James and the Giant Corn Genetics: Studying the Source Code of Nature

April 30, 2010

The Organic Industry is Not Doomed

Filed under: Uncategorized — James @ 11:57 am

“We know it will hasten the demise–it will hasten the demise of organic farming, a rapidly developing business in this country.” – Lawrence Robbins (one of the lawyers arguing before the supreme court in the herbicide resistant alfalfa case)

As quoted here

Is there any real risk of the organic food business will be disappearing any time soon? Not so far as I can see. It really is a rapidly growing sector of agriculture,* and pollen contamination is an issue farmers have had plenty of experience dealing with long before genetic engineering ever entered the scene. If you’ve ever tasted an ear of sweetcorn that was pollinated by field corn, you know what I’m talking about.**

So here’s my question. Using only current trends (ie it’s fair to assume more genetically engineered crops are introduced in the future, but not that congress will pass a law requiring all farmers to plant them), can you make an argument for how the organic industry could be wiped out in the US, by genetic engineering or anything else?

*Whether that’s a good or a bad thing depends on whether you think the environmental benefits of organic farming outweigh the long-term downsides of defining good farming not with science, but with what feels natural.

**The majority of the corn kernels we eat are made up of the endosperm and embryo. Both of these get DNA from the mother plant (the one the ear grows on) and the father plant (the one whose tassel shed the pollen grain that fertilized the single corn silk attached to where that kernel of corn would later develop). A kernels of an ear of sweetcorn can each have different fathers, but if enough of those fathers were field corn, you’ll know it, because the father’s DNA will provide a working copy of the gene that lets corn kernels turn all that sugar that makes sweet corn sweet into starch, so your sweetcorn would’t taste sweet at all. The vast majority of the corn grown in the US is fieldcorn, yet I don’t think anyone would argue the sweetcorn industry is being hastened towards towards its immident demise. For more about the genetics of what makes sweetcorn sweet, read this discussion of the shrunken2 gene.


  1. I could see Europe deciding (in an imaginary future where diverse transgenic specialty fruits and veggies have been developed, released and adopted) that U.S. organic crops are all “contaminated.” I’d assume though that hardcore American organic types are more likely to get their veggies from local sources which (unless they live in central Cali) probably would be hundreds of miles from transgenic mates.

    Comment by Matt — April 30, 2010 @ 6:35 pm

  2. Those are both good points. I suppose we might also see european produce marketed in the US as “free of GMO pollen drift contamination” although that wouldn’t do much good for the idea of eating more locally.

    Comment by James — May 4, 2010 @ 8:37 am

  3. it is still better to adhere on organic farming because the fruits and vegetables does not contain those harmful chemicals.-:”

    Comment by Chester Rameres — May 1, 2010 @ 11:24 am

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