News / USA

Can Genetically-Modified and Organic Crops Co-Exist?

USDA promotes co-existence, but opposition remains strong

Opponents of genetically-modified crops - like this maize - are suing the USDA for its recent approval of crops they say are likely to cause contamination in organic fields.
Opponents of genetically-modified crops - like this maize - are suing the USDA for its recent approval of crops they say are likely to cause contamination in organic fields.

Multimedia

Audio

In the midst of lawsuits over genetically modified organisms, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is asking, "Can't we all just get along?"

GMO opponents are suing USDA for its recent approval of crops they say are likely to cause contamination in organic fields. USDA wants to bring the opposing parties together to find ways for GMOs, conventional agriculture, and organic farming to co-exist.

For crops such as maize, GMO and organics are already co-exisiting, if imperfectly. The United States raises more maize than any other country in the world, and almost all of it is genetically modified. There has been almost no evidence of health problems or environmental harm from GMO maize. But that does not mean everyone is okay with it.

Opposition

Lynn Clarkson runs Clarkson Grain and Clarkson Soy Products, two companies serving food and animal feed makers. At a recent USDA panel discussion, he described a conversation he had with a tortilla maker.

"I'm in the food world," the tortilla maker told Clarkson. "I can get sued for all kinds of things and I have a conscience. I don't know if this is safe or not, and I don't want to find out."

That was fine with Clarkson. His companies specialize in organic and non-GMO grains. Opposition to GMOs is one of the factors that have made organic products a $25-billion-a-year market in the United States.

Challenge of co-existence

That highlights a major challenge in American agriculture. How can these two profitable but mutually exclusive types of agriculture co-exist, when there are so many ways contamination can happen? Pollen can travel from a GMO field and contaminate a non-GMO crop. Grains can mix in storage, shipping, or processing.

For the most part, the U.S. government has not gotten involved.

"So far, we have operated under a market-driven system," says University of Missouri economist Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes. "And by and large, generally it has worked."

Premium price for organic

It has worked, he says, because customers are willing to pay a premium for organic and non-GMO products to businessmen like Lynn Clarkson who can provide them.

"So if you wish [to have] non-GMO, it's perfectly fine with me," he says. "If you wish organic, or if you wish [to have] a crop raised under a blue moon, and are willing to pay for it, that's acceptable, too."

Clarkson's customers are willing to pay him extra for the steps he has to take to keep GMOs out of his products. That includes making sure that everyone all along the supply chain uses separate or thoroughly cleaned equipment to grow, harvest, transport, store and process his crops.

Contamination inevitable

But the system is not perfect. Some contamination still happens. And Clarkson says many customers accept that.

"If you deal with the tolerance standards out there today, zero is simply not an option," he says.

Even the normally restrictive European Union is considering lifting its zero-tolerance standard for GMO contamination in imported animal feed. Clarkson says many producers aim for no more than one-tenth of one percent contamination.

"Organic means no GMO"

But attorney George Kimbrell with the Center for Food Safety says that is not good enough for many consumers.

"If you talk to organic consumers, for example, for them, organic means no GMO," he says. "It doesn't mean a little bit of GMO in it."

He says the companies that produced and patented GMO crops should be the ones responsible for keeping them out of organic products, not the other way around. Kimbrell says it's hardly a novel legal concept.

"If your bull breaks out of your barn and causes a ruckus [damage] in my field, you are liable for that," he says. "That liability should extend to the owners of these genetically engineered crop patents."

Contamination likely?

Opponents like Kimbrell say some genetically engineered crops are so likely to cause contamination that they should not be introduced anywhere.

But the USDA believes it is possible for these crops to co-exist with non-GMOs. The department recently approved one of them -- alfalfa, and is nearing approval of another, sugar beets.

The Center for Food Safety has sued USDA to try to keep these crops off the market. Those lawsuits are a big part of why USDA has been stepping up its efforts to promote co-existence.

But the lawsuits continue. And comfortable co-existence between supporters and opponents of GMOs is a long way off.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

Alaskans experiencing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more frequent and extensive wildfires, deteriorating glaciers, and swift shoreline erosion More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs