Thursday, December 1, 2011

How can I be sure my food is not GMO?

We took a call from Belinda this week, "can we assure her that our vegetable seedlings are not genetically modified".  As soon as I said "Ahhh, that's interesting"
my kids would have started running, poor Belinda.

The simple answer is everything we grow has been genetically modified to some extent, the Aztecs 'selected' their favourite Tomato varieties and the practice of Pea crossing to produce Hybrids was well established before Mendel identified the patterns of inheritance in the mid 19th century.  Of course that is not what Belinda meant by 'genetically modified', GM is the black science of gene splicing and breeding resistances into plants by using genetic material from other plants and animals.

One of Mendel's genetic tables. No I can't explain it.
Table showing how genes exchange according to segregation or independent assortment during meiosis and how this translates into Mendel's Laws.  No I can't explain it, my clearest memory of genetics is falling asleep in the front row of the class.  There were only three of us took that elective and I wasn't the only one asleep.

Any way, the answer is unequivocally no, we don't grow GM vegetables.  Why?  We can't afford to. Simple and practical and not very romantic. Modern hybrid vegetables are extraordinarilly expensive. 10 and 20 times the cost per seed (per each individual seed) than the most expensive varieties we can afford to put in punnets to sell at prices gardeners are prepared to pay.  As growers our whole industry was sucked into spending more and more on Pansy seed in the 80's & 90's.  These hybrids were by no means GM but the improvements in growth habit, vigour, disease resistance and flower colours were irresistable until we looked one day and discovered our seed bill had gone from 5% of our turnover and was suddenly approaching 15%.  The savings from improved growing do not cover this sort of cost increase.  From that day on I have learned to be very careful about what plants can and can't be used for punnets or small pots.  Of course most home gardeners are environmentally concious and we find the most popular varieties are often the oldest, because they taste better.  

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