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Organic Point/Counterpoint
Can Organic and Genetically Engineered Crops Coexist?
Note to reader: The two news articles on this page represent differing viewpoints in regards to organics and are a part of OCA's new "Point/Counterpoint" series, providing readers with an opportunity to view arguments from both proponents and opponents of the organic industry.

Point (article #1): Organic and GE Crops can Coexist

Counterpoint (article #2): Organic and GE Crops cannot Coexist

More Articles on this Topic

Point: Organic and GE Crops can Coexist

Co-existence in North American agriculture: can GM crops be grown with conventional and organic crops?
7 June, 2004 - PG Economics Ltd

Executive summary
This paper examines the issue of co-existence of GM and non GM (including organic) crops, with specific applicability to the main arable crops grown in North America.

Current crop context
In 2003, GM crops accounted for 60% of the total plantings of soybeans, corn and canola in the USA and Canada combined (80%, 41% and 70% respectively of soybean, corn and canola plantings). This compared with an organic share of less than 0.22% (0.05% in canola, just over 0.1% in maize and 0.24% in soybeans 2). The balance (of 39.78%) was accounted for by conventionally grown crops, some of which 3 were to speciality types (eg, nexera canola, waxy corn). Have the different crops managed to co-exist ?

The evidence to date shows that GM crops have co-existed with conventional and organic crops without significant economic or commercial problems:

a) Co-existence of GM and non GM crops has, to date, only been an issue of relevance to farmers where their crops are/have been sold to some users in the human food sector and/or for export to some markets where there is a distinct market for non GM products. Within the context of the total markets for these crops (domestic North American and exports onto world markets), the non GM market accounts for a small share. For example, the non GM market is probably largest in soybeans/derivatives, and within this, in the EU - the level of non GM demand in the EU soy market was equal to about 2.6% of global soy oil use and 6.2% of global soymeal use in 2002/03;

b) North American farmers have been successfully growing specialist crops (eg, seed production, nexera canola, waxy corn) for many years, near to crops of the same species (including GM crops), without compromising the high purity levels required;

c) North American farmers have also been successfully growing and channelling some GM and non GM crops of the same species into different markets (usually differentiating between domestic and some export destinations);

d) Survey evidence amongst US organic farmers shows that the vast majority (92%) have not incurred any direct, additional costs or incurred losses due to GM crops having been grown near their crops. Only 4% had any experience of lost organic sales or downgrading of produce as a result of GM adventitious presence having been found in their crops (the balance of 4% had incurred small additional costs for testing only);

e) A small number of instances of adventitious presence of GM events have been found in non GM and organic crops (and resulted in possible rejection of deliveries by buyers or imposition of contractual price penalties):

Often this has been due to deficiencies in segregating/channelling crops once harvested, in storage or transport;
The only crop/sector where there appear to be disputes about the feasibility of coexistence between GM and non GM/organic crops 4 is canola, in Canada. However, the lack of publicly available information on key issues (eg, levels of adventitious presence of GMO material found in organic canola, frequency of testing of organic crops, location of crops relative to GM crops, origin of seed, measures taken to minimise adventitious presence occurring), means it is not possible to fully assess whether there have been, or may be co-existence problems between organic and GM canola in Canada.
Has the growth of the GM crop area impeded the development of organic crops?

Examination of trends in the planting of GM and organic crops suggests that the growth of the GM crop area has not impeded the development of the organic sector in North America:

a) The US organic areas of soybeans and corn have increased by 270% and 187% respectively between 1995 and 2001, a period in which GM crops were introduced and reached 68% and 26% shares of total plantings of soybeans and corn;

b) States with the greatest concentration of organic soybean and corn crops are often states with above average penetration of GM crops. For example, the leading organic corn growing states are Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Of these, Iowa and Minnesota have above average penetration of GM crop plantings (32% and 36% respectively of total corn plantings relative to the US average of 26% in 2001);

c) Given the historically low area planted to organic canola 5 and the current existence of some organic plantings (about 2,000 hectares in Canada), this suggests that GM and organic canola can and is co-existing without causing significant economic and commercial problems for organic growers. These organic growers may have made some changes to farming practices in order to successfully co-exist (eg, ensuring reasonable separation distances, testing seed prior to use, operating rigorous control of volunteers and sowing brassica rapa varieties).

d) Some in the organic sector perceive that there is a lack of defined GM crop co-existence stewardship conditions, which if applied, would minimise the risk of neighbouring organic crops being down-graded due to the adventitious presence of GM events. It should however, be noted that some GM crop stewardship conditions (notably for corn) specifically provide GM crop farmers with 'coexistence type' recommendations for minimising the chances of adventitious presence of GM crop material being found in non GM crops of the same species. Also, farmers of GM herbicide tolerant crops are provided with weed (volunteer) management practice guides. It is therefore probable that some changes to farming practices by some GM growers have already been made to facilitate improved co-existence with non GM growers.

Concluding comments
Overall, co-existence of GM and non GM, including organic, crops has been occurring in North America. The market has effectively facilitated this without government intervention since GM arable crops were first introduced in 1995. In effect there has been recognition that if producers wish to avoid GM events in their production systems the onus for implementing measures to facilitate this falls on the speciality producers (including organic) which are, in turn rewarded via price premia, for incurring costs associated with meeting the requirements of their customers and certification bodies.

In the organic sector, the onus placed on (organic) growers to implement measures to facilitate co-existence also reflects the lack of clarification by the organic certification organisations on what constitutes a violation of organic principals where adventitious presence of GM events is detectable at very low levels even though the crop has been cultivated in accordance with organic principles.

Also, there appears to be recognition that any policy relating to acceptance or rejection of organic crop status (ie, its right to be labelled and sold as an organic crop) because of GM adventitious presence is a marketing issue and that, under organic regulations, organic producers should not be penalised for adventitious presence of GM events, if this occurs through no fault of their own. This practice is consistent with the practices and principles, applied by the organic sector, in relation to the adventitious presence of other unwanted materials and is proportionate to the perceived negative impact on the environment and the perceived risks to human health.

Counterpoint: Organic and GE Crops cannot Coexist

>From <>
July 2004 Issue

Coexistence research paper skews facts to support dubious conclusion

Pro-biotechnology researchers misrepresent findings of organic farmers¹
survey to support dubious premise that Genetically Modified (GM) and organic
crops successfully coexist in the United States.

By Ken Roseboro <>

A new research paper claiming genetically modified and organic crops now
coexist successfully in North America "without causing any economic or
marketing problems to non-GM or organic growers" is based on a
misrepresentation of facts from a 2002 survey of organic farmers that
actually documents how GM crops are negatively impacting US organic farms.

As acreage in both GM and organic crops increases in North America, there
are concerns about how the two styles of agriculture will coexist. Organic
farmers are reporting increasing incidents of GM crops contaminating their
crops through wind-borne pollen or commingling in grain handling, which
result in economic damage to organic farmers who cannot sell their tainted
crops. Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack has said that coexistence between GM and
organic should be a "national priority," and coexistence initiatives have
been launched in several US states.

Dubious claims

A recently released paper, titled "Coexistence in North American
Agriculture: Can GM Crops Be Grown with Conventional and Organic Crops?" and
published by UK-based PG Economics Ltd., claims coexistence between GM and
organic has been successful without causing problems to non-GM or organic
growers. The paper also states that claims by "anti-GM groups" that GM and
non-GM crops cannot coexist in North America are "greatly exaggerated" and
that coexistence measures have "been delivering effective coexistence for
nearly nine years."

Flipped survey findings upside down
However, a closer look reveals that the paper's conclusions are heavily
based on a 2002 survey by the Organic Farming Research Foundation that shows
the complete opposite: that GM crops are starting to cause economic and
operational hardships to organic farmers.

The paper's authors, Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, distorted some facts
from the OFRF survey and ignored others to arrive at their dubious
conclusion that GM and organic coexist successfully.

The OFRF survey was the first to look at the emerging problems associated
with genetically modified organisms on organic farms. The survey found that
8% of organic farmers incurred direct costs or damages related to the
presence of GMOs. In their paper, Brookes and Barfoot flip the findings
upside down, stating that "92 percent of all organic farmers had not
incurred any direct, additional costs due to GM crops being grown nearby."

Ignored facts
There are other examples of findings turned upside down. The OFRF survey
found that 27% of respondents have had a GMO test either requested or
required by an organic certifier or a buyer. Brookes and Barfoot state "73
percent of organic growers said they had never been required to test for the
presence of biotech material in their crops."

The survey states that 48% of the survey respondents indicated that they
have taken some measures to protect their organic farms from GMO
contamination. Brookes and Barfoot change that to "52 percent of farmers
said they didn't consider it necessary to change the way they farm to
protect their crops from biotech material."

While some facts from the OFRF survey were misrepresented, others were
ignored. Brookes and Barfoot ignored the fact that 46% of the survey
respondents rated the risk of exposure and possible contamination of their
organic farm products by GMOs as moderate or greater, with 30%
characterizing their farm¹s risk as high or very high.

Commenting on PG Economics' findings, Erica Walz, OFRF survey coordinator,
says, "They saw what they wanted to see and used what they wanted to use."

70 to 80% reported impacts
The main problem with PG Economics' findings is that they did not take into
account that the OFRF survey was nationwide and included organic farmers in
areas where GM corn and soybeans are not grown. In fact, the survey had
1,034 respondents, but only 100 to 150 produced corn or soybeans and were
at-risk from GM crops.

Farmers who live in Midwestern states, where the majority of GM corn and
soybeans are grown, reported significant impacts. "When you look at farmers
in Corn Belt states, it's a totally different picture," says Walz.
In these states, 70 to 80% of respondents reported negative impacts from
GMOs, says Walz. In addition, up to 88% of organic farmers in Midwestern
states said they took some measure to protect their farms from GMO

"Tip of the iceberg"
Finally, Brookes and Barfoot ignored the comments of OFRF executive director
Bob Scowcroft who said in a statement released with the survey, "In 1998,
GMO (genetically modified organism) contamination was not yet a national
issue. These new survey results based on the 2001 crop year document that
significant impacts have begun to occur within a very short time frame. If
this trend continues, what we¹re seeing now will prove to be just the tip of
the iceberg."

Perhaps Brookes and Barfoot should survey organic farmers in the Midwest and
ask them how successfully their farms coexist with GM crops. It is likely
they would gain a very different perspective than the one they promote in
their paper.

Ken Roseboro is editor of The Non-GMO Source newsletter. He can be reached