Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Safe Seed Pledge

We sent off our first lot of a new corn we were excited to offer this year, Oaxacan Green Dent, which has been out of organic production for a while, for GMO testing a couple months ago and were a bit startled to get a positive result back from the lab. Well... a little startled and a little not. I think people are not aware how widespread contamination is and if you are the type that cares about good clean food this is scary stuff. There has been something around for a while called the "safe seed pledge" which basically states that a company does not knowingly sell GMO seeds. We have signed it, as have many of the companies you probably buy seeds from. But, the most important word in that pledge is "knowingly".
We are able to test for GMO contamination easily now. If you just care about a qualitative yes/no contamination, it costs about $200 per sample of 5# of corn and is accurate to 1 in 10,000 seeds. Unless the pledge incorporates some accountability of trying to know it does not really strike us as all that relevant anymore. Good intentions can only go so far. Our contaminated stock seed came from a company that has signed the pledge.
This has been a bit of a rabbit hole for us as we have been forced to deal with the implications of our contaminated lot. As we've begun to ask around it turns out that for most companies, very little testing is happening. The NOP that governs organic standards for certification has a zero tolerance on GMO contaminated seeds but does not require testing, which when you put the two together amounts to pretty much a negative incentive for testing. There are others in the industry who have embraced "acceptable thresholds" of contamination. This has been the preferred route of the Non-GMO project.
Wait, what?
That Non-GMO certified stamp on products at your local co-op doesn't mean... um... no GMO's? Correct. We were surprised too. Turns out "a very little bit" is the new "no".
There has been a concerted effort by the biotech industry to totally overwhelm certain sectors of agriculture with GMO's to the point that they create a perception that we simply can't get away from them. The idea of "acceptable thresholds" strikes us as the greenwashing of an accepted defeat. GMO contamination is not "reality", we create that, no?
My point in writing this is not doom and gloom but just to let you know that this isn't an issue that the seed industry is really taking on or pushing very hard at right now. Don't leave it up to us (collectively). Its going to be consumer driven if a stance is going to happen.
A story...A couple years ago Territorial Seeds was the unfortunate victim of a misled campaign. Someone misconstrued their selling seeds bred and sold by Seminis (a subsidiary of Monsanto) to mean they were owned by Monsanto. Misled, yes. But they took A LOT of flack for this and got A LOT of bad publicity, and due to customer pressure, as of 2012, completely dropped all varieties they had been getting from Seminis. This is a big deal and they deserve a lot of respect for that. Now the moral here is not that you concoct a BS story as a means to achieve your end, but it is that companies listen. While the rumor was entirely false, consumers who maybe had thought seed companies grew all the seeds they sold started to think about the seed industry in a new way, started seeing the supply chain and didn't like what they saw or who they were supporting. They expressed their desire to have a company they trusted not be involved with Monsanto anymore, and the company acted.
Start asking your favorite seed companies about what they are doing to keep GMO contamination out of our seed supply. Ask them if they test corn and beet lots and what happens if the lots test positive. Ask if they've gone the extra step and Knowingly do not sell GMO contaminated seeds.
We need to take this seriously. Pollen travels and the more contaminated lots of seed that are in the marketplace, the fewer places we have to produce clean seeds.
We are working with Seed Savers Exchange to get a clean and tested lot of the Oaxacan corn to start with 'cause its a beauty. Like... dazzlingly beautiful... and just an awesome flour corn for tortillas and posole. We look forward to bringing it to market soon.

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