EcoMeme: Gene Flow and GMOs


You gonna eat that? Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that once planted in the wild, genetically modified organisms, such as bio-engineered fruit, grain or vegetables can change native, wild plant neighbors’ DNA. In the future, food activists worry, you might not even have a dietary choice.

A flurry of news stories, blog posts and Tweets have “cropped up” in recent weeks around this study and related events. Even teenagers are dialed into the debate over the merits and dangers of GMOs, says Jenny Kessler, who founded and directs the Garden Program at The Automotive High School in Brooklyn, New York.

Kessler teaches English, ESL and a class called “Food, Land and You.” Through this coursework or participation in the Garden Program, Automotive students learn about farming and industrial agriculture and gain hands-on experience cultivating and cooking food.

“Some of my students agree with economist Jeffrey Sachs that genetically modified crops should be used to alleviate world hunger now, since they can grow on depleted land in bad conditions,” Kessler says, “but most are concerned that GMOs aren’t tested enough before they enter our mainstream food supply. Or they worry that modified seeds and cross-pollination will make natural products scarce and expensive, or even extinct.”

The Garden Program group (as seen on wishes for – after a personal visit from Anna Lappe or Michael Pollan – better information about the effect of modified crops on human and plant health, and to inspire Americans to buy more locally produced food.

Basic reading:

“A report by a team from the United States and China appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, [where] researchers point out that gene flow between crops and their wild relatives is common and difficult to contain. They note concerns that wild plants could, as a result, gain genetically engineered resistances. And these could affect the natural balance in their environment.” –US News And World Report feature

“Bayer CropScience AG is responsible for financial damage sustained by Missouri farmers when their rice crops were contaminated by genetically modified seeds, the growers’ lawyer told a federal court jury in St. Louis”¦Testing of one of the “˜LibertyLink’ [rice] strains at Louisiana State University was completed in 2001. While there has never been a specifically identified contamination event”¦studies suggest an event of cross-pollination with ordinary rice or a mixing of regular and genetically modified seed occurred then.” – opinion, discussion

“The debate over genetically modified crops has flared up in India, where critics have stalled the commercial release of insect-resistant eggplant, despite recent approval from the country’s biotechnology regulatory committee.” –

Economist Jeffrey Sachs’ official bio, including recent news by and about him

EcoMeme, a column featuring eco news, tech and business highlights by new EcoSalon writer and columnist Lora Kolodny.

Image: liangjinjian