Protecting Your Garden from Genetically Modified Pollen

Today, at A Self Sufficient Life, we have a guest post by Ashley Warner.  It’s an interesting look at the perhaps very worrying world of GM food and the implication for home grown crops everywhere:

Genetically modified organisms (GMO) have sparked a hot debate in the world of agriculture.  Many people scorn the usage of genetically modified seeds due to their questionable safety of consumption and potentially harmful biological effects.  Others claim that this attitude is pure conservatism and that GMO crops are the future of agriculture, bringing higher yields to poorer land and allowing us to feed a burgeoning world population. Whether safe or not, more GMO crops are being planted each year, to the point that in many countries people have no way of knowing if the food at their grocery store has been altered.  This has prompted many people to grow and harvest their own garden using natural methods, but the possibility of contamination still exists.

One risk faced by home growers is pollen. GMO pollen can create toxins that kill certain species of natural wildlife. These plants are engineered to be poisonous to the pests that have traditionally threatened farm production, and while they do often work, the poisons can also threaten the ecosystems in which the crops are grown. GMO pollen has also caused some people to develop allergies to foods they regularly consumed before and researchers believe that further health implications are still to be discovered. More frightening still, genetic modification doesn’t stop with increasing yields and resilience. GMO pollen spread by wind or insects can sterilize unrelated crops and force farmers to purchase seeds over and over again rather than enjoy the continual benefits of an heirloom harvest. However, industrial agriculture companies continue to use these seeds due to their high productivity. This presents home-growers with a problem, as their crops are at risk of GMO infiltration.

Ridding your household of GMO products is not as easy as refraining from the purchase of GMO products. Genetically modified pollen is everywhere. When major industrial farms plant crops using GMO seeds, some pollen inevitably escapes the safety nets meant to catch it, and travels throughout the country. A surprisingly high amount of GMO pollen can make its way into your private vegetable garden this way. In fact, if you live anywhere within a 20-mile radius of a major industrial farm, your personal garden could be at risk.

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent a GMO pollen infestation entirely. If the issue is extremely important to you, then you will want to take the location of industrial farms into account when choosing where to live. There is no way to harness Mother Nature and direct any pollen-bearing winds away from your garden. This is the natural way that many crops, such as corn, are fertilized, and it is to be expected that they would release their genes in such a manner.

Still, if you live nearby an industrial farm and want to keep your own natural garden, there a few measures that you can take that will help to ensure the well-being of your crops. First, you should research the industrial farm that is in your area and refrain from planting any of the crops that it sells. You will find that the vast majority of these farms produce only our country’s staple crops: corn, wheat and soybeans. Out of all of these crops, people are most likely to only grow corn in their home gardens, so if you are in a situation where you cannot safely grow it, your best option is to purchase corn from a GMO free grower based far from the industrial farm.

If the industrial farm near your home happens to produce more diverse crops that you wish to grow in your garden, then you might consider building a greenhouse in your yard. Although their construction is expensive, greenhouses will provide your garden with all the protection that it needs  throughout the entire year. Additionally, greenhouses grant the added benefit of providing you with a higher degree of control over growing conditions in a way that is natural and easily maintained.

GMO pollen is a possible threat to our crops, our environment and our health. However you do not have to put up with the infiltration of these tampered plants. By growing your garden in a safe and responsible manner, you are ensuring the welfare of our food supply for generations to come and living a more ecologically friendly life in general.

Ashley Warner is a graduate student working toward her Masters in Conservation Biology. She currently resides in Washington state.

13 Responses to “Protecting Your Garden from Genetically Modified Pollen”

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  1. Goo says:

    While the inherent qualities of GMOs are worrying in themselves, I generally feel even more worried by those who have power over production of seed – in other words non-accountable corporations.

    Thanks for a really informative post with useful suggestions for avoiding contamination. I think we should also exercise our democratic rights to protest and put pressure on governments.

  2. Richard says:


    Just a couple of points. Americans, Brazilians, and Chinese are all eating GMO food and they are doing fine. If we get more food from an acre of land global food prices are cheaper, the guy buying rice for his kids in Bangladesh will be pleased about that. I’m quite happy too.

    GM foods are not all equal, each one should be judged on its merit. Grain with additional vitamins, it has got to be good. Food with less pesticides applied, where’s the problem? Alternatively, have any of our anti-GMO folk every looked into how much pesticide is applied to the non-GMO food we all happily buy in the supermarket – even organic food? Its a lot.Yes lots of stuff can be applied to “organic” food. Just like GMOs no-one has the faintest idea what the pros and cons are of all those legal pesticides (with associated climate change impact) in the long term.

    But by 2050 there will be 9bn people on the plant with less land to feed them from,with all of these people needing food, and more eating more meat in their diet. If there is a non-GMO solution here everyone is listening, but the anti-GMOs aren’t offering a solution. I wish I lived in the dream world inhabited by the anti-GMO folk, but I don’t.

    Oh and yes companies like Monsanto, Syngenta et al will/do make a lot of money, but that is the function of corporations in any industry. They are accountable to shareholders, although that’s minimal. They are not charitable entities.

    Yet Europeans eat GMOs indirectly but in ignorance. All those battery chickens. Eating all that tasty GMO imported soya meal. And the supermarket “forgets” to mention it. Wake up anti-GMO consumer!

    In conclusion being anti-GMO is idealistic and selfish. You can’t grow enough food for ALL the world, not even those in richer countries, without GMOs. Organics won’t do it. That is scientific fact. Get over it. Each GMO should be considered separately. Being anti-GMO is like being anti-medicine. How daft is that?

    This isn’t meant to be a flame, but the time comes when we need to take stock and “wise up”.

    Finally, I love the website, I may be a GMO agnostic but I still love the notion of a self-sufficient life. Keep up the good work!

    • Curlz says:

      Sounds like typical capitalist propaganda to me, Richard. I believe society is naiive to the long-term effects on the big picture & as usual big industry (encouraged by short-sighted governments) is all too willing to sacrifice future generations’ quality of life for a quick fix of cash. Yeah, savings are made by producers but these are never passed on to consumers. You seem to be the one who thinks the industry is a charitable lot.
      You say you base your opinion on scientific fact but in my experience the real science is all too often ignored, favouring someone’s bank balance over lives & quality of life. The fact is we are in a position now of losing our right to chose non-GM even if we grow our own veg, this means that mother nature no longer has the right to chose & Mother knows best.
      GM protagonism is for hard-core capitalists for whom maintaining the obesity rate of the “developed” world is a priority and with no intention of feeding poorer nations. They say the price of food will go down but where is your scientific fact for that? GM use has gone up & food prices have followed, that’s basic maths. I think you’ll find that the anti-GMO consumer is wide awake and well aware that the GM industry has stolen our right to chose and that GMO protagonists are indulging in blissful ignorace of true science. Alternatives are on the table but it doesn’t come down to feeding the poor as the industry propaganda suggests, it is a case of filling the pockets of the already filthy rich.

    • Justin Baker says:

      You sir, do not know your ass from your elbow. Studies have already proven over time that intrinsic yields are higher with non-gmo. But you earned your check..

      As for ‘we are all doing fine’, we won’t ever know..we are in the midst of a vast, criminal, experiment on live human subjects.

      Good luck to you and your future family generations if you procreate.

  3. I’m with you both on this GMO, which is why I describe it as “perhaps very worrying”. I don’t really like it, but I can’t imagine the world would get by very well without it. Not everyone is lucky enough to have the option to grow their own.

    There isn’t enough land to feed everyone organically or even traditionally, and it will only get worse.

    What worries me is cross pollination and sterile crops generally…

  4. Richard says:


    I agree that cross pollination and sterile crops is potentially a problem. Of course the crops are only sterile if they contain a gene which confers sterility. And if cross pollination results in more yield due to increased resistance to disease…

    I guess there is no risk free solution.

    Oh well.

  5. Laura says:

    Hi, i made a comment a few days ago, but it didnt seem to get through, sadly enough because i had put together some intresting info!
    New try, you should really read this one, about GMO failure to yield:

    “For years the biotechnology industry has trumpeted that it will feed the world, promising that its genetically engineered crops will produce higher yields.

    That promise has proven to be empty, according to Failure to Yield, a report by UCS expert Doug Gurian-Sherman released in March 2009. Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields.”

  6. Laura says:

    And to any extent that GM yields, it all to often leads to nutrition problems, due to lacking nutrional value in itself, or by the way it is used:

    • Thanks for some interesting links Laura, not sure what happened with your earlier comment – it must have been eaten up by the internet!

  7. Foxontherun says:

    would like to add to the query of feeding the planet
    IF we STOP eating (that much) meat we can easily feed the planet.
    Vegies costs less space and energy, and NO NEED for GMO.
    8 kg of plants = 1 kg of meat.
    Food production should not become in the hands of a few companies, who decide who lives and who dies.
    GMO makes (poor) people dependant of companies distributing seeds.
    Plants producing seeds are free.

  8. Amara says:

    Just thought I’d share this with you lot.
    Background: I study through the government run Correspondence School here in New Zealand. It works through sending me booklets which act like text books while being written in an irritatingly informal way to keep students ‘interested’.

    One of my science books touched on the subject of GMO food.

    It mentioned a survey where people were asked if they would buy GMO food.
    I quote: ‘…31.4% of people surveyed would not buy any GMO food products. They say no to GMO. I wonder if they would say no to insulin if they needed it.’

    Can you believe the cheek of that last line?!

    I sent a very sharp letter to my teacher requesting she put in a request (or whatever) that the booklet be changed.

    I could write a page and a half of rants about these ‘science’ booklets, but I’m sure you get the picture.

  9. Joel says:

    The biotech propaganda has been very successful and running for over 20 years, all facts to the contrary successfully repressed. it is a financial goliath now, very difficult to turn around. The facts are that GMOs are a failure in terms of yield, a failure in terms of safety and a failure in terms of nutritional value. They also require an exponential increase in chemicals. There’s already a ton of research documenting the devastation this abomination has wrought and it’s just getting started. Go from here:

  10. Strawville says:

    I guess, about 10 years back, there was this huge promotion for the “golden” rice, a GM rice, with apparently high levels of vitamin A precursor, beta-carotene. This is surprising, when most green leaves provide the necessary amount of Vitamin A or its precursors, and people anywhere in the world have more than enough access to green leaves.
    Doing research is ok, but pushing for commercialization without understanding the long-term risks is bad.