Testing for GMOs

Preserving IP product Purity

See this article from the Organic and Non-GMO report about testing in this new post-labeling law world. With all the new focus on identity-preserved grains and organic food, there is an increased need for testing at all facilities in the IP grain chain; in addition to the farmers themselves, this includes transporters and elevator operators. At each step of the process it is important to have procedures in place to ensure the purity of the product. See this article about combine cleaning. In addition to physical changes and cleanliness, testing is also paramount. The two main types of testing available are test strips and PCR testing.

Test Strips vs PCR Testing

Protein-based lateral flow strip tests are used to detect the presence of a particular GMO. The test is fast (a few minutes), but does not provide results concerning the level of impurity. On the other hand, DNA-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests do provide quantitative analysis, but cost much more and can take up to three days to complete.

The non-gmo project maintains a list of recommended testing facilities for GMOs. There are also some new products on the horizon in the PCR realm, including DNAble from Envirologix (not a lab, per se, but a testing kit manufacturer) which gives results similar to PCR (high sensitivity with high specificity) on-site in much less time (presently, for soybeans).

Organic Farmland in Short Supply

Enter “Certified Transitional”

By U.S. Department of Agriculture (Fall Line Farms; cooperative, co-op; Richmond, VA.) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By U.S. Department of Agriculture (Fall Line Farms; cooperative, co-op; Richmond, VA.) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The growing demand for organic produce in the U.S. is outpacing supply. Since it takes a minimum of three years to certify a field as being ‘Organic’, there are many fields in transition to that coveted status. In the interim, the crops from that field (at least in the past) sold at commodity pricing. The USDA and the Organic Trade Association (OTA) have allowed farmland in transition to be labeled as such, allowing the farmer to sell such an identity-preserved crop as ‘transitional’, thereby getting a higher price for the harvest. One can read the details of the OTA’s recommendations in this report. This is not intended as an opportunity to categorize a field as perpetually in transition; the intent is for the categorization to last for the 2nd and 3rd years of the transition to organic status. Clarkson is an example of one farm that is embracing the ‘transitional’ designation. I’m sure there will be an uptick in its use, given the increase in demand for organic, identity-preserved crops.

EU Rejects GM Maize Use

By Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In the wake of lobbying by IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements), the European Parliament has rejected GMO maize use in its member states. This is the fifth time in a year that they’ve rejected maize. Member states will likely vote on the issue next month. Continue reading “EU Rejects GM Maize Use”

Saving Seeds

By Sanjay Acharya (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Sanjay Acharya (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
One of the big reasons that might cause one to distrust the large seed companies and their motives (Monsanto, Syngenta, etc.) is the fact that their product can only be used for one generation. I had in my head a picture of the farmer very carefully setting aside some of the seed for planting the following year. While this may have been the case in the distant past this is no longer the case. For the most part (according to Amada at thefarmersdaughter.com) farmers have no desire to go through the motions of collecting, cleaning, and packaging seed for subsequent years. Evidently this practice was discontinued with the advent of hybrid varieties in the 1930s. Here’s a great video about hybrids and how they relate to seed.

Cry Foul

Therefore, the fact that a layman might be crying foul over this practice (of allowing a farmer to use seed for only one season) may actually be a non-issue. It was a hot-button for me, but now no longer thanks to Amanda. If anyone has access to statistics regarding the practice of saving seed, please leave a comment. Here is an article that mentions some resources for those who still want to save seed (seed exchanges, seed swaps). This is obviously directed more toward the small/niche farmer and heirloom crop varieties. See our post about the ‘Seed’ movie which is presently screening for a competing view here.

Popcorn Rejection

No, that’s not the name of a disco band from yesteryear. Yesterday we shared a video from Iowa State University regarding cleaning equipment used in IP grain harvesting. This is a case from a few year’s ago of a farmer’s load of popcorn being rejected for testing positive for a GMO. The farmer was Scott McPheeters of Gothenburg, Nebraska. According to Scott, he’s not the only one.

“And of course you don’t want to tell anyone because it is like a Scarlet Letter. But the truth is, it does happen.”

There are huge financial incentives to getting it right when it comes to grain purity. It may take anywhere from an hour to an entire day or more to clean a combine so that there are no offending kernels left to contaminate a load. In many cases, this extra time is well worth it if the crop will garner a much higher bushel price on the identity-preserved market. Even more important are overseas exports, where even a small amount of impurity can cause a crop to be rejected. A combine can contain one hundred pounds or more of grain and other materials after running clean for a minute after processing a load. Newer machines are becoming easier to clean than the older ones, but it sometimes makes sense to have separate machinery to process the IP grain, especially since having the machine down for cleaning at the peak of production is not a good thing for business.