USDA Urged to Limit Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Neighboring Farms
CSPI Asks Secretary Vilsack to do More to Foster Coexistence
March 20, 2013
The U.S. Department of Agriculture should require that biotechnology companies mandate that farmers who purchase genetically engineered seeds take steps to limit GE crops' unintended impact on neighboring farms, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The nonprofit group says the USDA needs to do that and more to ensure that conventional and organic crops successfully coexist with their genetically engineered cousins.
Organic farmers and conventional farmers that don't plant GE seeds are concerned about keeping biotech products out of their fields. If pollen flows from a GE to a non-GE crop, it doesn’t pose a food safety hazard, but it can create financial losses for organic or conventional farmers, who can often sell their crops at a premium price.
In a letter today to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Gregory Jaffe, CSPI's biotechnology director and a member of the USDA's Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture, wrote that the nonprofit group supports the advisory committee's consensus report, which recommended, among other things, exploring crop insurance as a potential means of compensating farmers adversely impacted by GE crops. But Jaffe says that coexistence policies must be a top priority on the part of seed companies, agricultural extension departments, farmers, grain handlers, and others who play a hands-on role in America's agricultural production. In February, USDA issued a fact sheet identifying the first set of activities it will undertake to address the coexistence recommendations from its advisory committee.
"The activities announced last month by USDA—such as conducting coexistence research and collecting case studies—are not likely to change the day-to-day practices of the farmers and others who influence whether different farm production methods coexist," Jaffe wrote.
CSPI says that USDA should provide GE crop developers and both GE and non-GE farmers with recommendations that would foster coexistence. Those might include segregation tools to keep GE and non-GE seeds and crops separate, actions to ensure seed purity for public and private seed varieties, and testing protocols to identify unintended presence. USDA should also implement financial incentives for farmers who set aside buffer land between GE and conventional crops, and use its conservation and crop insurance programs to foster coexistence.