GMO Veggies to Watch out for.

I thought I would add a post about GMO veggies that you may not know are now in circulation in US grocery stores and at some farmers markets.  It will be important for you to ask your farmer what variety they plant and if it is GMO or not.  We do not plant any GMO varieties at Becker Family Farms.  Your local grocer may not know if the veggies they are selling are GMO or not.

Here is a list of veggies that we know have GMO varieties on the market:

 Crop  Varieties Reasons
 Sweet Corn  Passion II, Obsession II, and Temptation II Insect Resistance, Herbicide Tolerance
Summer Squash Yellow: Liberator, Liberator III, Prelude II, Patriot II, XPT1832 III, Conqueror III
Green: Judgment III, Justice III, Independence II
Disease Resistance

In addition to the above GMO varieties many companies are now using a breeding technique called Cytoplasmic Male Sterility or CMS.  This is found in nearly all Broccoli, Radish, Onion and many other crops.

What is CMS and why do we not agree with it.  Simply, CMS makes one of the parents male sterile, meaning it can not pollinate itself.  Most plants contain both male and female reproductive parts.  Most plants can pollinate themselves or pollen from one plant in the species can be deposited on the other thereby “cross pollinating.”  The seeds from these cross or self pollinated plants will contain a combination of the genetics from both parents, in a similar way to human children receive genetic copies of DNA from both parents.

In the plant breeding world traits such as fruit size, yield, disease resistance, vigor, etc. are desired by farmers and consumers.  Seed breeders (Farmers, Universities, Private Companies) use different techniques to guide the transfer of desirable traits to new varieties.  In the past the most common technique was to self pollinate a plant with a specific number of desirable traits until it could no longer pollinate itself.  This plant was then said to be self sterile or “self’d”.  It could then be cross pollinated with another variety that was also “self’d”.  The seed from these natural crosses was then planted to see if the desired traits were present.  If they were then the process was repeated on a much larger scale and the seeds were sold to farmers.  The process of cross pollination in this method is called hybridization and the seed is referred to as a hybrid.  Each year the cross needs to be repeated to get the same variety again.

The downside to this method is that it takes a very long time to come up with new varieties, many times a whole season.  It could take 10-15 years of work for a new variety to hit the market.  There was also the problem with some “self’d” plants still being able to pollinate themselves.  Usually this was 1%-2% of the plants, but it results in some “off” plants for the farmer that he can’t sell.

Seed breeders then discovered that some plants, like corn, naturally have some plants that are male sterile.  This was natures way of preventing inbreeding.  The self sterile plants needed to be cross pollinated to produce seeds.  This process assured genetic diversity.

Seed breeders used these self sterile plants to produce entire seed lines that are used just for breeding.  They were assured of 100% hybrids (or close enough) when one parent was male sterile.  They then discovered that they could extract the genetic material from the nucleus of a corn, onion, radish (all had natural male sterile plants) cell, insert it into the cell of another plant then apply chemicals and electricity to force the inserted genetic material to fuse with the host cell.  This then transferred the male sterility genes, along with a bunch of other genes, to the new plant that did not previously have the CMS trait.

This process is now referred to as cell nuclear fusion.  It is used by almost all of the large seed breeders to make male sterile lines quickly (They can also then patent the genes).  They get to skip 7-10 generations of inbreeding to get “self’d” plants.  The problem is that this genetic transfer of material would never be allowed in nature.  A radish cannot sexually reproduce with broccoli, even though they are 99.9% the same genetically.  Broccoli has no known natural male sterility.  This means that selfing is the only way to naturally produce breeding lines.

Almost 100% of the broccoli available today in stores has radish DNA in it.  The USDA even classified CMS techniques as allowed in organic production.  There was a large push by the big seed breeders in the USA to allow this technique in organics as most had abandoned traditional breeding efforts.  All other countries in the world classify CMS as a GMO technique and list it as Genetic Engineering.  It is specifically banned in organic production in all other parts of the world.

Most farmers do not go to the lengths that we do to research this information.  Few if any seed companies disclose whether their varieties use CMS in breeding or are GMO.  Johnny’s seeds, for example, sells numerous varieties that are bred using CMS techniques even though they signed the safe seed pledge.  They also choose not to disclose this information to their customers.

Other seed companies, like Jordan Seeds, disclose if varieties use CMS, but do not if they are Genetically Engineered (GMO).  Seedway discloses GE varieties, but not CMS.  It gets very bewildering at times.  I had to call Sakata to get a list of their varieties that are NOT bred using CMS.  There are only three and they are the market leader in the US for all broccoli varieties.

Thankfully, there are modern hybrids from breeders like Bejo and Rijk Zwaan that are neither GMO nor use CMS in their breeding.  Europe has much stricter standards than the US so their breeders selling into Europe are putting their efforts into traditional breeding methods.

We try to do our research on which varieties to plant so that we can avoid CMS, GMO and all of the other artificial breeding methods that are in use.  Your broccoli from us will not have radish, Onion or Corn DNA in it as far as we know.

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