Bunin writes USDA's latest "coexistence" policy fails to address GMO contamination of organic crops
At a time when consumers are demanding greater access to organic and non-genetically engineered (GE) foods, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) latest, “coexistence” policy threatens the ability and right of consumers to make that shift.
The USDA coined the term ”coexistence” to refer to the idea that organic and GE crops can both be grown in this country without either adversely affecting the other. But the agency’s approach does not take into account the fact that non-GE crops can become contaminated by GE pollen and seeds that can drift many miles at a time.
The USDA argues this can be mitigated through informal neighbor-farmer agreements and by taking out insurance to pay for damages resulting from contamination. But, since GE agriculture remains completely unregulated, this so-called coexistence policy allows the biotech industry to escape liability. Instead, it puts exclusive responsibility to protect against contamination on organic and other non-GE farmers.
Organic farmers know all too well that their crops can become contaminated by GE crops as pollen and seeds drift miles away from their original planting location. The recent case of an Australian organic farmer, who sued his neighbor after he found GE canola growing on his field, demonstrates the seriousness of the problem and the tip of the iceberg. Without mandatory GE contamination prevention measures in place, organic and non-GE farmers face real risks but have little recourse to protect their businesses. Prospects of GE contamination threaten livelihoods, trading partnerships and the ability of farmers and food producers to confidently supply non-GE markets. Even the USDA admits that’s the case.