2. Is this a labeling initiative? No. The labeling of GMOs within a single city would be very difficult to achieve or enforce. Meanwhile, there are other groups which are working on labeling initiatives at the California state level. This initiative focuses on a different facet of the problem: seeds and plants.
3. Will this initiative increase the cost of food? No. This initiative will have no impact on the current cost of conventional food, prepared food, or purchased food. However, in times of economic difficulty, people often turn to growing their own food. Plus many immigrants bring seeds with them to grow the foods of their cultural tradition. This homegrown food would be protected by this initiative. For people who are growing their own vegetables, this initiative encourages them to save their own vegetable seed—for free—for next year’s crops, and makes it easier for them to do so successfully. For those people who are growing vegetable varieties with cultural heritage, or heirloom/historic varieties (for example Native American corn), this initiative helps protect their projects and prevent contamination by genetic modification. This initiative stands the potential to have significant long-term impact on food security, because this initiative helps protect the diversity of vegetable plants, and that diversity is desperately needed for humanity’s survival in a climate-changed future.
4. Will this initiative hurt nurseries or people who sell seeds? No. Right now, retail nurseries within the city of Los Angeles are not selling genetically modified seeds per se. Farmers who purchase GMO seeds are quite aware of it (they have to sign a lengthy contract which limits what they can do with the seeds). The Los Angeles initiative will not change the products that nurseries sell today. However, the companies that produce GMOs are currently developing products that they do target the home vegetable grower, and —before they get here— this initiative is designed to prevent those new GMO products from coming into Los Angeles and wreaking havoc on the heirlooms that are currently grown in the city. Heirloom seed-saving organizations across the nation are beginning to realize that the cities may be one of the best places to save the precious diversity of vegetable varieties which generations of farmers and gardeners have developed and entrusted to our care.
5. What is a GMO and how is it any different from traditional plant breeding? A genetically modified organism (GMO) is a plant or animal that has been genetically engineered: its genes have been manipulated in a laboratory. Often times the process combines genetic material from two organisms which could never breed and produce babies in nature (for example a tomato + a fish, or corn + a bacterium – these organisms could never mate naturally). The genetic engineering process is accomplished one of two ways: by a coarse, blasting process called a “gene gun,” or by using a virus to introduce the foreign genetic material. Recent independent studies in Europe are now calling into question whether the process itself is safe.
By contrast, in traditional plant breeding, the pollen and reproductive parts of two relatively similar plants are combined naturally (for example pollen from a yellow crookneck squash introduced into the flower of a green zucchini, combining two plants which are close relatives and able to mate in nature). Traditional plant breeding is the way mankind has saved seed and produced new vegetable varieties for millennia.
Genetic engineering has only been with us for a brief decade or so. Its long-term impacts on human health are completely untested and there is no transparency of scientific findings. The companies that produce GMOs got around government approvals through loopholes in the law. GMOs raise serious economic issues and monopoly issues of corporate control, and they strip away farmers’ autonomy. Studies now prove that GMOs have not lived up to their producers’ claims of “higher yields” and “feeding the world”; indeed, the yields from small-scale, mixed-crop farms are higher. Genetic engineering is producing food plants which are highly dependent on agricultural chemicals, in a world which is just awakening to the multifold wisdom of organics. The diversity of GMOs is extremely narrow, which places our international food supply in serious threat. And GMOs are very difficult to contain – as evidenced by the accidental spread of GMO corn and wheat – the wind can carry GMO pollen to pollute the fields of farmers who intended to grow crops free of GMOs. That is why we must set aside physical areas – like the City of Los Angeles – which are GMO-free. We must create places where heirloom food plants can safely be cultivated and heirloom varieties can be preserved. We need this for the future of food and the survival of humanity.