Organic farmers condemn U.S. report, claim it favors GMO
Organic growers and food safety advocates condemned an advisory report to the Agriculture Department claiming its recommendations would be costly for farmers who want to protect their conventional crops from being contaminated by genetically modified (GMO), also known as genetically engineered (GE), varieties.
The groups were responding to a report submitted Monday afternoon to the U.S. Department of Agriculture by a committee assigned by USDA with studying how best biotech agriculture could "co-exist" with organic and conventional agriculture.
"Of particular concern in the report is the recommendation that organic and non-GE conventional farmers pay to self-insure themselves against unwanted GE contamination," said a statement by the National Organic Coalition.
"This proposal allows USDA and the agricultural biotechnology industry to abdicate responsibility for preventing GE contamination while making the victims of GE pollution pay for damages resulting from transgenic contamination," it said.
Since their introduction in 1996, genetically engineered crops have become popular with U.S. farmers and now make up the majority of corn and soybeans produced in the United States. But there are a range of environmental and health concerns tied to biotech crops, and many farmers prefer not to grow them and many markets, both domestic and international, pay a premium for non-GMO crops and other products.
In its report, the advisory committee, known as the AC21, said all American farmers have the right to make the best choices for their own farms, including the choice to grow genetically engineered crops, or to grow organic or conventional crops.
"It is important that every American farmer is encouraged to show respect for their neighbor's ability to make different choices," the report said.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said USDA would review the report and consider the recommendations. He said USDA supports "all segments of agriculture."
"The report is the culmination of a great deal of hard work and complex discussion and review," said Vilsack in a statement. "I understand that required compromises to find common ground."
COMPENSATION ISSUE UNRESOLVED
USDA had asked the advisory committee to analyze what types of compensation mechanisms, if any, would be appropriate to address economic losses by farmers due to contamination by GE crops. And while there was some dissent, a majority of AC21 members did not agree on any type of compensation mechanism.
The committee said its members could not agree about the extent to which a systemic problem exists and whether there is enough data to warrant a compensation mechanism to address it. While the committee acknowledged there are unintended GE materials found in commercial products, they differed in their assessment of the significance of the unintended presence.
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