One out of three farmers have dealt with GMO contamination on their farm and over half of those have had their grain rejected by buyers for that reason, according to a new report released by Food & Water Watch and the Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM). Nearly half of the respondents to the new survey were skeptical that GMO and non-GMO crop production can coexist, as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) claims.
The USDA recently extended the period for public comment on a controversial study concluding that genetically modified and non-genetically modified crops can coexist through “cooperation” and “collaboration.” A major review by the USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture concluded that it lacked the data to determine the extent to which GM contamination was happening in the US or to estimate the costs of GM contamination to organic and non-GMO farmers.
According to the Inter Press Service (IPS), the results of the USDA study were released in 2012 and have received strong criticism. The USDA is being accused of collaborating with the biotech industry and weighting the results of their study in favor of the industry.
“The US Department of Agriculture is working with biotech lobbyists to finalize a plan so Monsanto’s GMO crops can contaminate organic and non-GMO farmers’ crops at will,” Food Democracy Now! reports. “Even worse, the USDA’s new plan could force these farmers to pay for crop ‘contamination insurance’ to protect themselves against unwanted contamination by Monsanto’s patented genetically engineered genes.”
Food & Water Watch collaborated with OFARM to survey organic grain farmers and gather information that the USDA claims it is lacking. According to the survey, 5 out of 6 farmers who responded were concerned about GMO contamination on their farm and 60 percent of those were “extremely concerned.” In addition, nearly half of respondents said they would not purchase crop insurance unless legally required to do so.
GMO contamination costs organic and non-GMO farmers both time and money to safeguard their crops, yet there is little, if any, reciprocation from GMO farmers, non-GMO farmers report. According to the survey, a majority of organic and non-GMO farmers delay planting in order to prevent contamination from neighboring farms, in addition to other safeguards. The costs of avoiding GMO contamination can reach thousands of dollars annually.
“Our 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,” Oren Holle, a Kansas farmer and president of OFARM, told IPS. “USDA has been extremely lax and, in our opinion, that’s due to the excessive influence of the biotech industry in political circles.”
GM crops became available in the United States in 1996 and now account for the vast majority of corn, cotton, and soybean crops. Even though organic and non-GMO farmers’ crops can be affected by neighboring GM crops, non-GMO farmers are still responsible for the contamination. Due to the widespread growth of GM crops, the coexistence between GMO and non-GMO farmers has become even more difficult. GM crops can easily contaminate non-GM crops though cross-pollination or through seed and grain mixing post-harvest.
“The USDA’s focus on coexistence and crop insurance is misplaced,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said Monday. “The department must recognize 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.”
The majority of responding farmers felt it is unfair that farmers whose crops are contaminated by GM crops would be responsible for purchasing contamination insurance. “Monsanto and allies are spending millions buying votes to vote against GMO labeling in the stores! They should pay for insurance for GMO contamination on organic land,” one respondent commented. “All the big boys care about is their bottom line.”
Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.