USDA Offers the Biotech Industry Blanket Immunity for Contaminating Organic Crops

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GMO_organics_action_jan2004_0USDA 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!

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  • Richard Edlich

    USDA should not grant immunity for contaminating organic crops. The USDA must make significant changes to protect all consumers!

  • John

    When are the people of our great country going to wake up and demand that the government and the corrupted USDA need to get their collective noses out of our food chain? Personally, I am tired of these people allowing these huge factory farms the freedom to destroy (pollute) our organic foods. Furthermore, they are slowly attempting to put organic farmers out of business. Don’t tell me what type of food I can eat. Wake up America!

  • Ronald L Hildebrand

    Our country was founded on the simple principle that we have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, as we all know is stated early in the Declaration of Independence. The USDA does not have the authority to compromise that right, or completely give it away, which is exactly what it does by giving immunity for harm caused to GE crop producers.

  • jeannie carl

    I would like to sign the letter but there is no place to do that.

  • Jeff Leonard

    President Obama – to encourage a free-for-all where genetically modified crops are unrestrained, and where those who plant such crops are not held accountable for economic and other unforeseen damages to other crops, including but not limited to effects to heirloom, organics, and wild plant life, is reprehensible and immoral. We are what we eat, and we all live ‘down wind’. For now, stop this GE ‘coexistence’ nonsense. Next, replace that pesticide & frankenfood chair over at USDA. Ultimately, make the USA among the world leaders in cultivating and perpetuating biodiversity. Just the opposite is now true, and this does not bode well for our competitiveness in the world markets, nor for the wonder and splendor of Michelle’s small garden plot. Thank you, Sir, for otherwise being a mostly damn fine example of a modern American leader.

  • Linda Zigich

    We send soldiers to fight on foreign soil, to risk their lives to protect us yet Congress can’t stand up to corporations that are creating a global genocide with our governments blessing. There’s something wrong here. Perhaps we should pay our representatives what soldiers make and give soldiers what our representatives in Washington make. Who protects us more?

  • Elfriede Bower

    One would think the USDA is more interested in the safety of food products. We are getting enough questionable food from imports. I just don’t buy it or any GE fruits regardless of price. It would be helpful for all consumers to recognize the meaning of the numbers on all these little fruit labels. Numbers starting with 8 are GE modified.

    If consumers are educated, they can boycott these products. USDA should certainly support the efforts of all organic growers and not punish them.
    Makes one wonder if and how much monetary support is beeing paid by the large GM seed producers to our “trusted’ USDA.

  • The GMO industry supplies the problem of contamination to organic farms and the farmers buy insurance to protect themselves from the loses that they will incur??? I find it truly amazing that anyone would actually propose such a plan, even a child would see through this. If I was the employer of those who put this plan together I would definitely consider asking for their resignation because of an inability to perform a task that was obviously too mentally taxing for them.

  • Karen

    Your “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.
    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.
    Also, GE crops have not been proven to be safe!
    Please hold GE farmers personally responsible for the contamination of non GE crops!

  • Veronika Griffin

    It is not acceptable that GMO producers are having their way or no way – even though that THEIR crops can – and will – contaminate Non-GMO and Organic Crops and not the other way around!
    So since they are the ones causing the extremely dangerous problem of contamination and therefore pollution – a process that can NOT be reversed once Non-GMO and organic crops are pollinated by genetically engineered pollen – the GMO developer and producers should – no, MUST be held accountable just as other pollution producing companies should and are!
    And Non-GMO and Organic Crop farmers should/must be able to be compensated in the case it happened – saying ‘it can’t be proven’ is unacceptable as well, because in time
    it will!
    Then there is the question of short and long-term health issues to consumers of GMO foods. As long as it is not 100% sure that there are no health risks from using GMO’s it should not even being used yet!
    Last but not least I want to be sure that when I buy Organic and Non-GMO’s I get Organic and Non-GMO’s – I for sure don’t want GMO’s!

  • Lucy Nickel

    This is 100% wrong and GE crops are not safe. There have been documented studies to prove this!!! Stop this insanity at once!!

  • Mitchel Balmayne

    Stop the agri corp/ USDA nonsense! It should be no different than the separation of church and state. Stop using the people of the USA as lab rats you corporate scumbags.

  • DUGAN

    It is continually about how to tax, charge or pass the buck to the individual, not the big industries that are causing the problem.. …with no long term research, just throw it on the public and sort it out later if its profitable for corporations….pass the burden to the organic farmer whom can not recover from GMO contamination…..who is running these government controlled ops, Aliens, I do mean the outer limit kind!

  • Robert Mckimmey

    This is RIDICULOUS!

  • Mary Ann Nordheimer

    I have a right to buy truly organic food that is not contaminated by GMO products. It is the responsibility of the GMO producers to “police” their products from contaminating organic products, not the other way around.
    What you are proposing is akin to having homeowners buy insurance against companies that pollute our air and environment. Shouldn’t the companies clean up their act instead of passing the buck back to the innocent?

    • WHo will be in charge of this so called insurance? The Fed’s? Will that also become another slush funds used to as some of the other funds such as SS?

  • Pace D. Fering

    There would be no need for immunity if this stuff was actually safe; and they know it is not.

  • Roger Fuller

    9-5-2012
    Dear ANH-USA:
    First, I want to say I held my nose and signed on to your ” Action Item ” for this article. You should know by now that USDA is run by Agribusiness Thugs and this kind of serious issue action item should go straight to the US Congress. They too may be corrupt, but they are the highest government body we can appeal to and have authority over the USDA.
    Second, if the organic food industry was at the August 27 meeting of the AC-21, why didn’t they just kill that ridiculous proposal that only non-GE and organic farmers pay for an insurance policy for contamination inflicted on them by GE food companies? If they didn’t do this, then I think that a lot of organic farmers and food industry executives are grossly ignorant of the extreem danger of transgenic contamination to not only some of their organic crops but to the entire organic food industry; and an imminent danger at that! They clearly need far better leadership. You at ANH-USA have the expertise. Can you educate the organic industry ?
    Third, in the 2nd point at the end of your article, you stated: ” It ( transgenic contamination ) could simply destroy the possibility of organic agriculture. ” There have already been billion dollar cases of transgenic contamination ( Bayer Rice in the Southern US ) all over the world for the past 19 years. GE canola contaminated the whole of Canada 10 years ago. Many websites like http://www.organicconsumers.org ; http://www.healthfreedomUSA.org and ISIS.org have stated that GE crops coexisting with natural organic crops is an IMPOSSIBILITY! The wind can blow pollen hundreds of miles! There is no such thing as a safe buffer zone. Isn’t this enough evidence for you ? It should by now be recognized by the whole organic industry that GE food ” coexistence ” is impossible and should never be accepted, as Ronnie Cummins has stated. GE food is a weapon against humanity, not an agricultural aid.
    Fourth, in your fourth point you say that the biotech industry says that there is ” no actual data ” that says the value of non-GE crops is diminished because of contamination. The other reason the data is scarce is because Monsanto has blocked all efforts by scientists to study the dangers of GE crops by making their seeds unavailable to scientists and attacking the few scientists who did critical studies of GE crops, as told by the Institute for Responsible Technology.
    yours truly,

  • How bad is GMO? Why are a host of countries banning GMO permanently in some cases, while the USA keeps producing more? Russia is discontinuing buying from the US because of these contaminants, and that is hurting our economy. Really, if anyone is stupid enough to appoint a former lawyer for Monsanto to be in charge of the USDA, and another former Monsanto executive in charge of the FDA- there is no hope. Until people demand labeling, demand GMO be removed from our lands nothing will change. I guess people just are not angry enough yet. Fight this ridiculous corporate chemical invasion of our food supply – we owe it to future generations.

  • Terri Gilger

    I fail to see how organized crime economics could be sanctioned by any part of the US Government. What they’re proposing is the organic farmers paying protection money. They should open their eyes and remember they’re supposed to work for us(all of us) and not just big business.

  • Increasingly the use of new ranges of is spreading across the world.

    Organic food items continue to gain fair amount of market share, even though the debate regarding organic food items versus conventional food products is still up in the air.
    Become more educated on how foods are produced.
    In short, organic foods and conventionally produced foods have, generally speaking, equal nutritional
    value. With organic farming, better and healthy food ingredients can be cultivated.