Monthly Archives: January 2015

Seedless Watermelon: Hybrid, GMO, Or Chemically Altered Mutant?

Gardeners need all the information they can get about the plants they cultivate. Experts are clear about how seedless watermelons are produced, but some disagreement arises when considering how to categorize the genetic mules. Is a seedless watermelon a GMO, a hybrid, or something else altogether? There is some disagreement on this point. Ultimately, it’s a matter of how a GMO is defined, and consumers are at ground zero of this high-stakes word game.


Are there seeds in your melons? Photo source: Morguefile

Seedless Watermelon Production

To make seedless watermelons, the number of chromosomes in traditional melons are doubled by adding the chemical colchicine. This doubling leads to a plant with four sets of chromosomes, called a tetraploid plant. The tetraploid is then pollinated with the original diploid melon, and out comes a seedless watermelon seed! The process is explained by theTexas Agricultural Extension Service. Coincidentally, colchicine is a medication commonly used to treat gout. Side effects of the medicine may include vomiting, abdominal pain, cramping, and diaherra according to WebMD.

Are They GMOs?

Of course, GMO stands for genetically modified organism. Scientists may refer to the food products as genetically engineered (GE) organisms and group them within two categories: transgenic, and non-transgenic. The transgenic varieties are modified by taking a gene from one species and adding it to another, while the non-transgenic are produced by altering genes within one species. Hybrid plants are the result of artificial selection that involves cross-pollinating to breed desired plant characteristics. Where do seedless watermelons fall on this spectrum?

Prominent biotechnology researcher, Professor Nina Fedoroff, includes seedless watermelon in this discussion about GMO foods on the Penn State Science page. However, a Penn State Science course page refers to seedless watermelons as “a genetically created hybrid.” This seems reasonable until you consider how the tetraploid seed is created. Explanations of the fruit as a hybrid tend to leave out that colchicine is used to double the chromosomes.

The USDA Position on Seedless Watermelons


Genetic engineering is an excluded process under the USDA Organic labeling standards. To be tagged with the “USDA Organic” seal, a food product must be determined to consist of at least 95 percent organic ingredients. So, how can we get a “USDA Organic” tag on a watermelon produced with a seed that’s had the chromosomes doubled using colchicine?

The answer likely lies in the USDA’s loose definition of genetically modified. This definition states that, to be genetically modified, a living organism must have had a gene from an “unrelated species” inserted into it. In other words, the USDA definition of GMO includes only the transgenic variety of GE organisms. Thus, according to the USDA, rearrangements, subtractions, or additions made within the chromosomes of one living organism do not prevent that organism from being organic.

Seedless fruit varieties are often called “mules” because they can’t reproduce on their own. One big difference is that a donkey and a horse don’t need colchicine to produce a mule. The science used to make seedless watermelons has been with us for decades; this USDA technical bulletin from 1971 is evidence of that.  You decide: GMO, hybrid, or something else altogether?


Restaurants With Local Food and Eating Locally


Locally grown food needs to be in more restaurants but I’m not starting one

This piece at Organic Connections online magazine got me thinking. The article centers on a restaurant that uses mostly local ingredients for their dishes. I know there are a few places around here that buy locally when products are in season, but this practice is generally limited.

How can so many of us ramble about the injustices our government subjects us to or how our public servants only care about money and notoriety, when we cannot even get organized enough to feed ourselves? We should be able to bring more cooperation, humanity, and common sense to something as basic to our survival as eating.

I am guilty of some of the same practices that endure the brunt of my ramblings. I occasionally find myself at a chain restaurant, spending my hard-earned money, looking around and thinking WTF! A few people are getting rich from feeding us garbage from all over the world; while many others work lousy hours, for lousy pay, with no benefits. Yet, still, here I sit.

I could have gone to a local restaurant, where at least if someone is getting rich off the place, he or she is likely from around here. One problem with this is most of their food is likely bought from the same calorie factories where the chain stores get theirs so I am still not really eating locally. And, I live in the breadbasket of America!

Corporate Social Responsibility Is A Joke

The drive for corporate social responsibility and sustainable business is a noble one. Corporations even have sustainability managers and teams to help them address well-meaning models such as the triple bottom line. Considering the mission of corporations, it seems these ideals are really just well thought out schemes. Schemes designed to enhance corporate images for those of us who care about social and environmental justice.

I say, take responsibility by relearning lost skills and starting our own businesses. We do not need corporations to have or jobs or live. Corporations, by law, have the rights and responsibilities of a human citizen. In practice, they have an abundance of rights, without the responsibilities.

How The American Bourgeoisie Is Practicing Divide And Conquer To Keep People Poor

While reading The Field Guide To Fields by Bill Laws, published by National Geographic, I came across a revealing quote from an English Victorian era bourgeoisie landowner. It seems the bourgeoisie’s fear of self-sufficiency was very much alive in Victorian England. The parallels with the fears and tactics of today’s American capitalist class are eerie, and the working classes’ racial and political divisions fit well within a divide and conquer strategy. Read more over at Liberal America!