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July/August 2011 Newsbrief → Articles

Problems With Our Current Food System
(a series of articles over several Newsbriefs)

(Part 1)

Part 2: Hybrids, GMOs, Seed Saving

(Part 3)

By Noor

The purpose of this series of articles is to briefly touch on some of the larger problems with our current food system (especially in the West, although it is spreading and being pushed elsewhere in the world as well) and give some possible scenarios to show how easily it could be broken.  Please read Part 1 for a more detailed introduction and explanation. 

There is far too much to explain in just a few articles, and there is much excellent and detailed information about each of these points on the internet.  If you are already familiar with the current food system and the controversy surrounding it, much of this will not be new to you.  This series is only meant to be a brief introduction and overview to a very deep problem. 

This second article focuses on an essential part of growing and agriculture that does not seem to get the public recognition it deserves: Seeds.  For those of us (in the West, it is most of us!) who no longer plant and grow and measure prosperity by the bounty of our harvest (both of produce and of seed to replant the next year), these bits of matter might seem so inconsequential: They are not life-giving miracles, but frozen corn kernels and dried beans, sunflower seeds we eat by the handful, watermelon seeds and cherry pits we casually spit into the trash. 

However, the fact is that most of the countless plants and trees on our world (and the food they sustain us with), whether huge and grandiose or small and unassuming, ancient or harvested yearly, were once nothing more than a seed small enough to hold.  They are truly an extraordinary and humbling Creation of God, and a reminder that we live and survive due to His Compassion and at His Mercy alone. 

The importance of these tiny sparks of life is underscored by the huge industry that has developed around them (estimated by this 2004 study to be a $25 billion global market in 1997, a number which has surely increased substantially since then).  No longer is it a simple matter of saving part of your harvest to replant; now, growers have options, and not just in crop varieties (although the easy availability of thousands of varieties from all over the world, and being able to have any of them sent to you with the click of a button, is by itself pretty amazing and revolutionary).  Two of the most important of these options, in terms of their widespread adoption and the huge changes they have caused in how things are done in the farming world (much of it not for the better), are hybrids and GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms):


"Hybrid" in modern growing and agriculture refers to the result of crossing two (or more) crop varieties in a precisely controlled manner leading to a crop that is superior to both (due to a genetic effect called heterosis or hybrid vigor), but is usually infertile (seed harvested from them will not grow or will only produce weak and sickly plants; some, such as seedless watermelon, do not even have seeds anymore).  A good comparison is the mule, the sterile offspring of a donkey and a horse, bred because many consider it to be a superior pack and work animal to either a donkey or a horse. 

This potential of hybrids was first theorized and tested in the US in the early 1900s, and was successfully developed on a commercial scale for corn by the 1930s.  By the 1960s, it was in widespread use, and the development and use of hybrids has only increased since then (for more of the history of the US seed industry, see the section "A Brief History of the Development of the Seed Industry..." in this article). 

The benefits of hybrid crops cannot be denied: They are consistently better at what they were selected for (often yield, transportability, disease and pest resistance, etc.) than their non-hybrid counterparts.  The difference is so significant that, for example, 99% of the corn grown in the US is hybrid, and many other hybrid varieties enjoy widespread use by both conventional and organic farmers.  Furthermore, hybrids are created naturally by breeding and selection, so they do not appear to be fighting or going against Nature (God) the way so many other parts of our modern food system do.  Overall, it seems that if used correctly, hybrids could certainly be included as part of a Godly, fresh, local, organic food system. 

However, the key word is "part," whereas for many modern farms, especially large-scale monocropping, it seems to be "all."  The key problem is that you cannot save hybrid seed; if you farm hybrids, you must buy new seed from the supplier each year.  In such a relationship, who has the control?  In fact, one of the main reasons that seed companies have invested so much money and research into developing excellent hybrids is because they were having trouble selling regular seeds profitably (it is difficult to sell something to someone more than once when it will replicate itself for free).  With hybrids, they have assured themselves continual business, because the hybrid farmer cannot farm without them.  If your survival is completely at the mercy of someone else, then they have the control, and you are in trouble (especially when that someone else is a businessman)!

Also, although hybrids could be a harmonious part of a healthy fresh, local, and organic food system, most of the hybrids that we currently have probably could not.  This is because most current hybrid varieties are developed to fit with our broken and unnatural system of maximizing yield (not nutrition; quantity, not quality), then harvesting hundreds of acres of produce all at once using huge machines that need consistency to function, and finally shipping that produce hundreds of miles rather than eating locally.  Therefore, hybrids have been bred primarily for these three things: Yield, consistency, and shelf life. 

The tradeoff is a significant decline in the nutritional value and taste of these crops.  An acre only has an acre's worth of nutrients, whether you are getting 20 bushels of corn out of it (in 1930) or 140 bushels (by the mid 1990s) (Source).  Farmers try to offset some of this huge increase in nutritional demand by artificially adding more, usually through large amounts of chemical fertilizer (which does not include many important trace nutrients and is very bad for the environment, see Part 1), but the numbers simply do not add up that a 600% increase in yield, on the same land, can retain 100% nutrient density. 

To make matters worse, the plants have been bred to focus what nutrients they do get on creating (for example) perfectly red, round tomatoes that can be shipped cross-country, but are missing 58% of their calcium and 46% of their Vitamin A (Source, also see here).  This is truly an awful bargain.  The vastly increased amount of food we are producing, hailed as one of the great successes of the so-called Green Revolution, is hiding a deep and unacceptable cost.  Maitreya has said that His mother often spoke of Nostradamus's prophecy that in the end times, people would eat constantly, but still be hungry.  The nutritionally empty, unnaturally produced, processed food of our age, which we can eat until we explode and still be malnourished, is clear fulfillment of these words. 

Therefore, I feel that in a strong, stable, and healthy food system, hybrids can certainly play a role, but they should not be adopted to the extent that the farmer loses self-sufficiency, and should be bred for nutrition and with a focus on fresh, local, and organic.  (For more information, here is one article that discusses some consequences of the widespread use of hybrids in corn, as well as GMOs and other topics). 


GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism.  It refers to any creature whose genetics has been directly altered by humans.  This does not mean by breeding or other methods that are found in Nature, but by injecting new genes from other sources, or trying to alter existing genes, using modern methods collectively known as "genetic engineering."  The glow in the dark fish known as GloFish, created by inserting genes from fluorescent jellyfish into zebrafish embryos, are examples of GMOs. 

The first plant cell was genetically modified in 1982, commercial use of GMO seeds began in 1996, and GMOs have since become nearly as widespread and game-changing as hybrids were in the 1960s (although there is much more controversy about this than hybrids, and many countries such as Japan and the EU are strongly resisting the adoption of GM crops). 

The advantage of GMOs is simple: It allows for the addition of very specific desirable traits without having to deal with the lengthy and uncertain process of traditional, natural breeding and selection.  For example, one of the most widespread types of GMO crops is created by taking genes from naturally pesticide resistant plants and putting them into food crops, thus making them pesticide resistant.  Farmers can then plant these crops and spray their whole field, and only the weeds will die.  Another popular set of GMOs incorporates genes from bacteria known as Bt which produce substances that are toxic to many insects.  When pests attack and feed on the GMO crops, they are killed by the Bt toxin.  Genetic modification is now even being used in livestock, such as cows in China that have been genetically modified to produce human milk

While it may sound good on the surface (or maybe not), there are some very unsettling problems already known about this practice, and many important questions have been left unanswered as the industry pushes GMO adoption forward at ever-increasing speed in the name of progress (and profit).  It is really an enormous topic, encompassing scientific, environmental, political, and ethical issues, so instead of trying to discuss all of these in detail, I will simply give an overall look at the topic within the context of the Mission and Maitreya's Teachings:

Our belief that God created the universe and Nature in His Infinite Wisdom, and that He has done it the way He has for a reason, seems at great odds with the GMO mindset that we have the ability and authority to step outside of the natural method of gene selection (reproduction, evolution, etc.) and stick in whatever we want, wherever we want, however we want.  While the biotech scientists have developed some admittedly ingenious methods to alter genetics in this way, we have absolutely no understanding of what we are really doing, or the consequences it might cause.  We are cavemen who have discovered flame, seen that it is useful, and proceeded to start fires in every nook, hole, and cranny of our environment.  If the whole forest goes up in smoke, perhaps then we will realize it is also dangerous, but by then it is too late. 

If there is anything we should learn from the effects that our actions have had on Nature (global warming, destruction of ecosystems, release of carbon into the atmosphere, etc.), it is that everything is interconnected, often in ways we do not realize until after we have caused much destruction.  If this is also true in the amazingly complex and still very poorly understood world of genetics (and I am sure it is), then what is the effect of sticking a gene here, a gene there, considering that this is not how God does it in Nature? 

There was an experiment done in Russia (more detail), not on plants but on foxes, that nevertheless illustrates this point well.  In order to study how animals become domesticated, scientists directed the evolution of foxes in a very simple manner: If a fox acted tame (less scared, friendlier, accepted or sought out physical contact, etc.), it was bred; if not, it was not. 

Over many generations of this, the foxes did indeed become tamer, but the truly amazing thing was the slew of other changes that also occurred: Their ears became floppy, they began wagging their tails and barking, would come when they were called, etc.  In effect, they became dog-like.  There were even changes that seemed completely unrelated to tameness, such as the baby foxes' eyes opening several days later than regular foxes.  This illustrates so strongly that the entire genetic makeup of a creature is deeply interconnected, and no part of it changes by itself.  It really makes one question the wisdom of tampering with bits and pieces of that structure the way that genetic modification does. 

We are not against technology and progress, but we are against that which is against God's Way.  It cannot be denied that genetic modification and engineering do seem like they might have amazing potential to help humanity in all walks of life, from medicine, to communications, to agriculture.  However, not all that glitters is gold.  Perhaps God does intend that eventually humans develop enough understanding of genetics to be able to manipulate it in this way, and will give His Permission as long as we use it for a Godly purpose.  But perhaps this branch of science is inherently unnatural and ungodly, and something that humanity should abandon and leave to God and Nature to handle (do not eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil!). 

What is for sure is that we must know without a doubt what we are doing before we permeate our lives and our food system with something so new and potentially dangerous (1, 2, many more are available)!

It should also be considered that the agricultural biotechnology and seed industries are using GMOs (and the fact that they can be patented in the US and elsewhere) to control and take power away from famers even more than they could with hybrids.  To use GMOs, farmers often have to sign agreements that they will not save their seed and will buy seed from the company every year.  These companies are trying to also introduce this practice into third-world countries and poverty-stricken areas, with some horrific results

There have also been documented cases of farmers being sued for growing patented GMO crops where the farmers claim that the plant blew in from another field or interpollinated with existing crops, and was neither intentional nor preventable.  In all cases, it is clear that these companies' focus is not on developing a strong food system, but on protecting their investment, finding ways to maximize profit, and forcing farmers to become more and more dependent on their products. 

Seed Saving:

One of the major reasons that farmers have bought into these methods of control is very simple: It is convenient to just buy seed every year and let someone else take care of the admittedly complex and difficult process of seed saving, development and preparation.  However, we have taken a glimpse at some of the consequences of this convenience.  The best way to break the power of these companies and to regain self-sufficiency is to return to the traditional practice of seed saving.  God has made it so each seed planted will eventually create hundreds, thousands, or even millions more just like it.   All that has to be done is to take advantage of that miracle, and each community and area can regain control over their own food sources. 

If we are expecting and preparing for the Tribulation, we should be aware that the distribution channels that currently provide seeds to growers are as tenuous as the channels that provide food to supermarkets.  Maitreya has asked: If the trucks stopped delivering food tomorrow (especially to the big cities), what would the people do?  As we create communities and begin growing our own food again, we need to remember to ask ourselves the same question about the seeds we buy.  It is not to be fearful, but to understand that having a stable supply of seeds is an integral part of self-sufficiency, and so seed saving must be a piece of our ideal fresh, local, organic system (especially at this time when we are expecting so much destruction and uncertainty in the future). 

Seed saving and replanting will also allow us to grow crops more fully suited to our individual and local environments.  A plant variety that was developed in Russia and is now being propagated at a seed farm in Maine is clearly not genetically predisposed to a life in New Mexico.  Maitreya has explained that this is not too important in terms of the nutritional and health benefits of eating local, and that plants (like animals and humans) have a great ability to adapt to their environment and pick up the nutrients, antibiotics, etc. of the area (and pass them to us when we eat them).  However, He agreed that even more ideal than buying seed from elsewhere and growing it locally is to grow the seed locally as well, especially in terms of developing disease and pest resistance, tolerance to the weather, vigor and growth, etc. 

It is possible that over many generations, using technology and knowledge of genetics and plant breeding and selection, each area could create crops so well-suited to their environment that they could be competitive with or even superior to hybrids and GMOs.  However, only God Knows the future.  In the meantime, let us focus on local, fresh, organic, becoming self-sufficient, breaking the power of the large companies, and returning to the natural Way!

The next article (in the next Newsbrief) will focus on modern industrial livestock management, which is one of the most unnatural and horrifying parts of the modern food system. 

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