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Organic Farmers Pay the Price for GMO Contamination
Washington, D.C. — This week, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture wraps up its comment period on the feasibility of genetically engineered (GMO) and non-GMO crops to coexist, Food & Water Watch in partnership with the Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM) releases survey results (see PDF) that clearly show contamination from GMO crops is happening and it’s non-GMO farmers who are paying the price.
The survey of farmers across 17 states, but primarily in the Midwest, is an effort to fill the data gap that was used to justify an inadequate policy recommendation by the USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21). Heavily weighted with biotech proponents, the committee gathered for a series of meetings in 2011 and 2012 to establish a protocol for coexistence and to design a compensation mechanism for farmers who are economically harmed by contamination from GMO crops. Unfortunately, the committee was unable to estimate the costs associated with GMO presence on non-GMO and organic farms due to a lack of data. Their final suggestion for a compensation mechanism was a form of crop insurance that included, in one proposal, a premium to be paid by producers of non-GMO crops.
“If USDA really wanted to know if contamination was happening, all they had to do was ask organic grain producers who take great pains to keep their crops from being contaminated,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Now USDA can no longer claim ignorance about this problem.”
The survey results reveal that the risks and the effects of GMO contamination have unfairly burdened organic and non-GMO farmers with extra work, longer hours and financial insecurity, which has led to a general skepticism of coexistence amongst the organic community. Some even expressed the feeling that their chosen method of production is being seriously threatened. Meanwhile, GMO growers are not specifically required to mitigate the risk of contamination.
Many of the producers who responded use the marketing assistance services of the OFARM member co-ops. “To try to avoid contamination, our member producers follow the expensive requirements of the USDA organic standards and take additional measures designed by OFARM,” said Oren Holle, a diversified organic grain and livestock farmer from Bremen, Kansas, and the President of OFARM. “But far too frequently, they still have to deal with costly rejections due to GMO contamination.”
Survey highlights include:
* Nearly half of respondents are skeptical that GMO and non-GMO crop production can coexist.
* Over two-thirds do not think good stewardship alone is enough to protect organic and non-GMO farmers from contamination.
* Five out of six responding farmers are concerned about GMO contamination impacting their farm, with 60 percent saying they are extremely concerned.
* One out of three responding farmers have dealt with GMO contamination on their farm. Of those contaminated farmers, over half have been rejected by their buyers for that reason. They reported a median cost of a rejected semi load (approximately 1,000 bushels) of $4,500.
* Nearly half of responding farmers would not choose to purchase crop insurance to cover losses associated with GMO contamination. And of those who would purchase insurance, three out of four reported that GMO patent holders, GMO users or both of those entities should bear the liability burden for any economic loss associated with GMO contamination.
“The USDA’s focus on coexistence and crop insurance is misplaced,” said Hauter. “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.”
The Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing, Inc. (OFARM) is a farmer cooperative incorporated in the State of Minnesota under the Capper-Volstead Act as a marketing agency in common. It has six organic farmer cooperatives with organic grain and livestock producers in 18 states, from Montana to Texas to Kentucky and Ohio.
An issue brief on the survey results can be found here: