Friday, March 03, 2006

Plant Patents and GMOs - some brief thoughts

Dear Readers,

Recently I read a short interview with a plant designer – published in Sunset magazine. He spoke about how he imagines how he wants the plants to look, and then goes shopping for the genes. If he is unable to find the genes he wants, he mutates the genes he can find. The idea of growing plants with combinations of genetic material that Nature never intended to be in the same plant disturbs me. The idea of intentionally mutating genes is just as disturbing.

I have been reading other gardeners concerns over genetically modified plants, as well as patented plants. I don’t claim to be an expert on either of these topics. And while they are separate concerns, they do over lap.

The plant patents make it against the law to reproduce those specific plants in any way. This of course is a problem for seed savers, and aspiring nursery people. I have heard that folks have been prosecuted under these laws who have inadvertently or accidentally reproduced these plants.

The main problem with saying that a living thing may not be reproduced – is that it is the nature of living things to reproduce. With flowering plants it becomes very problematic, because pollen is air born. It has been shown that corn grown in remote villages in Central America contains genetically modified genes – even though that corn has been saved from the same stock that the villagers have grown for many generations. This phenomena is called genetic drift – it is the result of wind dispersed pollen. Pollen can disperse through out the world on the jet stream.

Because of this impossibility of keeping these plants from reproducing, the possibility of law suits, and the reality of the pollen contaminating native and heirloom plants - there is a call from many gardeners to boycott patented plants. I find after much careful thought that I agree.

Boycotting patented plants may go a long way towards boycotting GMOs also. The problem with trying to boycott GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) directly, is that those who produce and sell GMOs are not required to label them as such. They don’t have to label them at all. However, after their investment in making a temporarily unique product - they will probably want to attempt to protect that product with a patent. By not purchasing these patented plants we will reduce the amount of tampered pollen floating around our atmosphere.


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