The past year has seen multiple state-level legislative attempts to label or ban GM products. Credit: Bigstock
WASHINGTON, Mar 3 2014 (IPS) -
A third of U.S. organic farmers have experienced problems in their
fields due to the nearby use of genetically modified crops, and over
half of those growers have had loads of grain rejected because of
unwitting GMO contamination.
Of U.S. farmers that took part in a new survey, the results of which were released on Monday,
more than 80 percent reported being concerned over the impact of
genetically modified (GM) crops on their farms, with some 60 percent
saying they’re “very concerned”.
"USDA has been extremely lax and, in our opinion, that’s due to the
excessive influence of the biotech industry in political circles.” --
Organic farmer Oren Holle
findings come as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has taken
the unusual step of extending the public comment period for a
controversial study on how GM and non-GM crops can “coexist”. During a
major review in 2011-12, the USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology
and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21) concluded that it lacked sufficient
data to decide on the extent to which GM contamination was happening in
the United States, or to estimate the related costs incurred by organic
and other non-GM farmers.
AC21 recommendations came out in November 2012 and were criticised for
being weighted in favour of industry. Critics have subsequently seized
on the USDA’s decision to revisit those conclusions, and the new study,
produced by an association of organic farmers and Food & Water
Watch, a Washington advocacy group, aims to fill the committee’s
USDA said they didn’t have this data, but all they had to do was ask,”
Oren Holle, a farmer in the midwestern state of Kansas and president of
the Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM), which
assisted in the new study’s production, told IPS.
very strong feeling is that the introduction and propagation of the
genetically modified products that are coming out under patent at this
point have not had the regulatory oversight that they should have, and
need to involve a far broader section of stakeholders. USDA has been
extremely lax and, in our opinion, that’s due to the excessive influence
of the biotech industry in political circles.”
GM crop use has expanded exponentially across the globe over the past
two decades, nowhere has this growth been more significant than in the
United States. While just one percent of corn and seven percent of
soybeans grown in the U.S. came from GM seeds during the mid-1990s, by
last year both of those numbers had risen to above 90 percent.
the new study, nearly half of the farmers polled said they did not
believe that GM and non-GM crops could ever “coexist”, while more than
two-thirds said that “good stewardship” is insufficient to address
USDA’s focus on coexistence and crop insurance is misplaced,” Wenonah
Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said Monday,
referring to an AC21 recommendation that GM contamination problems be
dealt with through a federal insurance scheme set up to lessen the
impact of natural disasters.
department must recognise the harm that is already being done to
organic and non-GMO farmers and put the responsibility squarely where it
belongs – with the biotech companies … Now USDA can no longer claim
ignorance about this problem.”
as contamination reports continue to grow, the U.S. government’s most
recent response, drawn from the AC21 recommendations, has been to
encourage “good stewardship” practices and communication between
neighbouring farmers. Yet non-GM farmers say that, in practice, this has
meant substantial outlays of both time and money in order to safeguard
their crops – and virtually no corresponding responsibility on the part
of farmers using genetically modified crops.
regular testing and certification requirements, U.S. farmers are
required to set aside a substantial buffer zone around their fields to
guard against GM contamination. Averaging around five acres, this buffer
zone alone costs farmers anywhere from 2,500 to 20,000 dollars a year
in lost income, according to the new survey.
farmers resort to waiting to plant their crops until after their
neighbours’ GM crops have pollinated. Yet this delay, too, imposes a
financial burden of several thousand dollars per year.
getting tired of maintaining these miles of buffers,” one farmer wrote
in response to the new survey, complaining about the heavy use of
herbicides typically associated with GM crops. “How about the guy that
sprays up to the fence be liable for the damage that is done?”
Holle says the findings on just how much farmers are paying to avoid GM
contamination took him by surprise. Of this imbalance, he says U.S.
regulators are continuing to play out of an “old playbook”.
been a lot of new technology introduced in agriculture over the past 50
years. But there’s always been a point of law that, whatever happens on
my side of the fence, I’m still responsible for how it might affect my
neighbour,” Holle notes.
take away that neighbour-to-neighbour relationship, however, as the
ways in which unintended presence occurs is a completely different set
of concerns from other new technologies. For that reason, they need a
completely different set of rules.”
Holle says the USDA has been slow in recognising this new reality, he’s
guardedly optimistic that a regulatory rethink is now taking place.
additional comment period, I think, points out that they were paying
some attention to the initial comments that came in,” he says.
does appear that they’re taking a step back. It’s our hope that our
efforts have at least gained some traction in recognition that all is
not well and that they, perhaps, need to do some re-evaluation.”
what he says is an onslaught of lobbying by the biotech industry, Holle
says the voice of non-GM farmers has strengthened largely through
newfound consumer demand. The past year alone has seen multiple
state-level legislative attempts to label or ban GM products, while
stores have acted unilaterally.
the United States’ two largest grocery chains indicated that they would
not sell genetically modified salmon, a product currently being weighed
by regulators here. Some 9,000 stores countrywide have reportedly made
least 35 other species of genetically engineered fish are currently
under development,” Friends of the Earth, an advocacy group, stated Monday.
The “decision on this genetically engineered salmon application will
set a precedent for other genetically engineered fish and animals … to
enter the global food market.”
According to a 2013 poll, 93 percent of U.S. respondents want GE ingredients or products to be labelled, despite strident pushback by industry.