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.


    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

    You May Like

    South Sudan Sends First Ever Official Olympic Team to Rio

    VOA caught up with Santino Kenyi, 16, one of three athletes who will compete in this year's summer games in Brazil

    Arrest of Malawi's 'Hyena' Man Highlights Clash of Ritual, Health and Women's Rights

    Ritual practice of deflowering young girls is blamed for spreading deadly AIDS virus

    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    VOA finds things Americans take for granted are special to foreigners

    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.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora