We need practices



With pollination, GMO crops – many which are embedded with insecticides or resistant to weed killing chemicals – can move with the wind gusts into an organically managed crop. Contamination affects seed genetics, debases organic foods grown under regulation and puts farmers at economic risk from lost sales or elevated costs for protection of their products.

The Challenge

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) account for over 90 percent of all corn and soy grown in the United States. And with weeds developing resistance to established chemical controls, new GM crops with increased resiliency to 2,4-D and Roundup promote even heavier applications of herbicides. The scaling up of genetic modification as a means to fight so-called “superweeds” – byproducts of chemical overuse – introduces more and more GM crops and chemicals into the landscape.

Contamination of non-GMO crops is not just a biological problem. One survey noted that the median loss for organic farmers affected by contamination costs approximately $4,500 per 1,000 bushels. And the burdensome costs of preventative measures such as delayed planting, testing and buffer areas can be as much as $8,500 per year for small farmers. In addition to genetic contamination, farmers report additional pesticide drift from neighboring GMO crops tolerant of more chemicals.

As more consumers demand labeling of genetically engineered foods, the marketplace is out of sync with regulations; few federal protections and oversight for organic and non-GMO growers exist. Meanwhile, countries with stringent policies and prohibitions on GMOs prevent growers from accessing new markets.

The Opportunity

Oregon Tilth actively supports development of practical GMO policies that promote transparency, protect producers and prohibit further environmental degradation. In 2014, Chris Schreiner, Oregon Tilth’s executive director, was asked to serve on Governor Kitzhaber’s Task Force on Genetic Engineering to help identify major challenges for agricultural producers and consumers impacted by GMO crops.

We believe the current federal regulatory framework for GMO crops falls short in protecting growers, processors and consumers. Voluntary approaches to protect crops against GMO contamination face significant challenges for success due to a lack of incentives for non-GMO growers to actively participate. Additional legislation would help prevent unwanted contamination by GMO crops. For example, control areas could require GMO farmers to maintain «isolation distances» and establish crop-specific best practices for approved genetically engineered crops to prevent cross-contamination from pollination. Another concept involves compensating organic and non-GMO growers if they experience losses due to GMO contamination. We believe that the economic burden of financial harms to non-GMO producers should be paid for by GMO seed developers, as opposed to having non-GMO growers pay for crop insurance policies to protect against losses.

We believe there are more effective and fair ways to secure a sustainable food future. From partnering with the Organic Seed Alliance to protect seed integrity to policy comments on removing genetically engineered vaccines in livestock, we’re working to elevate organic as a leader for non-GMO foods. And we recognize the need to create sound policies that hold those who financially benefit from GMOs accountable for financial and environmental harm caused to all non-GMO producers.