Organic proponents say coexistence won’t work

While the Pew Initiative/National Association of State Departments of Agriculture’s workshop expressed optimism about the ability of producers of GM, non-GM, and organic crops to peacefully coexist, many organic farming experts feel the opposite.

“About taking responsibility”
“I don’t see how it can be done unless they tell their pollen where to go,” says Dave Vetter, president, Grain Place Foods, based in Marquette, Nebraska.

Vetter’s organic corn has been contaminated by neighboring GM corn in several years. One year he spent $1500 to test a corn crop worth $4000.

Vetter says testing and other measures to prevent contamination add extra costs that should be borne by biotechnology companies. “If they have the patent, they should be paying the costs for controlling the product,” he says. “We end up paying the costs for monitoring their crops, not them. As long I have to pay some else’s bill, I’ll have a hard time with peaceful coexistence.”

Responsibility, says Vetter, is the heart of the problem. “It’s about taking responsibility for what you introduce into the environment. I see no hope for peaceful coexistence.”

Dag Falck, organic program manager, Nature’s Path Foods, also says coexistence will work “only if the producers of GMOs recognize their effects on non-GMO producers and take responsibility to not pollute with GMOs.”

This, he says, is not likely to happen. “The promoters of GMO don’t see that there is any problem with it, so they have no motivation to restrict (their crops),” says Falck.

Like Dave Vetter, Laura Krouse, an organic farmer and biology teacher in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, saw her corn contaminated by GM corn. Krouse also doubts that coexistence can work. “I have a hard time imagining how we can coexist because of the biology of corn. Pollen gets around,” she says.

Not possible to segregate biological organisms in nature
Fred Kirschenmann, distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, says one of the problems is the term “peaceful coexistence.” “The term seems to ask whether neighbors can get along together to make coexistence work. Most neighbors can and want to get along,” he says. “The problem is whether it is possible to maintain segregation of biological organisms in nature. The simple answer is no.”

According to Kirschenmann, one cannot introduce a biological system into an ecosystem and expect it to be contained. “In nature everything is connected. There are many pathways in nature, and the assumption that we can control all of the pathways is naive in the extreme,” he says.

Ed Zimmer, sales manager, US Soy, a supplier of non-GMO and organic soy products, says coexistence with soybeans is possible because they are self-pollinating plants. “However, for corn, wheat, canola, alfalfa and anything else we decide to genetically modify it will not be nearly so easy,” he says.

With these crops, Zimmer says, “The question we should ask is, what level of contamination can we agree to live with?”

© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report 2006. (December/January 2007).