Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Uninvited Guests: Montsanto and GURT in Your Garden.

Planting a cherry tree, hens hunting grubs and earthworms at the excavation site. My son is helping them find treats.

I'm a garden geek. A soil-science dork. A victory gardener and proud organic gardener.

I come by it honestly. My grandmother (God rest her soul) was my inspiration from the time of my earliest memories. She was a southern belle happily transplanted into South Jersey with the love of her life and she loved to dig in the dirt.

I remember asking her when I was small, "Gramma, why is that finger and nail a different shape and color from your other fingers? She squatted down to my level and showed me her two index fingers side by side. Indeed, year round, they were different. Her answer was, "That's because that's my weedin' finger, honey!"

That's how I grew up. I now know that she experimented with her own tomato hybrids and had I known 10 years ago what I know now, I would have seeds from her tomatoes growing in my own garden in their 40th generation. I'd name them "Bette's Red." This is how deep my love for the earth, gardening, and cultivation is. It's tied into my heart, my family, and my childhood. And so I take my garden VERY seriously and care VERY deeply. While this does not contribute directly to the meat of my essay, it will give you a glimpse into my passion for this subject. And so, without further adieu, the main event.

The White House is planning a 'victory garden' on the lawn this year. According to the NY Times they have broken ground and have started a huge garden that will have 55+ varieties of produce. Also according to another article, the Obamas are into the Local food movement and sustainable farming practices. I think is very weird considering the term 'sustainable' coming from the administration that is backing the Montsanto-friendly bill out there right now called The Food Safety and Modernization Act of 2009 (Bill HR 875). But hey~ what the heck do I know? Confused? Read on. Learn and may your eyes be opened.

Montsanto is a seed company known for its drought and disease resistant hybrids and high-yielding vegetables.

The problem is: they don't just breed plants. They're in the business of GMOs. Genetically Modified Organisms. Well that's no big deal unless you mind that stuff, right? Well, no. You see, these GMOs produce pollen. That pollen travels on the wind and on bees, flies, butterflies, and a myriad of other pollinating insects. In other words, the genetic materials of GMOs don't stay in the field where you planted it.

All you backyard gardeners, organic gardeners, lovers of heirloom veg... listen up. Because when these Montsanto GMOs cross with your backyard plants, you'll get vegetables. But the next year, when you're planting the seeds from the prior year's crop nothin's gonna break the soil. That's right. The offspring of those GMOs are sterile. And when your neighbor next door has Montsanto veg and through bees they cross with your stock of inherited heirlooms, your seeds are sterile now. Those lines are gone forever. Keep in mind, that after centuries of familial stock being grown in a specific location, those heirloom lines are evolved and adapted through gardener and natural selection to be able to grow best for that local soil type, nutrients, pH, weather, and even microclimates and soil organisms. Here in the midwest, our soil is on the alkaline side. I have certain heirloom tomatoes that do great here and have seen other disease-resistant hybrids that die.

I could do soil amendments, yes, but I don't think that it's a sustainable practice, so over multiple seasons I've really tried to find a balance and select those plants and varieties and even grow my own 'sports' that thrive under less than ideal conditions and give me high yield, low disease and pest infections, and great tasting fruit with great germination properties. I mean, c'mon. Isn't that the way it should be?

Monsanto even has a name for this technology: It's called GURT. Genetic Usage Restriction Technology. It's basically a 'terminator gene' that make plants' seeds sterile in the fruit they produce . Just think about it: this poses absolutely apocalyptic risk of breaking out into nature. This is because some of the genetic material that was put into the seeds came from other sources, and we just don't know if this DNA in the Montsanto pollens will enable cross-pollination with a related species.

Let's look at a few items, shall we?

rBGH. A little hormone given to cows to help them grow and produce youngerand faster and greaer amounts... no big deal, right? That's a cow hormone! Who cares? Well, unless you have a daughter who's developing breasts at age 8 and getting her first period at 9, no, you might not care.

Soy Allergies. Funny... they used to be so rare. Till 1996 that is. What happened in that year? I'll tell you: GMO soy hit the market. Yup. Montsanto's Roundup Ready Soybeans. Human soy allergies suddenly skyrocketed by 50%. And you believe that GMO plants are absolutely no different than other plants? Phooey. If they behave so different from their natural counterparts, you actually believe that we as humans have every single aspect of the downstream effect(s) all figured out in the DNA-fiddling arena? Right. I have a bridge to sell you.

There's a well known phenomenon called horizontal gene transfer (HGT). That’s when genes spontaneously transfer from one species’ DNA to another. While this happens often among bacteria, (it's how we get antibiotic-resistant superbugs) it is rare in plants and mammals. But the method used to construct and insert foreign genes into Genetically Modified (GM) or Genetically Engineered (GE) crops eliminates many of the natural barriers that stop HGT from occurring.

It has been proven that not only can this DNA move from plant to plant, but between plant and non-plant as well. Isn't that scary! And it's been proven to be so: The only published human feeding study on GM foods ever conducted indeed verified that portions of the gene inserted into GM soy ended up transferring into the DNA of human gut bacteria. Furthermore, the gene was stably integrated and it appeared to be producing its potentially allergenic protein. This means that years after people stop eating GM soy, they may still be exposed to its risky protein, which is being continuously produced within their intestines.

[wiki: As of January 2009 there has only been one human feeding study conducted on genetically modified foods. The study involved seven human volunteers who had portions of their large intestines removed. These volunteers were to eat GM soy to see if the DNA of the GM soy transferred to the human gut bacteria. Researchers identified that three of the seven volunteers had transgenes from GM soy transferred into their gut bacteria. {link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_food } source: Netherwood et al, "Assessing the survival of transgenic planic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract," Nature Biotechnology 22 (2004):2.

Back in the Great Depression, it is estimated that circa 40% of the veg and fruit we consumed here in the US was produced by backyard gardens. Think about it. Follow the money. If you were a soulless megacorp and wanted to keep your sales from falling by 40% as the economy tanks and people start victory gardening again, wouldn't you be able to justify G.U.R.T. in frankenseeds while mega-selling all these seeds to unwitting backyard gardeners? Wow. What a racket.

In my opinion, this move by Montsanto is the height of human arrogance, irresponsibility, and evil. I don't even know where to start to address the depths to which Montsanto has sunk in order for the people at the top to have developed this sort of frankenveg and GURT and then present it to the board and the R&D teams and say, "This is a great idea! Now everyone will buy our seeds every year from now on!"

Hmmmm... let's test this. Do *you* want to buy Montsanto seeds now? Geez, I used to not be all that concerned about where my seeds came from. I'd pick heirloom tomatoes but you know, I didn't really think too much about my peppers, eggplants, etc. You better believe the now this is on my radar.

Oh, and as an aside, where the hell is the press on this? It's all blogger-driven, homesteaders, and gardening forums where you need to read to find this information. Well, like this blog. Why isn't this on the front page of the WSJ: "Montsanto Employs Seed-Sterilizing Genetic Engineering to Ensure Repeat Yearly Sales in Midst of Depression-Era Victory Gardening Movement"

But hey, HR875 just wants to help "food safety" for Americans. You know... all those Salmonella and E.Coli outbreaks. Why the conspiracy theory stuff?

Quite simply: Seeds are not the source of the type of "contamination" in food that people read about and are so scared of. Seeds aren't the source of Salmonella, Listeria, Camplyobacter, or E.Coli. The veg and nuts that have been recalled lately are from contamination of water supplies that are downstream from animal sources. These sources are animals that are kept and processed under unsanitary conditions. This is actually a separate topic but I brought it up because it underscores what a red herring this "seed contamination" portion of HR875 really is.

If anyone is guilty of contaminating seeds, it's the genetic contamination of Montsanto which will ultimately lead to the Horizontal Gene Transfer HGT aspect of the Montsanto seeds contaminating viable reproductive seeds with essential biodiversity and genetic diversity. We NEED the diversity in order for those plants to be able to become resistant to pests, pathogens, and weather change.

This is why the food safety bill is BS. To be specific, it's BS that's dangerous. Because it's in there and being considered... there must be a reason. Since it isn't what it seems to be, then it must be something else. It doesn't change the practice of factory farming. It perpetuates it and squeezes out the little guy. Just like everything else that is going mega-corporation-goverment-handshake-wink-n-nod. Now it's spread to our food supply.

Incidentally: HR875 was introduced by Rosa DeLauro, who is the wife of Stanley Greenburg, an executive at Monsanto, the world's leading producer of herbicides and genetically engineered seeds.

I'm so disgusted and peeved I could just spit.

So go grow some heirlooms and tell your grocery NO GMOs!
Write your Senators. Again... (sheesh aren't you getting sick of hearing this?)
Buy your seeds from SeedSavers, Harris Seeds, and other heirloom see exchanges. (List on prior post)
When I see a GMO hybrid seedling in the garden store, I actually take time to ask the owner, "Why do you carry GMO veg? Are you a gardener or a factory farmer?" And do you know, they look alarmed and say, "Uh, what the- waitaminute... show me what's a GMO I'm selling." and I show them.

Now that I know what I'm looking for, I sometimes have difficulty finding non-gmo seeds in stores. I guess the nurseries have this same trouble when purchasing from their growers.

Sometimes I wonder if they don't even know that they're selling them because there's no GMO symbol on the little tag they stick in the dirt with the seedling. I wonder why this isn't so? I'll give you one guess: It's a 3-syllable word that rhymes with "Zontsanto."

So again, Jane and Joe Public.... it's up to YOU to educate YOURSELF and LEARN and TEACH and PUBLICIZE all the GMOs out there.

You want to know how to stop getting verticulum and fusarium and mosaic on your tomatoes? Buy Ruth Stout's book. Read Charles Wilbur's methods for how to grow tomatoes. Read Bob Flowerdew. They tell you. There are other ways to boost your plant's resistance. All you have to do is put down straw. Get the books. Read 'em. Learn and go grow your victory garden.

So go plant your Heirloom Victory Garden this Spring.

Victory over Montsanto, Congress, and the huge factory farms.


troutbirder said...

I do buy my garden seeds from Seed Savers, which is nearby in Decorah, for many of the reasons listed here. Not much else I agree with though :)

HeartlanderMom said...

Awesome. Come on back anytime, everyone welcome regardless! When we garden, we grow together.

Anonymous said...

Great informative post.

The only things I've heard in the news seem to implicate growers. On the other hand there is an AP article out today stating US manufacturers have released an approximate 271 million pounds of pharmaceutical drugs into the waterways. Goodness only knows and could never count all the illegal toxins.

I appreciate the knowledge and perspective.

HeartlanderMom said...

@ Anon:
I've seen this! Isn't it frightening! And then when I go through my medicine cabinet and find Tylenol from 1993 and pitch it I think, hmmm. This is going to end up in the landfill. What are the alternatives?

And what about the *people* on medications that pass through without completely breaking down? I imagine that not all of the medications that are taken (antidepressants for instance) are fully metabolized by the human body. Don't they end up in the water supply also?

And dyes. And preservatives in foods. They are passed through as well.

There's no easy answer except to please, let's all medicate as little as possible and let's not put crap in our food that we don't want in our bodies and water supply. We're great at getting bacteria and microbes out of water but it's simply not possible to run a barrage of tests that finds every flippin chemical compound and possible contaminant out there.

Makes me want to start filtering rainwater...