organisms - garden

Many home gardeners, and all organic gardeners, are concerned about the topic of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). After all, most home gardeners partake in the hobby to provide healthy food for themselves, their family, and friends, too.

So, let's take the mystery out of GMO, which is sometimes called Genetically Engineered Organisms (GEO).

This information will help to put your mind at ease about the seeds you purchase, and the safety of your garden vegetables.

Are GMO seeds bad. Or good?

That assessment is up to you. the reader, the home gardener, and the consumer.

We will not take a position on this debate. Rather, we will let you form your own opinion.

Here are a few pros and cons:

GMO can produce greater yields, and help to feed a hungry world.

They can reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides and fungicides. That means healthier food and less chemicals released to the environment.

Some people fear GMO can create new allergens in the foods we eat.

Some people argue that there is the potential for many unknown, long term, negative health effects.

Definition of GMO and Non-GMO:

Genetically Modified Organisms (abbreviated GMO) is any organism that has been modified or altered by use of genetic engineering techniques. This involves taking DNA molecules from different sources, and recombining them into a molecule to make a new set of genes.

A Genetically Engineered Organism is just another name for GMO.

GMO Seeds are seeds that have undergone genetic engineering techniques to produce certain plant traits, drought or disease tolerance.

Non-GMO Seeds are any seed that has not undergone genetic modification in a laboratory.

Cross Breeding seed varieties is not GMO. It is nature's way of producing new varieties. Cross breeding has occurred naturally since the garden of Eden, as the pollen of one variety of a plant species, pollinated the flower of another variety. Squash are good examples of this, resulting in many, many natural varieties of squash.

Hybrid seed are not GMO seed. The process of creating hybrid seeds uses controlled cross breeding of certain varieties.

Most home garden seed companies do not sell GMO seed.

Most GMO seeds are used in commercial farming.

Organic seeds and Heirloom varieties, by their very definition, are non-GMO seed.

We will add to this list as we find information. Here are seed companies that DO NOT sell GMO seeds:

Survival Seed - definition and storage. Survivalists also seek non-GMO seeds.

Russian state media all-in on anti-GMO message

The discovery that Russia is acting “as a central, if largely unknown, purveyor of anti-GMO information” was almost accidental. Dorius and Lawrence-Dill had initially set out to try to learn more about American opinions on genetic modification by reviewing the comments sections on GMO articles published on the websites of Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, Breitbart and Huffington Post — media selected to represent the full ideological spectrum.

“When we started this investigation, our goal was to try to figure out more about the pro- and anti-GMO sentiment,” Lawrence-Dill, an ISU associate professor of agronomy and genetics, said. “We thought that if we could figure out where the sentiment derives from, perhaps we could put information out there to make people better understand GMOs and then that fear might go away.”

As they started their research, however, the topic of Russian meddling in the US election and reports of Russian troll farms were inescapable. Acting “on a strange lark,” Lawrence-Dill said they decided to look into how GMOs were portrayed on the English-language editions of Sputnik and RT, two news sites funded by the Russian government.

They immediately realized they were on to something. Their analysis found that RT and Sputnik published more articles containing the word “GMO” than the five American news organizations combined. Not only were there more articles, the two outlets also overwhelmingly portrayed GMOs negatively in contrast to the more balanced approach of the US outlets.

“Russian misinformation attacks reflected the full spectrum of anti-GMO attitudes, covering, for example, environmental concerns (cross-pollination, species loss, chemical pollution), health risks (a cause of cancer, Zika), nutritional deficiencies, political corruption, negative social and economic consequences for developing countries (suicide of Indian farmers), corporate malfeasance (manipulation of facts by Monsanto), and corruption of federal regulatory agencies,” the researchers wrote. “The extensive nature of Russian News portrayal of GMOs reflects a deep understanding of the psychological antecedents of public distrust in bioengineering and an intent to more firmly link these antecedents in the public consciousness.”

There was also something “very different” about the GMO articles published on RT and Sputnik, Lawrence-Dill said.

“There was this weird thing where you would see the GMO issue purposely inserted into articles that had nothing to do with the topic,” she said. “The article would be about something most people would find abhorrent, like child pornography, or at least controversial, like abortion, and then you’d get to the bottom of them and see a link about GMOs. By then, the reader’s mind is already in this very negative place and so by extension, GMOs must be negative too.”

The researchers said these types of insertions “were designed to create latent associations between GMOs and negative emotions.” According to Lawrence-Dill, the strategy was clearly intentional and “too complex to be the work of automated bots.”

As a whole, the GMO misinformation campaign coming from Russia “fits the profile of the Russian information warfare strategy described in recent military reports,” the researchers said.

Original goal of GMO breeding

The goal of GMO removal was initially to increase the yield of various plants, increase their resistance to adverse factors (lack of nutrients, drought), the emergence of insensitivity to viruses, and unattractiveness for parasite insects. In other words, the scientists wanted to get plants that at a minimum cost could grow, give high yields and thus solve the food problem. And this question is acute today in many countries of the world. This is the main goal pursued by genetic engineering and biotechnology, creating GMOs.

Science and Politics

GMO critics contend that patenting genetically engineered seeds is akin to patenting life an argument never used against organic non-GMO conventional farmers who have used patented seeds for decades. Some argue that seed patents go against the essence of an agriculture system built by farmers throughout the centuries. Today’s new seeds would not be possible without the work of those farmers, and nature, according to the NGO SeedFreedom:

A patent is an exclusive right granted to an inventor to make and sell the patented product. Patent prevent farmers from saving or exchanging seed, therefore, undermining the farmers’ rights or seed sovereignty. Patent creates monopolies, which undermine the choice of farmers as well as all citizens as eaters. A seed is not an invention. That is why patents on seeds are illegitimate. Even in a genetically engineered crop, the original seed come from farmers. Patents on seed are therefore based on biopiracy.

Yet patents have been around longer than GMO seeds, for most of a century. In fact, outside of older heirloom varieties, most seeds today start with some form of patent protection though some breeders release them without restrictions into the public domain, according to Jim Myers, professor of vegetable breeding and genetics at Oregon State University:

In all but a few cases, all contemporary varieties developed by private breeders are protected, and most public varieties are protected as well.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office maintains a database of all patents, granted or expired. The database is filled with patents for virtually every type of plant for which there is a commercial market. Here and here are two unofficial databases of patented seeds, with the vast majority having nothing to do with GMOs. Monsanto, the familiar target of anti-patent activists, holds a fraction of seed patents, with DuPontPioneer holding more than half of active patents.

Any lingering questions about whether genetically engineered seeds could be patented was effectively settled in the United States in 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous verdict on the question of whether companies such as Monsanto have the right to patent their seeds. The case involved Indiana farmer Vernon Bowman, who attempted to circumvent Monsanto’s soybean patent, using what he thought was a loophole in the law.

When farmers buy seeds from Monsanto, or any of its competitors, they sign a contract that, among other things, prevents them from saving or re-using seeds. (Examples can be found here and here.) While Bowman bought Monsanto seeds for his main crop, he chose an unconventional pathway to secure seeds for a second planting. He went to a local grain elevator and purchased a load of soybeans being sold as animal feed. More than 90 percent of soybeans in the US are genetically modified, most to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, sold by Monsanto as Roundup. Bowman planted the seeds and sprayed them with Roundup, hoping there would be a large haul of “free” Roundup-Ready beans in the lot. He used seeds from the surviving plants for his second planting.

Monsanto discovered his circumvention of the agreement and sued. Bowman tried to argue “patent exhaustion”—claiming that Monsanto’s rights extended only to the first generation of seeds. The High Court roundly rejected the argument, with Justice Elena Kagan writing:

Under the patent exhaustion doctrine, Bowman could resell the patented soybeans he purchased from the grain elevator so too he could consume the beans himself or feed them to his animals. But the exhaustion doctrine does not enable Bowman to make additional patented soybeans without Monsanto’s permission.

The ruling was criticized by anti-GMO groups, including Food Democracy Now. Executive director and founder Dave Murphy called it a major loss for U.S. farmers and consumers:

The Court’s decision to give Monsanto the power to control the future harvest of America’s family farmers and our county’s food supply is deeply troubling, immoral and a very bad sign for the future of our nation’s food.

GMO seed patents are targeted, in part, because they represent some of the world’s largest cash crops, including corn, soybeans and cotton, and have come to symbolize “industrial” and “intensive” agriculture in the eyes of critics. Blogs like this one in Alternet advance the meme that “for as long as humans have been growing food, farmers have saved seeds from their harvest to sow the following year.” The meme, and it’s a familiar one in anti-GMO circles, goes on to accuse large agricultural companies of fundamentally upsetting farming traditions by developing unique crop varieties and receiving patent protection to prevent farmers from saving the seeds they purchased. Some critics even imply companies have developed “terminator” seeds—sterile seeds designed so they can’t grow again, Terminator seeds do not exist.

These arguments are advanced by the most high profile anti-patent critic, Vandana Shiva, a philosopher and environmental activist from India. Shiva also blames GMO technology, and the laws that protect it, for the high rates of farmer suicides seen in some parts of India. She argues that farmers face severe financial challenges as a result of having to repurchase seeds each year:

Patents on seed are illegitimate because putting a toxic gene into a plant cell is not “creating” or “inventing” a plant. These are seeds of deception the deception that Monsanto is the creator of seeds and life the deception that while Monsanto sues farmers and traps them in debt, it pretends to be working for farmers’ welfare, and the deception that GMOs feed the world. GMOs are failing to control pests and weeds, and have instead led to the emergence of superpests and superweeds.

The unfortunate situation faced by farmers in that nation is complex. Numerous independent studies have shown no link between a 30-year suicide epidemic and GMO cotton, introduced into India in 2003 (read GMO FAQ). Considerable research points to a range of causes, including a poor agriculture infrastructure, the use of non-traditional credit sources and crushing debt for farmers with little in the way of a safety net following periodic crop failures.

The fact is few farmers, even in developing nations, prefer to save seeds. Hybrid and GMO seeds dramatically outperform non-patented seeds, and often require fewer inputs fertilizers and crop protection chemicals. Their higher upfront costs are more than made up for at the point of sale. Farmers are business people if patented seeds were not worth the higher cost, they could switch to non-patented alternatives. Nor do cost-conscious farmers want to save patented seeds, despite their high costs. Succeeding generations of hybrid or GMO seeds lose their trait surety. The seeds are less reliable and the trait degrades with each generation, as farmer Amanda Zaluckvi explains:

Without getting too deep in genetic science here, suffice to say that the second generation of plants do not always exhibit the beneficial traits the hybrids were bred to exhibit. If you’re familiar with how genetic traits are passed from one generation to the next, including a general knowledge of dominant and recessive genes, you’ll understand that only a certain percentage of the second-generation plants will exhibit the qualities that made the hybrid variety so special.

Farmers, even in developing countries, cannot afford to take the risk of diminished yields.

This argument is bolstered by the fact that there is now an off-patent version of Roundup-Ready soybeans, developed by the University of Arkansas after Monsanto’s initial patent expired in 2015. Farmers are free to plant, save and re-plant seeds from the resulting crop for future years. Demand for the seeds, however, has been modest, with the vast majority of farmers opting to pay more for the newest generations of seeds, dubbed Roundup Ready 2.

There is one element of patent protection that has drawn the criticism even from supporters of GMO technology. The patents can be used to prohibit outside scientific research into the plants. This issue surfaced nationally in 2009, when a group of corn scientists accused biotech companies of standing in the way of research by limiting access to patented seeds. In a statement to the Environmental Protection Agency, they said that because of those policies: “No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions.”

Every seed you plant is a GMO (genetically modified organism), including heirloom and organic seeds.

Given the current controversy over GMO seeds, you should be surprised. I was.

The reason seeds are misidentified is that a hastily created label was created for genetically engineered ones—those that are genetically altered like corn, soy and cucumbers seeds that grow into plants unaffected by pesticides, herbicides and other adverse conditions such as drought.

GMO seeds, most people believe, are genetically modified with genes from fish, herbicide-resistant proteins and other chemicals, rather than DNA from another plant.

GMO , in fact, refers to a seed or plant that has different DNA than its parent. Changes can be made by accidental cross-pollination, hybrid breeding or traditional breeding done for centuries by farmers everywhere.

All these seeds are GMO s, heirlooms I’ve saved from plants in my vegetable gardens.

Charles C. Hart Seed Co., a 120-year-old company, decided to label their seeds as GE Free, to show the distinction between natural and hybrid crosses and those that are genetically engineered. Without true GMO plant crossings, heirlooms like Silver Queen corn or the fragrant Bourbon Rose would not exist, according to the Hart Seed Co.

My eyes were really opened after learning about these differences. I have regularly made crosses between varieties of tomatoes and peppers in my garden to create new and unusual offspring. Little did I know that I was actually creating GMO seeds.

Plant a Pollinator Garden

Honeybees, some butterflies and native bees are disappearing from our gardens, orchards and fields at an alarming rate. Pollinators like these are essential to harvests. That’s why the Home Garden Seed Association asks gardeners to plant more flowers that are the food source for butterflies and bees. Plant flowers in the vegetable garden, among fruit trees, in beds and in containers. Every flower helps. You can click here to go to a site that has more information and to sign a Pollinator Protection Pledge. Do your part and plant flowers in your yard.

Plant pollinator-attracting flowers in large blocks to lure a wide variety of bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Plant flowers in clumps of at least four feet in diameter. Large clusters are more attractive to pollinators.

A succession of flowering plants that lasts from spring through fall will support a wide range of bee species.

Flowers of different shapes attract different types of pollinators.

Pesticides are a huge threat to pollinators. Keep your garden organic or use products that don’t harm pollinators.

Conferences with the participation of Rospotrebnadzor

After horror stories and tales about GMO products were repeatedly disseminated in all mass media, Rospotrebnadzor participated in many conferences on this issue. At a conference in Italy in March 2014, his delegation participated in technical consultations on the low content of genetically modified organisms in Russia's trade. Today, therefore, a course has been adopted towards the almost complete prohibition of such products on the food market of our country. The use of GMO plants in agriculture was also delayed, although the use of GMO seeds was planned to begin in 2013 (government decree of September 23, 2013).

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