USDA Offers the Biotech Industry Blanket Immunity for Contaminating Organic CropsSeptember 4, 2012
USDA calls it “coexistence,” but it’s just a way for GMO farmers to harm whomever they like—without consequence. Action Alert!
Many countries across the globe ban genetically engineered crops and foods. The USDA, rather than banning GMOs, aggressively supports them and claims that GMO crops will coexist alongside non-GMO crops.
The USDA’s Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21) was formed in 2003 but met infrequently after 2008. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack recently revived it; the committee plans to meet three or four times a year from now on, and ANH-USA attended the August 27–28 meeting. The committee is composed of members from the biotechnology industry, the organic food industry, the seed industry, the food manufacturing industry, and consumer and community development groups.
Given the assumption that GE crops and non-GE crops have to coexist—no one even considered the possibility that GE crops would not be allowed—the committee was asked whether there should be compensation mechanisms to address economic losses by farmers where the value of their crops was reduced “by the unintended presence of GE materials.” That’s code for transgenic contamination, where the wind carries spores or toxic pesticides from a farm growing genetically engineered crops and blows them to a farm growing organic crops, rendering them non-organic and thus worthless.
This contamination happens easily. In the past, Monsanto and other GMO producers have had the gall to sue adjacent farmers, accusing them of stealing the GMO seeds, and even found courts sympathetic to this argument. The idea was apparently to intimidate farmers who didn’t have the money to fight in court and persuade them to convert to GMO.
More recently the worm turned and there have been a number of lawsuits filed by non-GE farmers who found that their crops were getting contaminated by pesticides, herbicides, and GE materials, thereby diminishing the value of their produce. Now that there are counter-suits, USDA says the agency “wants to avoid an overly litigious environment” by creating a compensation mechanism. More likely, this scheme is intended to protect biotech companies from taking responsibility for the contamination, and thus keep them from being financially liable or in any way accountable for the negative impact on consumers’ health.
The AC21 is currently working on a draft report for discussion. The recommendation the committee seems to be heading toward is an insurance program that non-GE farmers have to buy into that would compensate them in case their crops were contaminated by GE materials.
This proposal, concocted solely to let GMO producers off the hook, is troubling for many reasons.
First, the discussion is purely on economic terms. There is no conversation about the safety of GMOs, since the USDA’s stance is that GMOs are safe, despite the mounting evidence that they are not safe. Given this initial assumption of safety, they only want to consider whether the economic value of non-GMO crops is diminished through contamination, not whether the safety of non-GMO crops is diminished—there has been no discussion whatsoever of the public health implications of transgenic contamination. Worse, it accepts as a given that GMO crops will inevitably contaminate non-GMO crops.
Second, contamination might not only reduce the economic value of other crops. It could simply destroy the possibility of organic agriculture. Crops that are contaminated cannot be certified organic. So in one stroke, the organic industry can be destroyed.
Third, it takes all the responsibility away from GE farmers. They would not be responsible for paying into a fund for compensation, much less face any liability in court. The entire burden rests with non-GE farmers, who must purchase the insurance for themselves.
And fourth, committee members from the biotech industry keep saying that there is “no actual data” that the value of non-GE crops is diminished because of contamination. They repeat that this is “just based on a hypothetical.” Of course, they ignore the fact that data is scarce because in all likelihood non-GE farmers and organic famers would not want to publicly admit that their crops might be contaminated. But if it is difficult to document the damage, how will farmers who have bought the insurance ever be able to collect?
Action Alert! The AC21 is now accepting public comments on the draft report. Please contact USDA immediately and tell them their “coexistence” premise is wrong—GE crops are not safe, and should be banned altogether—but if GE and non-GE crops must coexist, then it is the GE farmers who should be personally responsible for the contamination of non-GE crops! Otherwise they will have zero incentive to limit contamination. Please take action today—a new draft will be circulated in just a few weeks, so these comments need to be considered right away!