More and more often over the past few months, we’ve gotten questions about whether our neem is all-natural or GMO.
It’s a good question, because neem has so many amazing properties, but our trees are exactly what Mother Nature created. They – or their direct ancestors – were planted in the early 1990s, long before anyone ever dreamed of genetically modifying any plant.
Ironically, the trees in Mexico where our seeds come from were among the last seeds exported legally from India. Shortly afterward, the Indian government recognized the value of neem trees and prohibited the export of viable seeds.
That followed one of the first instances of biopiracy, when a US company attempted to patent a process for extracting neem oil and using it as a fungicide. WR Grace, the international chemical company, had obtained the patent through the European Patent Office in 1995, before it was finally dismissed in 2005 with supporters calling it “pure and simple piracy.” (http://www.thehindu.com/2005/03/09/stories/2005030902381300.htm)
In another ironic twist, it’s hard to believe that someone hasn’t removed genes from the neem tree to create GMO crops take advantage of its healing properties or the compounds that naturally repel insects. Several crops, most notably corn, have been genetically modified with the natural bacteria bacillus thuringiensis, which infects caterpillars and typically kills them.
Some researchers predicted that pollen drifting from those GMO crops would settle on the milkweed growing in the Midwest and kill the monarch caterpillars attempting to feed on it. It turns out that is less of a threat than the “RoundUp Ready” GMO crops that allow farmers to treat fields with herbicides that kill everything except the GMO crops. Increased use of RoundUp has impacted milkweed populations so severely that several groups have petitioned the government to designate monarch butterflies as an endangered species. (See http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/monarch-esa-petition.pdf for more information.)
And at least for the foreseeable future, neem won’t be part of a genetically modified medication because researchers haven’t figured out which compounds are most important for its myriad impacts on health. (Check out http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=neem to read about some of the recent research on neem.)