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Like It Or Not, GMO Corn Is Spreading

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Photo:vampire_bear/Flickr/Creative Commons License

 

If you remember "Jurassic Park" -- and if you don't, now's a great time to re-watch it! -- you'll recall that the designers of the dinosaur-laden park had a big problem when developing the idea.

Dinosaurs are animals, and animals have two instincts above all others: Survival and breeding. So, simply creating dinosaurs and letting them run wild -- albeit behind highly-electrified fences that would never ever fail -- wouldn't work. That would lead to pure Darwinism, with some species dying off, others being created, and a massive population simply overrunning any efforts to control the "attractions." Unless there was a way to control the breeding, the park wouldn't be a viable vacation option that the whole family would enjoy. So, the scientists created a safeguard to make sure that would never happen: They engineered all of the dinosaurs to be female.

But, as Dr. Ian Malcolm points out, there are flaws with that plan:


That's right: "Life, uh, finds a way."

That lesson, though, seems to be lost on GMO manufacturers like Monsanto, DuPont, and friends. When developing their products and putting them out into the world, the implicit understanding is that whatever Frankenstein creations they come up with will be kept apart from the organic natural foods out there. Unfortunately, that's not possible. GM contamination is rampant and inevitable. Because: Life, uh, finds a way.

Take corn, for example. I already broke down how sweet corn being free of GMOs doesn't really mean all that much in terms of human consumption, but another realm to look at is simply how difficult it is for GMO corn to keep away from non-GMO corn.

The only method to keep any corn crops from contaminating other fields is by planting them as far away as possible. No other technologically-sound option (say, big fences or pollen zappers or something) exists. Distance is the only effective method of "birth control" for corn. But, as this piece over at Grist points out, corn pollen spreads no matter what safeguards are in place:

Distance, however, provides statistical prevention, not absolute prevention. A distance of 660 feet between cornfields is 99 percent effective at preventing breeding. At 1,000 feet, the effectiveness goes up to 99.5 percent. But it's nearly impossible to get to 100 percent.

This is all well and good in a world where plants haven't had their DNA tampered with, but that's a world that we no longer live in. There is, however, one method that may keep GMO-corn from continuing to proliferate in places where it isn't wanted:

[T]he terminator gene. This has nothing to do with Arnold Schwarzenegger killing Sarah Connor; it's the common name for a technology patented by the Delta and Pine Land Company in 1998 -- one that makes the seeds from transgenic pollen and plants sterile. The whole point of the terminator technology is to make sure that there is no hasta la vista. After one generation it's done: It won't be back.

Unfortunately, there's a side effect that's kept it from being utilized. Because the seed is only good for one generation, farmers would have to cease their current method of saving-and-reusing seeds from the previous year and, instead, purchase new GMO products every year. This idea, as you'd imagine, is quite costly to the farmer, so it's a non-starter.

But -- and this is the worse news -- any option used at this point is pretty worthless. The GM strands are out there, contaminating whatever they please. As the Grist piece concludes, "the genie is out of the bottle." Life found a way. "Jurassic Park" was right. Let's just hope this story doesn't end the same way.

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