Thursday, October 2, 2014

GMO's (Part 3--Environment)

One of the larger documented problems with GMO's (Genetically Modified foods) is pollen drift. Time after time, conventional crops have been found to be contaminated with patented gene complexes. A number of times to my knowledge, the farmers in question have been slapped with lawsuits because they didn't "rent" the rights to grow the genetically modified versions, even though they had no idea that what they were growing was a patented version.

Time after time, it has been proven that the genetically modified plants happened because of pollen drift--the pollen from genetically modified fields drifting over to a traditional crop. If this happens in an area where seed crops are being planted, the seeds will include the patented gene modifications. If the farmer keeps part of his crop to replant (which was traditional in the early 20th century) then he's keeping genetically modified seeds.

A number of times, a gene modification has been traced back to a farmer who had no idea he was planting something he shouldn't--and the gene modifications in question were never cleared by the FDA. The seed stocks were supposed to be destroyed. And yet, somehow the genes ended up being in some farmer's crop in the middle of nowhere.

Coincidence? Genetic drift?

So let's take this a step further. Many common food crops have wild relatives. Like the beefalo (a buffalo/beef mix), even if the genetic material doesn't result in a true cross the genes are still there.

When you look at any wild environment, it's built on an extremely delicate balance. Let once piece of that environment disappear, the whole thing might collapse.

So let's set up a scenario. A wheat field planted with a genetically modified variety has a prevailing wind toward a wild area with various native grasses closely related to wheat. The wheat includes a terminator gene which doesn't allow for viable seeds. This is so that the seed provider doesn't need to worry about seed "piracy," or the farmer keeping seed without permission.

The wheat blooms and the pollen blows toward the grasslands. It pollinates several close relatives of the wheat. Because of the differences the genes are not fully integrated--the grass is visibly the same as before.

But now it carries the terminator gene. A few generations down the road (plant generations) the terminator gene activates and all the grass dies. The animals and birds that usually eat the seeds have nothing to eat and either leave or die. The animals that usually eat those animals also leave or die. The process of grass mutation continues until all the grass is dead. Meanwhile, the gene complexes have migrated even further and are now working on a wetland preserve about half a mile away.

The toxins built into the altered wheat have also migrated to the wild grass. The insects the toxins are designed to defend against have gained a level of immunity, increasing risk to the traditional crops in the area.

Five or ten or twenty years down the road, people are scratching their heads and demanding to know who should be held responsible. The FDA that approved the strains? The companies that made and marketed the gene complexes? The farmers? The EPA? Everyone who made the decision is now safely retired or dead.

A far-fetched scenario, perhaps, but definitely possible. So do we allow the risk for a possible immediate gain? Or do we remove the risk and never know if it would have happened?

Personally I'd prefer the latter.

Part 4

No comments:

Post a Comment