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Organic's Answer to GMO Corn Contamination?

Updated on May 15, 2012

Since the induction of genetically modified corn to agricultural practices in 1996, one issue in particular has left organic farmers scrambling for answers. The ever confronting issue at hand is the very possible cross contamination of organic heirloom varieties with genes found in genetically modified corn. For over a decade now, organic farmers have worried about their highly prized heirloom genetics becoming contaminated with GMO corn genes. Well, it's now possible that with natural breeding techniques, that organics could gain an upper hand on GMO contamination. This article will briefly touch on current contamination rates and largely focus on new strains of organic corn that could help farmers eliminate GMO corn contamination.


United States GMO Corn Contamination -

In 2011, the United States commercial corn crop was comprised of up to 88% genetically modified corn.This number is massive compared to the numbers in 2001, where genetically modified corn made up 26% of the total planted crop. Combine high planting rates with corn's natural means of open pollination and it becomes quite clear that disaster is laid for organic corn producers.

Bag of GMO Corn Seed.
Bag of GMO Corn Seed. | Source
  • An article released by The Organic & Non-GMO Report in 2010, states that there are reports coming from the Midwest United States saying that increasingly higher levels of GMO contamination are being found in organically produced corn. The article also mentions an unnamed spokeswoman for organic farmers saying that as much as one third of the organic corn tested comes back positive for GMO contamination at low levels.[4]
  • Other sources, such as a report released by The Progressive in 2001, quote Organic Certification Specialist, David Gould, saying that, "'Virtually all of the seed corn in this country has at least a trace of GMO contamination and often more.'" [3]

It's fairly easy to conclude that GMO contamination of organic corn is very real, but the exact levels of this contamination are still highly debatable and largely unknown.


An Organic Solution?

A new lineage of organic corn hybrids, known as PuraMaize®, seek to end the battle of GMO corn contamination. Boasting a natural gene blocking system, these organic hybrids are able to prevent fertilization of foreign GMO and colored corn varieties. As stated by Blue River Hybrid Organic Seed, the PuraMaize Corn:

  • Combats GMO Contamination - Using natural cross incompatibility genes, PuraMaize corn was traditionally bred to express a specific gametophyte factor known as GA1S. Expression of this gene largely prevents the pollination of non-matching genetic genotypes such as genetically modified corn.
  • Performs Well - Only the strongest organic corn hybrids from Blue River Seeds were used in the breeding of PuraMaize. Since the expression of GA1S is strictly a pollen-recognition system, functional properties such as plant vigor, growth, taste and yields are unaffected.
  • Can be Planted Next to GMO Corn - The planting of PuraMaize does not mean that agricultural precautions such as planting a buffer and cleaning farm equipment can be abandoned. These still remain issues where contamination could be present, but "in side-by-side field tests with GMO corn, PuraMaize either eliminates or virtually eliminates contamination." [2]

Overall, PuraMaize organic corn looks to be a promising solution to genetically modified corn contamination. With the first publicly grown PuraMaize set to grow in 2012, the results will indeed be interesting.


A Controversy With Patenting -

Although met with general acceptance and interest, the patenting of the GaS trait found in PuraMaize has sparked some bad feelings within the organic industry. Here's a look at the issues related:

Popcorn, as seen above, also contains the natural GA1S trait. It is not protected because the original patent only covers GA1S in yellow dent corn. Photo By - FeatheredTar.

  • Patent of Natural Trait - Some organic breeders and farmers are upset over the patenting of a naturally occurring and long known gene trait known as GA1S in corn plants. Their argument comes from a paper published in 1955, in which Walter Thomas of Iowa State University explains the process of breeding the GA1S trait into yellow dent corn. It becomes difficult to understand how a naturally occurring and long lineage trait can be held as intellectual property. [1]
  • Complication of Sales - Another complication that is raised with the patenting of the GaS gene trait is that it makes it difficult for other organic breeders to sell their own varieties of GA1S corn. The patent essentially means that any breeder without rights to the patent would have to pay some dividends towards the patent owner if they were to release their own variety of yellow corn with GA1S. [5]

The issues presented with the patenting of the GaS trait are valid, but patent owners and advocates are persistent on their answer that the patent was to ensure the survival of organic and non-gmo corn.


Final Word -

On a personal note, I'd like it to be known to readers of this article that I have no affiliation with or have any opinions, good or bad, concerning PuraMaize organic corn hybrids. My main goal was to open readers' eyes to the natural defenses set in place by nature to combat the issue of GMO corn contamination. It'll be very interesting to see how well the hybrids do during the public planting of PuraMaize corn in 2012. I appreciate your view and would love to entertain any questions or comments you may have.

References -

[1] "Experts Dispute Patent on Gene Blocking Corn." The Organic & Non-GMO Report. May (2008).Web. 31 Jan. 2012.

[2] Johnson, Maury. "PuraMaize® Corn Hybrids - Fact Sheet." Blue River Organic Seed. Web. 31 Jan. 2012.

[3] Lilliston, Bill. "Farmers Fight to Save Organic Crops." The Progressive Sept. (2001).Web. 31 Jan. 2012.

[4] "Organic farmers report increasing GMO contamination with corn." The Organic & Non-GMO Report. Apr (2010).Web. 31 Jan. 2012.

[5] Roseboro, Ken. ""Organic Ready" Corn Aims to Prevent GMO Contamination." The Organic & Non-GMO Report July (2011).Web. 31 Jan. 2012.


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    • Joe Macho profile image

      Zach 6 years ago from Colorado

      techygran - Thank you for your feedback. I too, follow the subject, but all too often do I see articles about the uncontrolled spread of GMOs. It's refreshing to view the topic from another standpoint.

      labnol - You're welcome. Glad that you enjoyed.

    • labnol profile image

      labnol 6 years ago

      An eye Opener, well written !!

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 6 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      this is very interesting and I will have to re-read it, even though you have couched it in very clear language... I'm just one of those people in a big rush right now. I am following the GMO/non-GMO issues as much as I can. Thank you for your contribution to my education on the topic!