Good Pure Seeds: A Look at the Discussion Surrounding GMOs

It’s springtime and I am hoping the last frost has passed so I can start my vegetable garden again. Last summer I was lazy and just learning about gardening, so I bought small plants from a big box store instead of growing from seeds. I didn’t think twice about whether the plant starts were organic because I didn’t plan on using any pesticides or chemical fertilizers. It’s instantly satisfying to put plants in the ground and see growth in your garden, but this year I decided to start with seeds, so I did some seed research and learned about GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) seeds. My garden is probably filled with GMO seeds from last summer.

COMM JR Blog2 image1 2013 11This realization has led me to wonder, where do I stand on the controversy surrounding GMOs? Do I want them in my garden? Do other people know that they’re probably already there? From allergic reactions to potential intestinal damage, I’ve learned that many wish to avoid GMO foods because they’ve seen publicized animal studies that have suggested potential changes in internal cell structure, abnormal tumor growth, and unexpected deaths from ingesting GMOs over extended periods of time. From what I’ve seen, the science doesn’t appear to be settled. Because of this and the controversy surrounding them (it’s nearly impossible to find a straight answer about GMOs online, either advocates for labeling are overreacting about the risks or the FDA is selling us a bill of goods – it’s tough to find a balanced opinion), I’m hoping to avoid GMOs in my garden all together this season.

I should perhaps clarify that these are the concerns that have stood out to me and that despite the potential for health issues, many find GMOs to be beneficial in the big picture because the gene modifications allow crops to be resistant to drought and infestations, thereby reducing the need for herbicides/pesticides and increasing yields. From the “Golden Rice” that could make a major dent in world hunger to “Franken-fish”, it really is a humongous debate that’s happening all over the world. Click here for one of the few comprehensive series I could find that looks at all sides of the issue. When I consider the food I am growing for my family and friends to eat though, my personal views and research have brought me to the conclusion that I would prefer access to non-GMO seeds.

So how does one find non-GMO seeds? Although some box stores sell them, it is more likely that one will find Non-GMO seeds and plants from local nurseries that prioritize organic products. Choose seeds that are certified organic which are not knowingly allowed to contain GMOs. Also, one can look for seeds from companies that have taken the Safe Seed Pledge, which states that the company is committed to providing non-GMO seeds. Non-GMO seeds will usually say heirloom or open-pollinated.  Open-pollinated seeds have been passed down from generation to generation, so they are less likely to contain modern GMO genes. An heirloom plant has been passed down from earlier periods in human history prior to modern large-scale agriculture. In some parts of the world, such as the European Union, it is illegal to sell GMO seeds. In the United States and Canada, however, GM foods are not only legal, but are unlabeled, so avoiding them can be challenging unless you know the name of the variety. Below are some of the common GMO vegetable varieties that are sold in many stores, so recognizing these can help those who wish to avoid GMOs do so.

COMM JR Blog2 image2 2013 11Beans: Aliconte, Cadillac, Ebro
Broccoli: Coronado Crown, Major, Packman
Cabbage: Atlantis, Golden Acre
Carrot: Bilbo, Envy, Sweetness III
Cauliflower: Cheddar, Minuteman
Eggplant: Black Beauty, Fairytale, Gretel, Hansel, Lavender Touch, Twinkle, White Lightning
Lettuce: Braveheart, Conquistador
Melon: Early Dew, Sante Fe
Spinach: Hellcat Squash: Ambassador, Canesi
Sweet Corn: Devotion, Fantasia
Sweet Pepper: Baron, Bell Boy, Big Bertha PS
Tomato: Amsterdam, Beefmaster, Big Beef, Burpee’s Big Boy, Early Girl, Granny Smith
Watermelon: Apollo, Charleston Grey, Crimson Glory

If one wishes to avoid eating GMO in general, they should know that most generic vegetable oils and margarines used in restaurants and in processed foods in North America are made from soy, corn, canola, or cottonseed—the four major genetically engineered crops. So pretty much all fast food is made with GMOs. Aspartame, the diet sweetener, is a product of genetic engineering, so one may also want to think twice before drinking that refreshing Diet Coke.

I like growing a garden because of the environmental and health benefits of growing some of my own food. For me, that now includes not supporting the use of genetically modified organisms. We are lucky to have a lot of information available that allows us to make choices for what we believe in, even if it’s not always the easiest task! I’m curious to see what others think about the current discussions surrounding GMOs, let me know your thoughts in the comments section. And of course good luck with any summer gardening, I’d love to hear how it goes!