Farmers Can't "Coexist" with GMO Pollution
Tell the USDA to Prevent GMO Contamination and Protect Farmers Now!
One of the problems with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is that they're difficult to contain. When pollen containing altered genes travels in the wind or on the bodies of pollinators like birds and bees, there's little we can do to stop it from spreading. What's worse, the companies who "own" those genes take no responsibility for the damage caused by their contamination.
Photo © Tim Massaro, used by permission.
The contamination of crops by neighboring GMO crop fields presents a huge problem for farmers, eaters and our environment:
- For organic farmers, who have made expensive investments to grow without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, GMO contamination can undermine their farming practices and cost them the premium price they receive for their crops.
- Conventional non-GMO farmers, meanwhile, have seen their crops rejected in global export markets as a result of GMO contamination.
- For eaters, GMO contamination is a critical concern for the integrity of our food supply and our right to know and choose what we feed ourselves and our families.
- For our environment, GMO contamination threatens biodiversity and ecosystem health.
Farmers whose crops have been contaminated not only stand to lose income, they're at risk of being sued for patent infringement by biotech companies. 145 farmers have been sued by Monsanto, for instance, for patent infringement.
We have an historic opportunity to fundamentally change how our government regulates GMO technology and to hold biotech companies accountable. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is accepting public comments on recommendations concerning agricultural "coexistence" — or how GMO and non-GMO crops can grow side by side, without threatening the other. But make no mistake, until the USDA protects non-GMO farmers and concerned consumers from contamination, there can be no "coexistence."
Creative Commons photo by CIMMYT.
Raise your voice! Tell Secretary Vilsack to use his authority to:
- Fully investigate the state of contamination in our seed and food supply.
- Regulate GMOs based on their potential for economic harm as well as safety — as existing law allows — reform USDA's weak framework for regulating GMOs.
- Prevent GMO contamination now by issuing mandatory contamination prevention measures.
- Make biotech pay for contamination: Non-GMO farmers deserve fair compensation when contamination occurs and should not be forced to purchase additional crop insurance to protect themselves.
- Address the broader economic and environmental costs related to "coexistence."
The comment period for this petition is now over. We'll stay on top of this issue and keep you updated with news on protecting family farmers from GMO contamination. For more, read " Genetic Engineering — In Our Fields, In Our Food."
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++ Click here to read the letter we sent to Secretary Vilsack. ++
The Honorable Thomas Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250
Re: Docket No. APHIS–2013–0047, "Enhancing Agricultural Coexistence"
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
As concerned citizens, eaters, and farmers, we are writing in response to your request for public comments on the topic of "Enhancing Agricultural Coexistence," Docket No. APHIS–2013–0047. We believe the very premise of the questions laid out in this request for public comment is deeply flawed and we ask for your leadership in responding to our concerns.
There can be no "coexistence" without contamination prevention. In the case of GMO technology, one system of agriculture can completely undermine the viability of all others—be they organic or conventional enterprises. When the existence of one threatens all others, coexistence is not possible without robust regulatory measures and enforcement.
Many farmers, not just organic and non-GMO farmers, have an interest in protecting themselves from unwanted genetic contamination. Farmers that grow GMO crops for food don't want to be contaminated with GMO crops grown for feed, fuel or pharmaceuticals. Farmers growing approved GMO varieties don't want to be contaminated with unapproved varieties. Farmers growing for an export market don't want to be contaminated and see their markets vanish.
You have to do better. Without strong measures to address contamination before the fact, we risk the elimination of our farmers' choice to grow non-GMO crops as well as the rights of consumers to choose GMO-free products for themselves and their families.
We urge you to do the following to protect farmers and consumers:
Establish mandatory measures that prevent GMO contamination. Voluntary solutions to contamination are insufficient – it's what we have now and it isn't working. Furthermore, communication, education and outreach among farmers are not enough to prevent contamination. The last thing we need is to pit farmers against each other when communication and prevention fails. USDA must mandate best practices to prevent GMO contamination by all farmers who use GMO seed and require contamination prevention measures that supplement those already used by organic and non-GMO producers. In addition, USDA must have stronger measures to address contamination before new GMO products are deregulated. It costs more money to clean up contamination than to prevent it.
Level the playing field. The burden of preventing contamination currently rests on organic and other non-GMO operations. But responsibility must be tied to ownership. Those who promote, profit from, and use GMO products must be responsible for preventing contamination and for covering the financial risks associated with contamination.
Reject AC21's compensation proposal and adopt a fair compensation proposal. Farmers should not be forced to buy crop insurance for protection from GMO contamination. This unfairly requires organic and other non-GMO producers to spend even more money, while GMO manufacturers would completely escape responsibility for contamination prevention and compensation. Those who own, promote, and profit from GMO products must be responsible for the harm their products cause and the patent holder should be responsible for segregation and traceability, from seed to plate.
Analyze the fuller environmental and economic implications of contamination and the management of GMO crops. The impact of GMO technology out in the fields goes far beyond genetic contamination. Consequences, such as increased pesticide use, pesticide drift to neighboring farms, contamination of our soils, waters and airways, biodiversity, ecological health and so forth, are all very real and all too common with the suite of GMO products currently in use and those waiting for deregulation. USDA's analysis is incomplete and irresponsible unless it includes these broader issues, which are of critical importance to the ideas underpinning "coexistence"—how one system of agriculture can directly and indirectly impact the viability of the other. As such, we believe strongly that no GMO products should receive deregulated status at this point in time.
Propose a new rule expanding APHIS authority to regulate GMO crops. Current APHIS regulations are narrowly prescribed to focus the agency on certain safety issues posed by GMO technology. The Plant Protection Act of 2000, however, provides APHIS with much broader regulatory authority than is captured by Part 340 regulations. The statute defines a noxious weed as "any plant or plant product that can directly or indirectly injure or cause damage to crops, livestock, poultry, or other interests of agriculture, irrigation, navigation, the natural resources of the U.S., the public health, or the environment" (emphasis added). Clearly, based on this language, USDA has sufficient statutory authority to issue regulations that address the economic harm posed by GMO technology.
Implement the following recommendations from AC21 immediately:
- Conduct research to ensure an adequate supply of improved non-GMO seed that meet the diverse needs of farmers.
- Ensure the continued work of the National Genetic Resources Advisory Council.
- Create and implement a plan to maintain the purity of publicly held germplasm.
- The plan should include measures to determine the presence of GMO traits in publicly held germplasm stocks, ongoing monitoring of contamination in germplasm stocks, and address contamination if it is identified in germplasm stocks.
- Conduct research on the state of contamination in the commercial, non-GMO seed supply.
Thank you for your consideration. Please take responsible action to protect farmers and consumers from GMO contamination.
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