Organic farmers report increasing GMO contamination with corn

A group of Midwest organic farmers is reporting increasingly higher levels of GMO contamination of organic corn, which is jeopardizing their ability to sell to organic grain buyers.

A spokesman for the group, which wishes to remain unidentified to protect their organic markets, says, 'We're doing more testing and seeing increased low levels of GMO contamination.'

The farmer group sells organic yellow and white corn for food use.

The farmers screen their corn for grade, kernel size, test weight, and GMOs. 'Buyers will test it too,' says the spokesman.

The farmers and buyers both use the lateral flow 'strip' test that detects the genetically modified protein in a sample.

Positive GMO tests jeopardize farmers' ability to sell their grain as organic. 'If we find there is widespread contamination, organic farmers have a lot of fear about losing their markets,' the spokesman said.

The spokesman says that as many as one-third of organic corn loads test positive for GMOs at a low level. 'Ears of corn may have a handful of kernels that test positive. All we know is it's becoming an increasingly difficult issue.'

The spokesman says the farmers use non-GMO seed and take precautions to prevent contamination, such as planting later than neighboring GM farmers to avoid cross-pollination, isolating their crops from GM corn fields, and cleaning their harvesting and transportation equipment. But the measures haven't been enough to stop the incursion of GMOs.

'Everyone in the organic sector wants to believe we could control the unintended spread of this. I think it's been a false assumption. Corn pollen is designed to spread as widely as it can,' the spokesman said.

GMO-contaminated corn seed contamination doesn't appear to be a big problem. 'We had one instance where someone had high level of contamination to indicate seed was contaminated,' the spokesman says.

The farmers are seeing similar problems with organic soybeans. 'We've seen low levels that we haven't seen before in organic soybeans,' the spokesman says.

He also says there is potential cross-pollination with soybeans even though they are self-pollinating plants.

Midwestern organic farmers face a major challenge with GMOs. 'To think we will completely control seed and crop genetics is ecologically na've,' the spokesman says.

There have been calls within the organic industry to try to measure levels of GMO contamination in organic corn and soybeans. This may be challenging because farmers, such as the group described in this article, are reluctant to talk about contamination problems for fear of losing their markets.

(Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report, April 2010)