The USDA recently released its final report from its Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture, also known as AC21. The final report gives the committee’s recommendations after meeting for more than a year on designing a compensation method for farmers that experience economic losses as a result of contamination from genetically engineered crops. USDA said the recommendations are aimed at fostering coexistence between farmers who grow biotech crops and those that do not.

Although AC21 considered three potential compensation systems, the two most recommended options the AC21 issued in its final report are a crop-insurance style program and a self-insurance tool. AC21 recommended that non-biotech farmers choose one of these two options as the best way to offset lost sales due to contamination.

Other key recommendations for the USDA that the committee suggested in its final report included:

  • Educate farmers and others in the food and feed-production chain on the importance of coexistence and their roles in stewardship, contracting and attention to gene flow. (Coexistence, according to this USDA committee, refers to concurrent cultivation of conventional, organic, identity preserved (IP) and genetically engineered (GE) crops consistent with underlying consumer preferences and farmer choices.)
  • Provide farmers with tools and incentives to promote coexistence through its farm programs and coordination with other organizations.
  • Conduct research in a range of areas integral to understanding the current state of coexistence and gene flow management, as well as development of improved tools and practices to manage coexistence in the future.
  • Provide increased assurance about the quality and diversity of U.S. seed and germplasm resources.
  • Provide a framework for the establishment of a system of compensation for actual economic losses for farmers intending to grow identity-preserved products—if USDA is able to gather adequate loss data to justify such a step.

After deliberations and careful consideration, the committee expanded the scope of the Agriculture Secretary‘s charge to include all identity preserved (IP) crops.

Mixed Reactions

Reactions to the final report were mixed with many production agriculture organizations pleased with the report and organic and non-GE crop groups disappointed.

The American Farm Bureau Federation was one such group that was pleased with the report.

“I’m pleased our committee carefully weighed the evidence, listened to the needs of growers an dchose to emphasize improved stewardship and neighbor-to-neighbor coexistence,” said Farm Bureau Vice President Barry Bushue, who was also a member of the AC21.

Food and Water Watch is an example of an organization that was disappointed with the final report. Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, said the insurance mechanism would put the financial burden on the non-GE farmers and criticized the report as upholding the status quo.

She also said that the patent-holding biotech companies should be the ones responsible for compensating non-GE farmers.

“Aside from the fact that organic and non-GE growers should not be responsible for their harm from GE contamination, there are growing concerns that a crop insurance mechanism is not feasible for organic growers,” Hauter said. “Often, organic growers are reimbursed for losses at conventional prices—instead of receiving the premium associated with their specialized production—and others do not even have access to crop insurance because there is less risk data associated with these crops.”

To view the final report, click here.