FEDCO Seeds contamination
GMO Contamination is real
Fedco Seeds has just found that out the hard way. Because Fedco knew that sweet corn seed was at risk, they have been conducting random tests of sweet corn lots for the past seven years using industry leader Genetic ID. Until recently, all such tests were negative. This fall Fedco received two negative results, but a third on a lot of Lancelot showed trace indications of contamination below the detectable threshold of 0.01% (1 kernel in 10,000).
Fedco responded by sending three additional lots from the same supplier as the Lancelot to Iowa for testing. This time, one test was negative, a second for Cohasset showed trace indications of contamination, and a third, Tuxedo lot 292 tested positive for GMO presence just above the detectable limit.
Fedco has removed from its inventory all 3 lots of seed that showed any indication of contamination, taking two of the varieties out of the catalog entirely. The third, Lancelot, is being offered but will not be shipped unless it tests negative. That is in keeping with the policy established by the cooperative 11 years ago not to knowingly offer for sale any transgenic variety because the new gene technologies have yet to be proven safe.
But the contamination has disturbing implications for farmers and gardeners who care about remaining GE-free. Fedco’s supplier admitted that pressure from the ethanol industry was bringing transgenic corn fields into encroachment with their own seed plots, and could not guarantee Fedco that their varieties would remain free from contamination.
Not all seed companies test their seed for GE-presence, so farmers and gardeners can have no assurance about what they plant. Even organic seed is not certifiably free of GMOs because organic certification is a process certification rather than a product certification. Testing is not routinely performed–either for pesticide residues or GMO contamination. A regimen requiring testing would make organics much more expensive. On the other hand, often folks choosing organic food or organic seed do so with the expectation that it is pure—free of chemicals and free of GMO contamination. T’ain’t necessarily so.
How to resolve the dilemma is not clear. What is clear is that if we wish to maintain any integrity in our seed supply, we must, as gardeners and farmers, ask the seed trade to take an adamant position that it will not tolerate GE contamination in its product. Seed businesses are in a much better position to absorb the costs of testing than individual farmers. Ask your seed company if it tests its sweet corn seed for GMOs. If seed businesses know you care, then they will care. It’s that simple. If they hear from enough people, they will start pressuring their own suppliers and the industry to clean up and the biotech manufacturers to take responsibility for the contamination or face risks of liability.
Another thing we can do is to keep the pressure on legislators and policymakers to take steps to reduce the risks of GMO contamination incidents in Maine. Although Fedco is not currently producing any sweet corn crops in Maine, it would like to keep those options open, particularly as maintaining GMO-free crops in the Midwest corn belt gets dicier and dicier. --cr lawn