E-mail this article to
yourself or a friend.
Enter address:


Keeping seeds safe

(Friday, March 5, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- NY Times editorial, 03/01/04: When an American farmer gets ready to plant a crop like corn or soybeans, he has two basic choices. Traditional seeds are the kind farmers have planted throughout history, developed by crossing parents with desirable traits to get a superior variety. Genetically modified seeds, first widely planted in 1996, contain trangenes from other organisms that convey specific advantages to mature plants the ability to resist herbicides, for instance. The acreage planted with genetically modified crops has exploded: a third of this country's corn by 2002 and three-quarters of its soybeans. Whatever you make of this trend and there are strong arguments on both sides one question it raises is whether genes from modified plants might somehow drift into unmodified ones. The answer is yes.

In a pioneering study released last week, the Union of Concerned Scientists asked two independent labs to examine samples of traditional corn, soybean and canola seeds. The labs found contamination in half the corn, half the soybean and more than 80 percent of the canola varieties. The study draws no conclusions about when the mingling took place. It could have happened during field tests, after modified crops were widely planted or during shipping and storage. But the genetic purity of at least some traditional seed varieties has been compromised.

This is a serious finding. Though the acreage planted with modified crops is enormous, the number of varieties is still very small. But many more modified varieties many of them for industrial and pharmaceutical crops are being tested. The risk posed to the food supply by contamination from pharmaceutical crops will almost certainly be much greater than it is from genes that have migrated from, say, Roundup Ready corn. But there is a broader point. To contaminate traditional varieties of crops is to contaminate the genetic reservoir of plants on which humanity has depended for most of its history. In 2001, for instance, scientists discovered modified genes in traditional varieties of corn in Mexico, the ancestral home of the crop and the site of its greatest diversity.

The need now is for more extensive study, best undertaken by the Department of Agriculture. It's also time to subject genetically modified crops to more rigorous and more coherent testing. The scale of the experiment this country is engaged in and its potential effect on the environment, the food supply and the purity of traditional seed stocks demands vigilance on the same scale.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/01/opinion/01MON4.html