The Norman Transcript

March 15, 2013

If you control the seed, you can control the entire food chain

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Have you thought of the miracle that is a seed? Jack Harlan, professor of plant genetics at University of Illinois, talks about seed politics.

I quote from a chapter in “Gathering, Memoir of a Seed Saver” by Diane Ott Wheatly: “The ‘amateurs’ have been the guardians of our genetic resources for some thousands of years. There is no need to stop now, and they have one advantage over institutions: i.e., the true meaning of ‘amateur’ is one who loves or cares. There is no substitute for enthusiasm.”

Seed Savers Exchange has attracted a talented group of amateurs, self-taught experts in fields as diverse as the seeds they are keeping. You and I are or can be talented “amateurs” in the service of collecting, saving and planting heirloom seed and other non-hybrids that are the first link in the food chain.

If you control the seed, you control the entire food chain. Community seed banks, farmer curators and garden curators are going to be what keeps the world alive and keeps the seeds free for all of us to use.

“Give us this day our daily bread” should not be a prayer to a government or corporation such as the chemical monster Monsanto that wants to introduce gene modification (GM) into our corn, soybeans, etc., eliminating the purity of our food supply.

What’s the big difference? What’s the big deal? GMO seeds are “genetically modified organisms,” which is a very broad term. In its most simple terms, it refers to any living thing that has different DNA, no matter how slight, than its parent.

This can happen in nature or in the laboratory. The DNA of each of our parents has combined to make us who we are. You’re not identical to either. This also happens in the plant world. Insects or the weather moves pollen from one plant to the flower of another plant of the same or similar species. The new seed from that plant “mating” produces a new plant different from either of the parent plants. This is a type of hybrid (and so are you).

Traditional plant breeding is simply choosing the two parent plants that you would like to “mate” and playing the role of a bee moving the pollen of one to the flower of the other.

By saving the seed from that union, the plant breeder hopes to have a new plant that will incorporate the best qualities of each of the parents. Some of our favorite vegetables and flowers are traditional hybrids that have been around for many decades such as Silver Queen Corn and the fragrant Bourbon Rose.

GE seeds are “genetically engineered” seeds, crops, fish and hormones that have been the source of concern in recent years. These are created in a laboratory.

In genetically engineered plants, the “mating” process is completely bypassed and often the DNA introduced is from a completely unrelated organism, such as bacterial pesticide or herbicide resistant protein (this is called a transgenic crop). These plants do not occur in nature. Because this new, genetically modified plant has different DNA than its parent plant, it is one type of GMO.

In short, all crops have been genetically engineered from their original wild state by domestication, selection and controlled breeding over long periods of time, but most GMOs are not genetically engineered. By continued misuse of the term GMO, we doom ourselves to condemn our farmers unfairly.

The above information came from Hart’s GM-Free SEEDS. The Charles C. Hart Seed Co. distinguishes itself from other seed companies and is the oldest seed company in the country still run by the founding family, with five generations of Harts having been innovators in the packet seed industry.

Some countries — i.e., Japan for instance — have banned all GMOs from coming into their country. Eat well and prosper.

Betty Culpepper may be reached for comment or questions at

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