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GM and Organic Co-Existence: Why We Really Just Can't Get Along

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page, and our All About Organics page.


Last Friday, the USDA announced the partial deregulation of genetically modified sugar beets, defying a court order to complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in advance of a decision. This move follows on the heels of the full deregulation late last month of genetically modified (GM) alfalfa, the fourth most common row crop in the United States, which is most often used as feed for cattle.

If you eat beef, or take milk and sugar in your coffee (and even if you don't), here is why you should care: The move could put organic foods at risk for contamination and make it more expensive.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has attempted to stave off further litigation and quell the mounting antagonism between farmers growing GM seed and organic farmers by proposing "co-existence" between the two.

Part of Vilsack's plan for co-existence includes using buffers between organic and GM fields and even placing geographic restrictions on the growth of GM seeds. This is the first time such a discussion had been broached by the USDA. New York University professor and food movement leader Marion Nestle called the move a "breakthrough," and we also ran an op-ed pushing for co-existence as the lesser of two evils here on Civil Eats.

But Vilsack's co-existence plan seemed to put President Obama's pro-business agenda at risk. In fact, David Axelrod put the kibosh on the idea with a bad pun, encouraging "everyone to 'plow forward' on a plan for genetically produced alfalfa," according to Maureen Dowd.