Keeping seeds safe, March 1, 2004, New York Times 

According to this editorial, the acreage planted with 
genetically modified crops has exploded: a third of 
this country's corn by 2002 and three-quarters of its 
soybeans. Whatever you make of this trend  and there 
are strong arguments on both sides  one question it 
raises is whether genes from modified plants might 
somehow drift into unmodified ones. The answer is yes. 

The editorial says that in a pioneering study released 
last week, the Union of Concerned Scientists asked two 
independent labs to examine samples of traditional 
corn, soybean and canola seeds. The labs found 
contamination in half the corn, half the soybean and 
more than 80 percent of the canola varieties. The 
study draws no conclusions about when the mingling took 
place. It could have happened during field tests, 
after modified crops were widely planted or during 
shipping and storage. But the genetic purity of at
least some traditional seed varieties has been 
compromised. This is a serious finding. Though the 
acreage planted with modified crops is enormous, the 
number of varieties is still very small. But many more 
modified varieties  many of them for industrial and 
pharmaceutical crops  are being tested. The risk posed 
to the food supply by contamination from pharmaceutical 
crops will almost certainly be much greater than it 
is from genes that have migrated from, say, Roundup 
Ready corn. But there is a broader point. The editorial 
says that to contaminate traditional varieties of
crops is to contaminate the genetic reservoir of plants 
on which humanity has depended for most of its history. 
In 2001, for instance, scientists discovered modified 
genes in traditional varieties of corn in Mexico, the 
ancestral home of the crop and the site of its greatest 

The need now is for more extensive study, best undertaken 
by the Department of Agriculture. It's also time to 
subject genetically modified crops to more rigorous and 
more coherent testing. The scale of the experiment this 
country is engaged in  and its potential effect on the 
environment, the food supply and the purity of 
traditional seed stocks  demands vigilance on the same 

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