GM crops have been grown, some genes 'flow' into other non-GM
crops or wild relatives. Until recently, some people claimed
that this gene flow was of little importance because pollen
didn't travel far - no more than a few hundred metres at most.
But pollen from genetically modified maize may have travelled
on the wind to remote parts of Mexico. GM maize, ordinary maize
and wild maize (corn) are the same species
so they can interbreed. Scientists from the University of California
found that the stray pollen had crossed with wild maize. It
may have come from GM maize trials in 1998. But those trials
were 100 kilometres away. There was a huge argument about this
which rumbled on for years. A later study suggested that there
was no contamination but by early 2009, the New
Scientist reported "it's official: genes from genetically
modified corn have escaped into wild varieties in rural Mexico".
worry is that long-distance drift of GM pollen threatens the
purity of ancient crop varieties even if they grow in remote
places. Some contamination may have come from food aid imports
of GM maize from the US. Mexican farmers may have planted some
of this corn. These are other ways in which gene flow - unwanted
contamination - can happen. There are several real worries about
and the wild teosinte plant that grows there are the source
of all original maize varieties from which all modern types
have been bred - or genetically altered.
this contamination has happened in Mexico so easily, it's
only a matter of time before many more countries are also
affected, partly because of GM food exports from the US or
because of food aid shipments to starving people.
farmers, wherever they may be, have to comply with strict
regulations if they want to claim that the food they grow
is truly organic.
They are trusted by the growing number of people who buy organic
because they don't want GMOs in their food. Among other things,
the regulations don't allow farmers to use GM seeds or plants.
So what happens when an organic farmer's crops are contaminated
by genetically engineered crops growing nearby - as will happen
more and more in the future? It means that people who choose
to have uncontaminated produce simply won't be able to have
that choice any more. Everyone everywhere will have to eat
some form of GM food.
GM varieties are privately owned. They are the patented
'intellectual property' of powerful companies. They are
not open-source; not in the public
domain. If farmers grow the companies' seeds without paying
for a licence, the companies will take them to court and sue
them for damages. This has already happened to a Canadian
Schmeiser, who claimed that his canola (rapeseed) was
contaminated by RoundupReady canola seed from neighbours'
fields or had blown from passing trucks. He had been saving
the seed from his canola plants and sowing it for many years
- as farmers have always done. Monsanto, the company that
owns the patents on RoundupReady canola seeds, discovered
Schmeiser's seeds included some of their patented weedkiller-resisting
version. They took out and won a lawsuit against Schmeiser,
claiming $400,000 in damages. What will happen if farmers
in poor countries sow GM seeds or GM-contaminated seeds that
they've saved? Will the companies sue them too?