Organic expert receives chilly reception at “coexistence” conference

By Ken Roseboro
Published: June 1, 2011

Category: Organic/Sustainable Farming

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The outlook for peaceful coexistence between organic and genetically modified agriculture looks bleak if the chilly reception given to an organic industry expert at a recent conference is any indication.

Lowell Rheinheimer, farm resource manager at Organic Valley was one of several organic industry experts invited to speak at a “Coexistence, Choice, and Sustainability in Crop Production” conference organized by Iowa State University’s Biosafety Institute on Genetically Modified Agricultural Products held at university in April.

Many conference speakers praised GM crops as a solution to “feeding the world” and agricultural sustainability.

“Life and death issue for organic industry”

Rheinheimer said the organic community believed that GM crops are about using more pesticides, that claims about “feeding the world” were just spin, and that the US Department of Agriculture’s GM crop regulations are inadequate.

“Our co-op members farm within a sea of transgenics, yet consumers expect our organic products to be free of GMOs,” Rheinheimer said.

He described the negative impacts of GMOs on organic farmers such as rejected grain loads and added costs. “Farmers are unable to protect themselves from GMO trespass,” Rheinheimer said.

Rheinheimer described the threat posed by GM crops as “life and death issue for our industry” and asked the pro-biotech audience—“can we work together to plant genetically clean seed?”

Unfriendly responses

Rheinheimer’s request was met by unfriendly responses by three audience members. Dean Kleckner, chairman of Truth about Trade and Technology, suggested that Rheinheimer educate Organic Valley’s farmers about the benefits of GM crops. Eric Sachs, director of scientific affairs at Monsanto, criticized the organic industry for exceeding the National Organic Program rules by claiming products are non-GMO and said the industry has created its own problems. “And you want us to help fix it?” Sachs asked. Wally Huffman, professor in agricultural economics at Iowa State University, criticized Rheinheimer’s reference to a recent UN Report study that said that agroecological/organic food methods can boost food production. “There is no way organic can feed the world,” Huffman said. He also said that labeling of GM foods would happen when so-called “positive” GM traits for consumers are introduced.

© Copyright June 2011, The Organic & Non-GMO Report