** This question and answer session comes courtesy of an intellectual property expert in the private sector. The first post dealt with intellectual property in the clean technology sector.
Can genetically engineered crops and organically grown crops survive side by side? The following quote from a recent Washington Post piece seems to think they can.
“The two sides are not clashing over the ethics or safety of genetic engineering, in which plants are modified in the laboratory with genes from another organism to make them more pest-resistant or to produce other traits. Instead, the argument is over the potential for contamination: pollen and seeds from GE crops can drift across fields to nearby organic plants. That has triggered fears that organic crops could be overtaken by modified crops. Contamination can cost organic growers - some overseas markets, for example, have rejected organic products when tests showed they carried even trace amounts of GE material.”
The simple answer is that organic-certified crops and plants modified by use of recombinant DNA technology must coexist, and there’s no scientific reason they can’t. The market demand for commodities grown using both methods is increasing and farmers need to continue to produce more food, this means that both methods are here to stay, so they may as well find ways to reduce negative interactions. Let’s clarify the debate mentioned in the article by briefly understanding exactly what is being debated. First, organic is a marketing certification for a method of farming, not a guarantee of safety, health, etc. In fact, organic growers are expressly forbidden from making claims that their products have any health benefits due to their production methods. The USDA certification process has specific requirements regarding the prohibition of GM seeds and if a farmer uses GM seed, he/she could lose their certification. To date no farmer has lost USDA organic certification due to the presence of GM pollen, despite 64 million hectares of GM crops planted in 2010. The concern about overseas markets reflects some farmers choosing to apply higher standards to their crops in order to meet foreign organic requirements for pollen detection which are set impossibly high (zero-percent, for example). These limits are set not by a scientific body concerned about health, but by foreign agricultural agency worried about competition from American goods. Farmers using both production methods have taken special care to grow in a manner which successfully meets USDA standards for organic licensing; that should continue to be the goal, and we should address the foreign limits as what they really are: non-tariff barriers to trade from U.S. farmers.