Current USDA policy is to try and make GMO crops and non-GMO crops in the US co-exist. However, a great majority of US organic farmers now say that policy is not working.

Of U.S. farmers that took part in a new survey, the results of which were released on Monday, more than 80 percent reported being concerned over the impact of genetically modified (GM) crops on their farms, with some 60 percent saying they’re “very concerned”.

The findings come as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has taken the unusual step of extending the public comment period for a controversial study on how GM and non-GM crops can “coexist”. During a major review in 2011-12, the USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21) concluded that it lacked sufficient data to decide on the extent to which GM contamination was happening in the United States, or to estimate the related costs incurred by organic and other non-GM farmers.

The problem is that the USDA did not ask in the right places.

“The USDA said they didn’t have this data, but all they had to do was ask,” Oren Holle, a farmer in the midwestern state of Kansas and president of the Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM), which assisted in the new study’s production, told IPS.

“Our very strong feeling is that the introduction and propagation of the genetically modified products that are coming out under patent at this point have not had the regulatory oversight that they should have, and need to involve a far broader section of stakeholders. USDA has been extremely lax and, in our opinion, that’s due to the excessive influence of the biotech industry in political circles.”

And USDA regulations put organic and non-GMO farmers at a competitive disadvantage.
In the new study, nearly half of the farmers polled said they did not believe that GM and non-GM crops could ever “coexist”, while more than two-thirds said that “good stewardship” is insufficient to address contamination.

“The USDA’s focus on coexistence and crop insurance is misplaced,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said Monday, referring to an AC21 recommendation that GM contamination problems be dealt with through a federal insurance scheme set up to lessen the impact of natural disasters.

“The department must recognise the harm that is already being done to organic and non-GMO farmers and put the responsibility squarely where it belongs – with the biotech companies … Now USDA can no longer claim ignorance about this problem.”

Even as contamination reports continue to grow, the U.S. government’s most recent response, drawn from the AC21 recommendations, has been to encourage “good stewardship” practices and communication between neighbouring farmers. Yet non-GM farmers say that, in practice, this has meant substantial outlays of both time and money in order to safeguard their crops – and virtually no corresponding responsibility on the part of farmers using genetically modified crops.

Organic and non-GMO farmers, as the article notes, have to forego tens of thousands of dollars in income to create a buffer between themselves and neighboring GMO crops, with no similar requirement of responsibility for the GMO producer. The problem is that these policies represent a substantial infringement on property rights. For example, I have the right to play whatever music I want to in my apartment. However, I do not have the right to play it so loud that it interferes with your ability to sleep at night. The same concept is here as well, on a much larger scale.

This may create some unlikely allies in this struggle. Here in Missouri, when Matt Blunt was governor, the state sought to build a massive GMO facility. But Anheuser Busch killed it by threatening a massive lawsuit because they did not want it anywhere near where they grow their corn and contaminate their beer. They did not want it within 150 miles of where they grow their corn. For them, the risk was too great that it would contaminate their corn.

The industry should have to prove that their product is safe and not able to contaminate neighboring fields. Otherwise, they should not be allowed to sell or grow their products within this country. That is a basic requirement of food, medicine, and drugs as well.

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