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Survey Finds GE Contamination of Organic Farms

(Beyond Pesticides, March 10, 2014) New data finds that organic farmers are growing increasingly concerned with genetically engineered (GE) crops cross-pollinating and contaminating their fields. This contamination can lead to serious economic losses for organic farmers and has created tension between neighbors. The data comes at a critical time as USDA is advancing the notion that “coexistence” between GE and non-GE growers presents no problems for the organic market. USDA has been widely criticized in organic circles because its decisions to deregulate numerous GE crops place the burden of reducing contamination on non-GE growers.

A survey,released by Food and Water Watch and Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM), finds that a third of U.S. organic farmers have experienced GE contamination in their fields due to the nearby use of GE crops, while over half of these growers have had loads of grain rejected because of unwitting GE contamination. These rejections can lead to big income losses for farmers, with a median cost of approximately $2,500 per year, according to the survey. Additionally, several farmers report annual losses of over $20,000 due to the need to establish buffer zones, while limit the threat of contamination from their neighbors by taking contiguous farmland out of production.

In the survey, organic farmers also express their frustration that efforts to reduce contamination fall squarely on their shoulders. Nearly half (45 percent) of respondents say that they would not purchase crop insurance intended to cover costs associated with GE contamination. Of the 35 percent of respondents who answered that they would purchase insurance for GE contamination-related losses, more than three-quarters of them (78 percent) believe that the added premium for coverage should be paid by GE patent holders or GE patent holders and GE users.

One farmer responded to the survey, “If [GE] was not here this would not be going on. It’s their contamination that’s the problem but we have to guard against something we have no control over. How do you even get a patent on something you can’t control? The whole object is control and that is not our [organic farmers’] problem.”

Organic farmers are also concerned that GE contamination has led to strained relationships with neighbors and that they do not feel respected in the agricultural community. Several responses to the survey describe strains between GE and non-GE farmers. One farmer wrote that, “[E]very time I walk into the local co-op they grit their teeth.” Others wrote that “conventional farming neighbors do not respect us,” that non-organic “neighbors feel that our farm is a thorn in their sides or a nuisance,” and that they “are considered to be a problem to them because we are not GMO like the rest of them.”

This survey was conducted in response to the recent the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21) report on enhancing coexistence between GE and non-GE farmers. The AC21 report was strongly condemned by the National Organic Coalition (NOC), of which Beyond Pesticides is a member, for recommending that organic and non-GE conventional farmers pay for crop insurance or self-insure themselves against unwanted GE contamination.

Beyond Pesticides, submitted comments in August 2012 expressing concerns about the report’s definition of “coexistence.” Beyond Pesticides wrote that the definition in the draft report fell far short of any true understanding of what it is to coexist and lacked any assurance that the involved parties would receive the necessary protection required in order to effectively coexist. Specifically, it was suggested that USDA stipulate that all parties are entitled to assurances against trespass from genetic drift.

There have been several recent high profile contamination cases. In May of 2013, USDA announced that unapproved GE wheat was found growing in an Oregon wheat field. After this discovery Japan cancelled its order to buy U.S. western white wheat. Monsanto has not conducted field trials in Oregon since 2001 when it reportedly withdrew from the state. In September of 2013, USDA refused to take action or investigate after it was confirmed that GE alfalfa contaminated non-GE alfalfa in Washington State. USDA claimed the contamination is a “commercial issue” and should be addressed by the marketplace and not the government.

Organic farmers have continued to fight for their rights against GE contamination but it has been an uphill battle. A 2011 lawsuit, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) et al. v. Monsanto, sought to protect farmers from GE trespass. A District Court dismissal (2012), followed by a U.S. Court of Appeals decision (2013) upholding the lower court, entered under the rules of evidence an assurance from Monsanto that it would not sue farmers with “trace amounts” (less than 1%) of GE crop contamination for patent infringement. According to Reuters, between 1997 and 2010 the agrichemical giant filed 144 patent-infringement lawsuits against farmers that it said made use of its seed without paying royalties. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

For more information on the environmental hazards associated with GE technology, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Genetic Engineering webpage. The best way to avoid genetically engineered foods in the marketplace is to purchase foods that have the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certified Organic Seal. Under organic certification standards, genetically modified organisms and their byproducts are prohibited. For many other reasons, organic products are the right choice for consumers.

Continue the conversation at Beyond Pesticides’ 32nd National Pesticide Forum, “Advancing Sustainable Communities: People, Pollinators, and Practices,” in Portland, OR April 11-12. Among the featured speakers, George Kimbrell, senior attorney at Center for Food Safety, will speak on his spearheading litigation on USDA’s deregulation of genetically engineered crops and the campaign to label food with GE ingredients. The Forum will focus on improving farmworker protections along with solutions to the decline of pollinators and other beneficial organisms, strengthening organic agriculture, and creating healthy buildings, schools and homes. Space is limited so register now.

Source: Inter Press Service

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.


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