Today, at A Self Sufficient Life, we have a guest post by Ashley Warner. It’s an interesting look at the perhaps very worrying world of GM food and the implication for home grown crops everywhere:
Genetically modified organisms (GMO) have sparked a hot debate in the world of agriculture. Many people scorn the usage of genetically modified seeds due to their questionable safety of consumption and potentially harmful biological effects. Others claim that this attitude is pure conservatism and that GMO crops are the future of agriculture, bringing higher yields to poorer land and allowing us to feed a burgeoning world population. Whether safe or not, more GMO crops are being planted each year, to the point that in many countries people have no way of knowing if the food at their grocery store has been altered. This has prompted many people to grow and harvest their own garden using natural methods, but the possibility of contamination still exists.
One risk faced by home growers is pollen. GMO pollen can create toxins that kill certain species of natural wildlife. These plants are engineered to be poisonous to the pests that have traditionally threatened farm production, and while they do often work, the poisons can also threaten the ecosystems in which the crops are grown. GMO pollen has also caused some people to develop allergies to foods they regularly consumed before and researchers believe that further health implications are still to be discovered. More frightening still, genetic modification doesn’t stop with increasing yields and resilience. GMO pollen spread by wind or insects can sterilize unrelated crops and force farmers to purchase seeds over and over again rather than enjoy the continual benefits of an heirloom harvest. However, industrial agriculture companies continue to use these seeds due to their high productivity. This presents home-growers with a problem, as their crops are at risk of GMO infiltration.
Ridding your household of GMO products is not as easy as refraining from the purchase of GMO products. Genetically modified pollen is everywhere. When major industrial farms plant crops using GMO seeds, some pollen inevitably escapes the safety nets meant to catch it, and travels throughout the country. A surprisingly high amount of GMO pollen can make its way into your private vegetable garden this way. In fact, if you live anywhere within a 20-mile radius of a major industrial farm, your personal garden could be at risk.
Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent a GMO pollen infestation entirely. If the issue is extremely important to you, then you will want to take the location of industrial farms into account when choosing where to live. There is no way to harness Mother Nature and direct any pollen-bearing winds away from your garden. This is the natural way that many crops, such as corn, are fertilized, and it is to be expected that they would release their genes in such a manner.
Still, if you live nearby an industrial farm and want to keep your own natural garden, there a few measures that you can take that will help to ensure the well-being of your crops. First, you should research the industrial farm that is in your area and refrain from planting any of the crops that it sells. You will find that the vast majority of these farms produce only our country’s staple crops: corn, wheat and soybeans. Out of all of these crops, people are most likely to only grow corn in their home gardens, so if you are in a situation where you cannot safely grow it, your best option is to purchase corn from a GMO free grower based far from the industrial farm.
If the industrial farm near your home happens to produce more diverse crops that you wish to grow in your garden, then you might consider building a greenhouse in your yard. Although their construction is expensive, greenhouses will provide your garden with all the protection that it needs throughout the entire year. Additionally, greenhouses grant the added benefit of providing you with a higher degree of control over growing conditions in a way that is natural and easily maintained.
GMO pollen is a possible threat to our crops, our environment and our health. However you do not have to put up with the infiltration of these tampered plants. By growing your garden in a safe and responsible manner, you are ensuring the welfare of our food supply for generations to come and living a more ecologically friendly life in general.
Ashley Warner is a graduate student working toward her Masters in Conservation Biology. She currently resides in Washington state.