It sounds like something out of science fiction, but it’s all too real, notes Allen Baler of Food4Patriots, a long-term survival food solution. Monsanto, the company behind the herbicide Roundup, has created genetically modified seeds that can produce completely sterile crops. The company owns the patent to the gene, dubbed the Terminator gene, but so far hasn’t released any seeds that feature it, according to NPR.
But, the fact that the company could unleash seeds with the Terminator gene is something people should be concerned about, according to Baler. Part of the joy of gardening or farming is being able to save seeds from one year’s crop to plant the next year. Sterile seeds would do away with that. Although Monsanto hasn’t used non-viable seeds yet, there are troubling reports in the media of its track record with farmers and gardeners. The company has a history of suing small farmers and of buying up seed companies. For the sake of your garden’s health and the diversity of plant life, many experts recommend that it’s best to avoid GMO seeds and seeds produced by companies such as Monsanto.
Monsanto’s Grip on the Seed Industry
The chemical company Monsanto was one of the first companies to develop light emitting diodes (LEDs). Less benignly, it’s also the company responsible for deadly chemical agents such as DDT, Agent Orange, and bovine growth hormone. It also produces glyphosate herbicides, which were developed by a scientist at Monsanto in 1970.
Glyphosate herbicides, more commonly known by the brand name RoundUp, kill grasses and weeds among agricultural crops. It is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the U.S., notes Allen Baler. To capitalize on it, Monsanto has also produced genetically modified seeds, which are developed to be able to resist RoundUp. The company owns the patent on the seeds, which it has dubbed RoundUp Ready.
RoundUp Ready seed varieties include corn and soy, not varieties typically grown by the average home gardener. But the company’s reach extends into the home gardening arena too, as it purchased Seminis, Inc, the largest seed company at the time, in 2005. At the time, Bloomberg reported that Monsanto paid $1 billion in cash for the company.
Seminis is behind a number of varieties popular with home gardeners, such as Celebrity tomatoes, Patio tomatoes and Early Girl tomatoes. To be clear, not all of the seeds produced by the Monsanto-owned company are genetically modified, and Seminis doesn’t sell GM seeds to home gardeners. But, there are major concerns for gardeners who want to practice sustainability and who want to have some form of control over the crops they grow and the companies they support. It’s still possible for gardeners to avoid the hand of Monsanto, as long as they do some research when purchasing seeds.
Finding Non-GMO, Non-Monsanto Seeds
Allen Baler of Food4Patriots and SurvivalSeeds4Patriots explains the importance of using non-GMO seeds. “If you start with one of these non-GMO seeds, you can use the offspring seeds to plant your next round of crops. In case of an long-term crisis, these seeds will provide a sustainable source of food for years to come,” Baler notes.
Being able to save seeds lets you continue to grow a preferred crop, even if the seed company that originally sold it to you discontinues it or is unable to provide it one year.
The simplest way to find out if the seeds you are thinking of buying have an unsavory Monsanto connection is to call up the seed catalog or company and ask who provides the company with specific seeds, according to Treehugger. If the seeds come from Seminis, you know not to purchase them.
You can also avoid Monsanto-owned seeds by choosing to purchase from small seed companies that are committed to protecting people from genetically modified crops, and dedicated to preserving heirloom varieties.
For example, the Seed Saver’s Exchange is a non-profit seed company that focuses on preserving heirloom varieties and sharing them with the world. The company has been working on something called participatory preservation for nearly 40 years. People who grow seeds offered by the company share them with fellow gardeners. The practice encourages diversity when it comes to plant varieties and aids gardeners in finding varieties that are naturally best suited to their region or specific conditions.
The Seed Saver’s Exchange is one of the seed companies that has signed the Safe Seed Pledge. The pledge was created in 1999 by a group of 10 seed companies that were committed to non-GMO (genetically modified organism) seed. The original signers of the pledge believe that there isn’t a sufficient regulatory framework for GM seed and that the seeds threaten genetic diversity, as GM plants can pollinate non-GM plants. Since its creation, more than 70 companies have signed the pledge.
While Monsanto might seem to have it tendrils all over the agriculture and gardening industry, there are still a number of ways to steer clear of it, and the seeds it produces. If you want to avoid Monsato seeds, you are not alone. Some seed companies, such as Johnny’s Select Seed, have cut ties with Seminis following the acquisition by Monsanto. Choosing sustainable seeds isn’t just important for your own health and well being, notes Allen Baler, but also for the well being of future generations.
Amy Freeman contributed to this article.