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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
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 Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
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 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 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.

VOA Blogs