Can Organic and GMO co-exist?

Organic Corn FieldIn the fields of Iowa where I grew up, the presence of organic soy and corn does indeed exist alongside Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) varieties. More than 80% of crops grown on US soil are from GMO seeds. Derived from weapons of warfare, their genetic modification allows them to withstand heavy applications of herbicides and pesticides. In my previous blog “Is buying organic produce for your kids worth it?” I sight the negative effect these chemicals have on the workers and people who live around these industrial agricultural zones. Additionally I explain the negative effects they have on our children and subsequent generations.

The co-existence of organic and GMO in place now is one sided and precarious at best. The USDA is attempting to codify or put into law a lop-sided set of rules that would define how organic and genetically modified organisms should co-exist in the unnatural theater of modern day agriculture.  The USDA is actually proposing that organic growers pay for contamination done by the GMO patent holders!

Let me tell you a story of an organic farmer I know from Illinois who had a blossoming business growing and exporting pure certified organic soybeans. His fields are clean from toxic Round Up, 2-4-D, atrazine and his streams run pure. Milkweed flourishes along the roadsides near his fields, providing an oasis of habitat for Monarch butterflies within a sea of barren roadsides. He exported to Japan and the EU year after year and was able to convert more land into certified organic production as a result. Because many countries do not allow GMO crops to cross their borders, they continuously sought out my friend’s bounty. His farm prospered.

Because these countries are so adamant about not allowing GMO crops into their food chain, they conduct regular DNA testing for GMO presence. One day a container of his precious cargo was tested and GMO,DNA was detected. The pollen from his neighbor’s fields of GMO corn had intermingled with his plants and now his shipment was deemed forbidden at no fault of his own. The shipment was rejected and so were upcoming deliveries .He lost all value on the first container, he lost a good customer for upcoming shipments and all hope of renewing those contracts in the future. He sold the entirety of that year’s crop as conventional. His current and future exports business had been dashed. That year he did not even break even. In your mind, who should pay the price for this contamination: The victim of contamination doing the right thing or the active contaminator messing with the balance of Mother Nature?

Back in 2003, an Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (called AC21) was established by the USDA to examine the long-term impacts of biotechnology on the U.S. food and agriculture system. Their aim was to provide guidance to USDA on issues related to the application of GMOs used in “modern” agriculture.  Last year the AC21 members provided Secretary Vilsack with their final recommendations and they really aren’t sufficient to address the needs of my Illinois friend.

The most preposterous recommendation is that organic farmers should have to purchase crop insurance if they want to be compensated for GMO contamination.  If these recommendations come to pass organic farmers will have to spend even more money to grow organic food while allowing the GMO patent holders to have no responsibility for the contamination and compensation. In my mind that’s like penalizing the victim and rewarding the perpetrator. Shouldn’t the responsibility of contamination be placed on those who own, promote and profit from GMO products? They should be responsible for preventing contamination and for covering financial harm associated with contamination, not the other way around!

The recommendations do not propose any mandatory measures to prevent contamination but do suggest voluntary ones. What does voluntary mean and isn’t that what we have right now? There should be mandatory best practices in place so that GMO producers can make sure their organic neighbors don’t bear the brunt of their (largely) untested genetic roulette. Those GMO growers should be held accountable so identified best practices are followed and verified. We need real solutions for preventing contamination for the economic security of organic growers, not voluntary ones.

What can you do? If you don’t live in the Midwest but care about this issue, you can provide comments to the proposed language. If you do live there and drink the water or grow organic food, you should definitely provide comments on the proposed rule. The USDA is asking for input on more than a dozen questions under the topics of education, collaboration and outreach. The department wants input on coexistence practices, and, specifically, how the department can support communication between farmers. View the questions in the Federal Register notice.

Comments are due March 4th 2014 so the time is upon us to prepare our response. For those of you who are interested, The Organic Seed Alliance has an excellent article highlighting what’s at stake and how you can make a comment. Check out “Who’s Responsible for GMO Contamination” for more information and talking points. I am happy to report that  The UNFI Foundation supports The Organic Seed Alliance’s work advancing the development and stewardship of the genetic resources of agricultural seed.

Submit your comments electronically by following this link to Docket No. APHIS-2013-0047. Let’s help our organic farmers achieve unfettered success and growth. Let’s keep our seed integrity pure for future generations. Once you’ve submitted comments give me your take on co-existence!

16 thoughts on “Can Organic and GMO co-exist?”

  1. Thanks, Melody, for your good analysis in your blog. Today we have electronically sent our following comment via the link you gave in your blog:
    In my opinion organic farmers, and other farmers who don’t grow GM-crops, can not be accountable for GMO contamination. GMO are a responsibility of industrial companies, who want making money with GM-seeds. But in the same time GM-crops are a threat for agro- biodiversity. Peer-reviewed studies have shown that organic farming gives 34% more biodiversity than conventional farming. So, punishing organic farmers with penalties for GMO contamination is not fair and in my opinion it is socially undesirable, especially for the coming generations who will need enough biodiversity and fertile soils for their welfare, like we do. In stead of punishing organic farmers for something they are not accountable for, we could better encourage farmers to go organic!

    Buizer Advies – sustainable agriculture and energy, The Netherlands

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    1. Hallo Melody, following a release in the Newsletter of Vilt of today (it has been written in Dutch), I have read, that during two consecutive weekends this month, October 2014, at different Flemish organic farms the future has been sown. BioForum, the sector organization of the Flemish organic farmers, organized for the second time “Future Sowing”, an event where collectively is sown. The action is a symbol of protest “against the rise of genetically modified seeds and the power of a few seed companies”, it sounds. See: http://www.vilt.be/zaaiactie-vestigt-aandacht-op-vrije-zaadtoegang

      1. Dear Bertus,
        Thank you for sharing. I am heartened to see people are organizing all over the world against this control of our seeds.
        I wish I could read Dutch! Keep in touch. Melody

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