Long live the purity of seeds for broccoli
By Peggy F. Barlett & Neva Hassanein
Published: Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Oregon has become the latest staging ground for the global debate about contamination of seed by other crops. At stake there is the purity of seed for broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and chard.
The majority of the world's seed supply for these vegetables — from the Brassica genus of plants — comes from the Willamette Valley in the western part of the state. This valley is a special ecological zone of good moisture and cool temperatures, ideal for seed production. It is one of only four such growing areas in the world and the only one in the United States.
Yet on Feb. 7, the Oregon Department of Agriculture ruled that almost half the acreage of the valley will be open to canola production, a decision that could threaten the integrity of vegetable seeds because canola pollen can easily contaminate them. Now the state Legislature is wrestling with whether to overturn the decision.
Strong demand exists for both conventional and organic Brassica seeds produced in the Willamette. Yet this is not just an issue of profits for one crop at the expense of another. It's about the integrity of seeds themselves.
Damage to seed supplies carries particular risks as the United States faces new challenges from climate change and unusual weather patterns. Food crops that people rely on are the result of thousands of years of farmer selection. They are a precious human heritage and must be safeguarded.
Canola is seen by non- Brassica farmers as a desirable option for crop rotations, needed to interrupt pest cycles. The problem is that canola is a close cousin to Brassicas and can interbreed with them.
Canola pollen is spread by wind and bees or other insects. The seeds are small and can easily sift out of a truck as they are transported to crushing mills. Roadside canola can become a weed, and pollen from a single plant can damage acres of carefully nurtured seed fields. Canola seed can stay in the soil, ready to germinate in future years.
A 2006 Oregon State University study concludes “the best solution” is “canola-free zones” to protect against growing or transporting canola through the parts of the valley dedicated to the seed industry. A buffer of at least five miles is needed for protection.
To try to balance the competing needs of the seed industry and farmers who want to grow canola, the Oregon Department of Agriculture mandated that the valley be divided into two zones. An exclusion zone of about half the land area will be protected and canola will not be permitted. In the second zone, farmers can grow canola if they register their planting locations on an electronic map. This ruling to permit canola overturns protections put in place after years of public hearings and discussion.
To be sure, farmers who desire to produce canola have a right to grow a good rotation crop. Yet, seed crops deserve special protections.
Ever since agriculture began 10,000 years ago, humans have appreciated the fundamental importance of quality seed for a secure food supply. If consumers want future crops of these Brassica vegetables, they must have reliable seed supplies. Ideal zones for seed production around the world are rare, which makes the case for prudence in Oregon urgent.
Peggy F. Barlett is a professor of anthropology at Emory University and former president of the Society for Economic Anthropology. Neva Hassanein is professor of environmental studies at the University of Montana and past president of the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Kovacevic: Keeping faith in Letang is simple
- Steelers rookie RB Bell gets respect from teammates, foes alike
- Fleury, Crosby lead Penguins to victory over Sharks at Consol
- Steelers lineman Adams gets 2nd chance to start
- Steelers notebook: Woodley practices but unsure where he’ll play
- 2 pedestrians injured in separate accidents Friday
- Penguins notebook: Injury keeps Malkin out against Sharks
- ‘Gritty but vibrant world’ of Braddock lures director of ‘Out of the Furnace’
- Dark Braddock setting of ‘Out of the Furnace’ reflects a dying way of life
- Pa. auditor general DePasquale warns of ‘red flags’ in state’s road bill
- With Pitt men ahead, gauntlet continues for Loyola Marymount