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Why Are Crops Genetically Modified: Types of Genetic Modification

From the standpoint of how simple it is for an ordinary farmer or gardener to propagate and maintain seeds, there are several different types of seeds available. The problem is that almost all seed varieties that produce food have been cross bred and or modified.[1]

It is most likely, that during the last few days, that you’ve consumed crops that either wouldn’t exist in nature or that have developed additional genes to allow them to grow to absurd quantities. You’ve almost certainly eaten food that was “cloned,” and you have probably even consumed plants whose forefathers were purposefully exposed to radiation in order to produce them. Moreover, all of this could have been bought from the “organic” section of your local grocery store!

Between what we take to be “organic foods” and tobacco that has been engineered to glow in the dark, there is a vast range of “modifications” that ought to be taken into account. Every one of these distinct technologies is frequently bundled together under the umbrella term “GM.” But where would you draw the line, at what point does this become a threat?

Implications for Farmers and Producers of Propagating Modified Seeds

For those who want to farm, grow and sell produce there are significant implications in terms of using seed obtained from a previous crop and the desire to propagate from current crops.

In that practically all seeds have been modified in some way leads to questions beyond the ethical nature and environmental impact. There becomes a question of ownership of the seeds and that often the seeds particularly in terms of farming have been bred to limit if not stop the ability to reseed or propagate.

We shall look at various different types of seed modification and how each impacts on a farmer’s in terms of their ability too regrow.

Genetically Engineered Seeds

The most difficult seeds to distribute in this respect are genetically engineered seeds, which are not only difficult to propagate but also unlawful to do so. They are owned by companies and were produced using strange and sophisticated technology, which is why they are so popular.

Despite the fact that corporations despise measures designed to prevent their GMOs from contaminating traditional crop varieties, if they discover that their pollen has landed on your crop, you could find yourself in serious trouble because the law presumes that you are attempting to steal their wonderful new technologies from them.

Who, though, would wish to do so? Farmers who believe that the companies have harmed their non-GMO crops have filed counter-suits against them (which is great news!). As a result, the greater the availability of genetically modified crops, the less likely it is that regular farmers will be able to preserve their own seed, adapt existing kinds to new growing circumstances, and develop new types, as farmers all over the globe have been doing for millennia.

Patented Hybrid Variants

The second kind of seed is for patented hybrid variants, commonly known as PVPs, which are protected by patent (Plant Variety Protection or something like that). In this case, ordinary, non-GMO crosses between two or more varieties are made, which are then patented by the company that performed the cross, making it impossible for anyone else to replicate the cross or sell their seeds (including seed from a year’s harvest) without the company’s prior written permission.

In addition to copyrighted hybrid seed, there is non-patented hybrid seed, which you are not banned from trying to reproduce under the law, and which you could theoretically (I believe) plant the offspring of the next yea.r

You would not want to do so because non-GMO hybrids, whether they are patented or not, are supposedly the product of crossings carried out by the seed firm that sells them on a yearly basis. They cross two varieties that are stable and will produce true-to-type crops year after year if they are not crossed; however, the hybrid that is produced as a result of this cross, and that is purchased by the farmer, is not stable and will produce unpredictable progeny the following year if it is not crossed with another variety.

The seed stored from a hybrid variety that performed very well one year might separate into numerous approximations of its parents the next year, posing an unforeseen array of issues for the farmer in the process. GMOs offer a greater danger to agriculture than these two types of seed, but they are nevertheless highly powerful: they, rather than GMOs, have been mostly responsible for the extinction of 90 percent of American vegetable varieties since 1900, according to the National Seed Trade Association.

In addition to being huge, uniform, and high-yielding, hybrids have the advantage of being resistant to disease and pests, which is why they have pushed out (and eventually exterminated) so many good older varieties over the previous few decades.

The disadvantage of hybrids is that they are far less adaptable than open-pollinated types under a variety of environmental situations, and they are often less palatable (in addition, you cannot preserve seed from them). We have certainly witnessed this in our own fields, where the yields of many hybrid pumpkin and squash varieties can vary dramatically from year to year—sometimes fantastic, sometimes a complete bomb—while the old open-pollinated varieties continue to plug away under a variety of weather conditions, sometimes producing excellent results, sometimes less so, but never a complete failure like some of our hybrids do.

An example of this is the Connecticut Field pumpkin, which is one of the country’s oldest cultivars and is one of the most popular. This collection is dedicated to old, tried-and-true, open-pollinated varieties that may be kept and developed by any farmer anywhere in the world, and which are considered to be part of the common legacy of humanity.

We should point out that even the historic Connecticut Field was once a hybrid, which is worth noting. A large majority of the vegetable types that have been passed down to us are the product of hybridization, and in some cases, recurrent hybridization over time, which may have been done intentionally or unintentionally.

The difference is that seed firms go to great lengths to ensure that the new varieties they develop as a result of crossing two parent types do not stabilize, hence requiring farmers to continue purchasing seed from them rather than being able to conserve it themselves. In order to successfully stabilize a new cross between two kinds, it takes around ten years to do so, in order to establish a new variety that is distinct from both of its parents and capable of reproducing itself with a high degree of consistency from year to year.)

“Terminator” Gene-Genes

The most harmful kind of seed I have kept for last, despite the fact that it should have been saved first according to a logical process, since it is even more detrimental to seed saving than the genetically engineered seeds I discussed previously in this section.

Corporations are attempting to develop genetically engineered seeds that include so-called “Terminator” genes-genes that leave the seeds sterile, rendering them incapable of reproducing in any way. This is the most effective method of ensuring recurring business since the company is the only entity that has the capacity to turn these seeds on and off, as it were, at any time. [Business Model]

If you wish to grow the same item again the following year, you’ll need living seeds from the only individuals who are capable of making them sprout. Foreboding, to say the least, are the ramifications of a genetic feature like this spreading to other crop kinds by wind or insect pollination. Although these seeds are not yet available for purchase (and hopefully never will be), they have been placed on hold as a result of public pressure, which has pushed them to the backburner.

Summary

Only increased public pressure will ultimately succeed in keeping these seeds in the laboratory rather than in our fields, given the companies’ insistence that GMO technology is safe, useful, and under control. The only thing we know for certain about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is that they assist companies in keeping farmers under control-their control.

Notes:

[1] James Borrell, St Mary’s University of London: All our food is ‘genetically modified’ in some way – where do you draw the line?