...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

To GMO or Not to GMO...That Is the Question

Grandma never had to mull on  these choices!

It doesn't take much time spent in the gardening community for you to begin hearing about GMO vs. non-GMO plants and seeds.  If  it's all new to you, however, here's a little pre-view of a topic you might want to research more deeply.

First, the standard definition and rationale for use:
"Available since the mid-1990s, genetically modified organisms (GMO) or genetically modified plants are regular crops that have been biologically altered through genetic engineering. These crops are intended for human or animal use and consumption and have been altered to enhance desirable traits and increase crop output. Traditionally, these kinds of alterations were done through breeding, a process that takes several generations and many years to accomplish. Genetically modifying foods can be done quickly and efficiently. Drought tolerance, pest resistance and similar traits make crops easier to grow and often require fewer harmful chemicals to bring them to maturity."

Read more: What GMO Plants Are Allowed in the U.S.? | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/list_7508186_gmo-plants-allowed.html#ixzz1n1LyLdC2

Second, why the fuss:
Why Organic and Non-GMO?
The US Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program requires that organic farmers meet very specific requirements before they can sell their seeds as organic. One of these requirements is that seeds not be genetically modified in a laboratory, which means that they may contain the DNA of animals, other plants, even bacteria and viruses! As you can imagine, a lot of people are avoiding eating produce that has been genetically modified.  Another reason to not grow GMO vegetables is because large companies, like Monsanto, own the patents to many of the varieties of produce they have developed. This means that farmers who want to grow these varieties must pay royalties for the right to do so for every year the seeds are sown, even if they are able to harvest seeds from the previous years crops (which is actually illegal in some cases). In fact, some varieties of produce have been altered to not grow seeds at all!
Some people avoid GMO products because they don't think it's healthy to eat food that has been genetically altered, and others avoid them because they don't believe that anyone should have to pay a private entity for the right to grow vegetables. Whatever your reasons are, growing organic, non-GMO vegetables is a great way to get closer to the food you put in your body.  More from this article:

Finally, how to shop:
I researched a bit online.  Walmart and Lowes don't  classify seeds and seedlings in their store-specific search menus, but Home Depot's Garden Center does offer a drop-down that classifies by brand of seed.  If you know non-GMO brands, you might be able to select appropriate seeds, but that's a little like collecting pottery or glassware.  Who keeps that savvy selection knowledge in their head?  Some of us might, but not the casual gardener.  So,  I opened a chat menu with a customer service rep and had the following conversation:
Chat InformationYou are now chatting with 'Rhonda'
Rhonda: Welcome to The Home Depot. How may I assist you today?
Deborah: Hi, Rhonda. I'm writing an article about purchasing non-GMO seedlings through major retailers and wondered if your company specifies whether their starters are non-GMO or not?
Rhonda: I will be happy to assist you today.
Rhonda: Let me research this for you.
Deborah: Thanks.
Rhonda: You only need the seedling starter kits correct?
Deborah: Actually, I'm looking for seedlings. I know they aren't in season just yet, but if they were, would I be able to ask for non-GMO plant starts and be directed to them?
Rhonda: I am not certain if we have these available, we can research this for you. Please allow me two to three minutes to research this for you.
Deborah: Thanks! I'll wait...
Rhonda: I appreciate your patience.
Rhonda: I was not able to find any non gmo seeds online, I am sorry about that.
Rhonda: Would you like the phone number to your local Home Depot to see if they have this in store for you?
Deborah: No thanks, this is sufficient. Again, thanks for you time!

Obviously, major retailers don't make these seeds or seedlings easy to find.  Conventional wisdom, however, offers a few hints:
"Heirloom" seeds and plants are generally un-modified.  Hence their heirloom status.  Also, avoid anything with the word "hybrid" in its name, although not all hybrids are bad.  Some are the result of careful cross-pollinating.  (Like Granny did with her rose garden varieties.)  But even a hybrid produced without patented genetic modification is not guaranteed to grow "true-to-type" in future generations.

One way to march with certainty along the route of non-GMO seedlings and seeds is to find an online specialty retailer such as http://www.heirloomorganicseedlings.com/Why-Choose-Heirloom-Organic-.html
(oops...never mind...they're an Australian company.  Unless you happen to be in Australia.  They don't appear to ship internationally.) 
Try here: http://www.greenpeople.org/seeds.htm (handy because it lists state by state.)
Or here: http://www.ehow.com/how_5945659_buy-non_gmo-plants.html  for more information. 

Obviously, you must be more dedicated to the concept of growing genetically pure plants than you are to convenience.  Small, local, private nurseries might be aware which of their offerings are non-GMO, but you will probably pay more for these seedling,, so you must also to be more dedicated to growing non-GMO's than to cost-effectiveness.  On the other hand, non-GMO's produce viable seeds; so if you're willing to invest in an initial generation and then train yourself in the art of seed-keeping, you won't have to buy seeds in subsequent years, making the cost actually cheaper in the long run.

So much to consider.  Fortunately, it is still winter, and the soil is still cold.  Time enough for musing on the more philosophical side of the craft.

Happy pondering!

1 comment:

  1. I first heard about GMO foods when I started looking into eating "real food." I didn't really know all that meant, and It is very hard to find things even in the grocery store ,like canola oil, that specify whether or not it's GMO. Our garden was put in at the end of may last year, so we bought plants that were ready to be put in the ground...now after reading this I assume they were probably gmo!