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Organic vs. Biotech – Not an Either/Or Issue

Farmer's Market

I recently went back to Iowa to visit my parents. While sitting around the dinner table, my mother brought up our old summer trips to the farmers’ market. In past summers, my parents and I would frequent the large downtown farmer’s market on the weekend. It’s something we all enjoy–my mom likes buying fresh produce, I like sampling wines and buying home-baked goods, and my dad likes to camp out at the breakfast burrito stand.

This farmers’ market has all sorts of food from a variety of sources. There are organic, naturally-grown, and conventionally-grown vegetables and fruits.

Why does a local farmers’ market have so many choices? The reason for the variety is that farmers don’t all farm on the same land with the same resources. Each farmer is an individual with individual needs.

For some farmers, organic farming works best for them. They have the resources and the market for it. I’ve met a couple all-natural farmers that are organic for all intents and purposes but they don’t want to go through the certification process.

Then there are those that are conventional growers. Conventional growing often gets confused with biotechnology or genetically-enhanced crops; however, conventional growers do not necessarily use biotechnology, although some do. The use of biotechnology depends on the crop, the land and the farmer’s resources.

Another common misconception concerning conventional farming is that it is not an eco-friendly form of farming; but, conventional farmers often employ sustainable farming practices and this trend is growing. Often conventional growers have found that biotechnology can aid a farming operation in becoming more environmentally friendly–allowing them to use no-till practices which reduces erosion and leaching.

In some circumstances (depending heavily on the crop) organic farming can use far more resources than conventional or biotech operations, although that’s not always the case. It should be noted, however, that biotech crops are typically corn, soy and cotton which are used in other products and not sold directly to consumers. While there are some biotech crops on the food market (sweet corn) you are unlikely to run into many biotech crops at a farmers’ market.

Conventional and organic farming both exist for different reasons. Some farmers even grow conventional and organic crops on the same operation. In my opinion, the two will always balance each other out–if organic isn’t possible or profitable for a farmer then they will use conventional methods and vice-versa. Monsanto knows this and so do the employees here.

Once in a blue moon I will stumble across a conspiracy blog that claims that Monsanto is in business to force our products on all farms and it’s just not the case. Monsanto is a 100 percent agriculture company; we understand farmers and several of us are farmers, so we know that biotechnology is not everyone’s choice.

Agriculture could not survive as a 100 percent organic production industry nor can biotechnology provide the same benefit to every farmer. So farmers will continue to choose the farming practices that work best for them.

And me? Regardless of how my food is produced it still tastes amazing (especially in the form of home-made corn muffins bought from the farmers’ market in my old hometown).

Kate works on the corporate website for Monsanto in the public affairs department. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Truman State University. Kate grew up in an Air Force family and has lived in sevaral states and countries but spent the majority of her childhood growing up in Iowa. Kate enjoys art and photography as well as horseback riding.

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54 Responses to "Organic vs. Biotech – Not an Either/Or Issue"

  1. This is a very good article and we need this kind of press.

    Food technology is a complex issue. There is no question that the low-tech tomatoes in my garden are ton’s better than the high tech tomatoes in the store. (And we aren’t talking biotech).

    But the flipside of feeding more and more people with less land and less water means that the responsible use of technolgoy (biotech and others), is essential to feeding mankind and preserving the environment.

  2. Organic vs. Biotech is an either or proposition in the current system.

    The title of this article is somewhat misleading in that to me, it indicates that one can grow biotech crops in an organic production system.

    I’m pretty sure the author’s point is that both systems and several in between can coexist and I believe that.

    I personally find it sad that there isn’t more coexistence due to the tenor of the debate on organic certificantion.

    My personal opinion is that the organic certification, like most things in modern political discourse was driven by the loudest and shrillest voices and resulted in a standard prohibiting everything that anyone could possibly find objectionable.

    So, people who are concerned about the toxicity of pesticides are prohibited from using our insect protected products.

    People who are concerned about sustainability are unknowingly encouraging repeated trips over the field with tractors for mechanical weed control and even energy intensive practices like propane flaming for insect control.

    We also have stupid paradoxes like it being OK to sprak bt on the plant but not OK to have the plant produce it.

    In general, we could use a lot more of the cooperation and compromise that the author suggests and a lot less of the harsh discourse that led to the current organic standard.

  3. Once you get around the whole “GM is bad” mindset there is no reason why GM crops could not be integrated into organic farming systems – obviously RR crops wouldnt make much sense in these systems, but Bt crops make a lot of sense in this respect. Also future GM traits of the future could work amazingly well in organic systems – water use efficient crops, nitrogen use efficient crops, intrinsically higher yielding crops – so long as they are safe they could be grown in the same manner as organic crops now – the only problem being the perception of GM crops as somehow bad, and the need for public choice (certified organic and certified GM free as seperate processes?)

    I see no reason not to combine the best of both worlds to achieve maximum sustainability in agriculture which I know is a huge priority for both Monsanto and the “traditional” organic farmer.

    Hopefully in the timeframe that next generation GM products start really coming into their own (2030-2050?) possibly with such currently dream products such as Nitrogen fixing corn/soy/cotton the debate about safety will have been firmly put to rest (1 trillion meals and counting…. maybe the next 2 trillion will be more decisive?)

  4. I enjoy farmer’s markets, and sometimes shop at markets focusing on organic or similar production methods. I do not do this for safety and health- but really for the variety of fresh goods such stores offer. Admittedly, there is a price premium- you just have to decide if yu are willing to pay it to get what you want.

    I see no safety advantage to organic- in fact the major produce-related safety issues in recent times have essentially all been organic foods. They also use “traditional” pesticides- including ot only Bt, but also copper acetoarsenate or natural insect control agents like eugenol (known carcinogen).

    I see the paradox in sprying Bt on organic plants, using “traditional” pesticides, avoiding other pesticides, and yet not permitting a role for GM in organic- but this basically is a manifestation of the fact that organic is fundamentally a socio-political movement, not a science-driven risk-reduction movement. In many cases, the socio-political “gains”- if you beleive in them- may well be illusory. Like to support small farmers?? Organic is now driven largely by several very large, centralize, mechanized farming operations that market via major supermarket chains. (Don’t get me wrong- I like to support local, small operators- just don’t kid youself when you buy bulk organic at the major outlets.)

    Given that natural toxins abound, and are hardly “good for you” (the “best” toxins are mother nature’s own- Botunimum A toxin, letahl dose 1 NANOgram per kilogram of body weight!), I am just not imnpressed with “natural” as a claim (althogh this is not the only basis for organic, I understand.)

    Where I do agree very much with the original statement is on the issue of co-existance. There is no need for an either-or decision, nor is there a need for either technology to “oppose” the existance of the other politically. Both can exist, and the consumer will need to decide what they are willing to pay the price for.

  5. This is a great article. I have found the answers interesting when people are asked why they want to eat organic food. Most answer ‘because it is safer’. To that point when people are asked why don’t they like GM the answer is ‘because it is untested’. Both answers are of course wrong. The Texas peanut butter scare (organic) and the contaminated (organic)spinach from California several years ago SHOULD have been able to highlight that organic is not necessarily safer, indeed it is more often less safe. However, as previous bloggers have stated there should not be any reason why GM crops shouldn’t find there way into organic systems. BT cotton is a great example. I am much more comfortable walking into a BT cotton field that has not been sprayed than a conventional one that has, repeatedly. And there is very little organic cotton produced globally and that that is comes from places with very low labor costs and the bugs are hand picked off the cotton. Hardly sustainable in a world of 5 billion people and growing. The only slighly plausible argument from an organic grower that I have heard was one that was using Bt spray as his insecticde and he was concerned that if too many BT crops were grown then the insect population would develop resistance to his only weapon. Of course, BT crops have only two BT toxins, his spray had many, but at least he was thinking about it. I would like to think one day that people would see that some GM products could fit into an organic system. However organics is a philosophy or theology rather than a science. ‘Organic’ is really only one peice of the system they want – they also don’t want animals cut in any way except for castration (makes the whole docking of sheeps tails interesting as ultimately it can be worse for the animal if the tail is left on) and some plant based products like rotenone can be used when they are far more toxic than synthetic chemicals. Also give the low nutrient content of a lot of organic fertilizers the transportation costs for the fertilizer are greater, not to mention the carbon footprint. But I digress. One thing organic and GM have done though is it has made people think a little more about where their food comes from and that is a good thing.

  6. For those of us who believe organic is safer, or for those of us who believe there isn’t enough consensus on whether or not gm is as safe as organic or conventional crops, there is at least one problem with the idea of organic and gm coexisting. GM crops are shown to contaminate other crops either by commingled seed or cross-pollination. For those of us who do not want to eat or grow GM crops, our choice may be eliminated by the contamination issue.

    http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/science_and_impacts/impacts_genetic_engineering/faqs-seed-contamination.html

    What is new about the Gone to Seed report?

    Gone to Seed reports, for the first time, that the traditional seed supply for important food crops is contaminated with DNA from genetically engineered crops. UCS tested six traditional varieties each from three crops—corn, soybeans, and canola—and found that most of them carry pieces of DNA from genetically engineered varieties.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Eventually, there will be very little either/or.

  7. I meant there will be very little or no choice of one or the other. All crops will be contaminated at this rate. Look how quickly this has happened.

  8. Deborah – a better link would be

    http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/seedreport_fullreport.pdf

    Which links directly to the report itself rather than the summary (it was a little hard to find)

    Surprisingly this article hasn’t appeared in nature, or science, or as far as I can tell any peer reviewed scientific literature – although reading through the report its not overly hard to see why (cross contamination between seed types, values for positive hits given as under the limit of detection, extrapolation to truckloads from insufficient data as a means to scare people… the list goes on)

    The only peer reviewed article I am aware of concerned the cross contamination of Mexican corn with transgenic corn, was published in either nature or science (can’t recall which at the time) and was roundly criticized for sloppy technique, using only PCR when other methodologies would have worked better considering the issues with PCR and cross contamination etc etc…

    Also the picture you paint here suggests that all the corn, soybeans and canola carry DNA from genetically engineered varieties – the report actually states something completely different – in that there is a miniscule level of contamination of seed lots such that <0.05 (lower than the limit of detection!) to approximately 1% of the seeds purchased contained GM traits. (this is a worst case scenario assuming that the report wasnt the result of experimental error, sabotage, or wishful thinking)

  9. I don’t think I painted the picture that all seeds carry DNA from GE varieties. I am saying that if the trend continues, they eventually will. Think about it, 1% of seed being contaminated in 2004. Similar seed stocks were planted on conventional farms and most likely further contaminated the crops around them. Have there been any differences in farming techniques, transport, or storage that may be holding off the contamination? I know there is an APHIS docket 2008-0023 that looks to change the rules, but I doubt these proposed rules are able stave off further contamination.

    Countries that test their imports for GMO contamination have shown that the contamination of conventional crops exist. USDA admits it exists.

  10. If you believe something should not be in your food, then its presence is contamination. But Deborah, I think you are unaware of everything that actually IS in your food.

    DNA is ubiquitous. We probably eat DNA from all the kingdoms of biology in every bite [Monera and Protista (single celled organisms), Fungi, Plants and Animals] regardless if our food is organic or not. DNA is safe in food. Its function in nature is simply to convey information.

    If we take this up to a systems level, food production has never had a standard of 100% or 0%. Some amount of unavoidable commingling has always been accepted even in organic. The presence of weed seeds, other crops, even pesticide residues in organic have been acceptable within the system. This system has ensured safety and consumer choice at the lowest possible price. Currently, no other traditionally bred seed including organic has been tested as rigorously as the crops derived through modern biotechnology. To hold biotech to a higher standard is not possible nor is it necessary based on the available information.

  11. Deborah, keep in mind that the seed under discussion is purchased seed from suppliers of hybrid lines – this contamination (if it exists to the extent reported… which seems unlikely given the inability of the 2 labs to replicate each others results or report above their limits of quantification in most cases) would only be compounded by very sloppy breeding – I have no real expertise in the area of breeding but I would assume that a manufacturer of seeds who had abundant levels of pollination from outside of their parental lines (which would be the only source at this level which I can think of that would introduce low levels of transgenes into non-transgenic crops)would go out of business pretty quickly due to inferior product.

  12. Cooked a cauliflower last night- and an interesting one to boot- one malformed looking florette stood out from the rest and was partly orange and partly green… all perfectly normal colors for the genus brassica (the white cauliflower being a mutant)… Evidently my cauliflower had some kind of reversion mutation that caused it to re-express color. (NOT the result of GM…)

    I actually find the whole proposition that DNA (and resulting products) from GM crops represents meaningful “contamination” rather perplexing.

    Organics are “contaminted” with pesticide residues from general use, as well as the so-called “traditional” (interesting choice of terms… WHAT is traditional for WHOM??) pesticides. More to the point, they are “contaminated” with DNA from cross compatible wild species, other crop varietes (GM and non GM), viruses (almost any caulifower, for example), bacteria, insects, fungi, animals (danders and hair), you name it. (Not to mention the mutations that occur in nature with regularity) (NON-organic foods are too- I am not suggesting otherwise).

    The REAL, immediate risks have been mentioned- bacterial food poisoning- for which the organics may be more at risk (still under debate).

    The DNA and other “stuff” from bacteria, fungi, insects, arachnids, animals, other plant species, etc- has NOT been assessed for safety.

    Further- organic processed foods are, generally, held to a 90% organic content standard. So what’s the other 10%??

    The DNA and products related to that DNA in GM crops have undergone extensive safety assessment and are approved for consumption “straight up” by the general population- with NO known adverse effects to date.

    So how is it that we worry about GM “contamination” – it seems to me there is plenty of “stuff” beyond the 100.000000000% pure organic food the organic afficionados would like to IMAGINE they are buying.

    Of the various “stuff” in GM (or conventional) food- it is NOT the GM DNA I am worried about.

  13. I’m not sure how the contamination happened, or at what rate it happens. All I know is that it does happen.

  14. Ewan says:

    Deborah, keep in mind that the seed under discussion is purchased seed from suppliers of hybrid lines – this contamination (if it exists to the extent reported… which seems unlikely given the inability of the 2 labs to replicate each others results or report above their limits of quantification in most cases) would only be compounded by very sloppy breeding – I have no real expertise in the area of breeding but I would assume that a manufacturer of seeds who had abundant levels of pollination from outside of their parental lines (which would be the only source at this level which I can think of that would introduce low levels of transgenes into non-transgenic crops)would go out of business pretty quickly due to inferior product.

    ++++++++++++++++++++
    If what you are suggesting is going on at seed stock level where the guidelines are considered fairly stringent, imagine what is going out out on the farms around our country and other countries growing gm. Is Monsanto, the USDA, the EPA, or anyone other than the Union of Concerned Scientists testing conventional corn crops, to find the rate of contamination with gmo dna?

  15. Deborah – I’m not suggesting that this is going on at the seed stock level. I’m suggesting it would have to go on at the seed stock level for it to be a ‘problem’ (Dan Goldstein nicely sums up why problem warrants quotations) in terms of all of a given crop becoming GM.

    Farms don’t save seed. Modern agriculture utilizes hybrids to maximize yield. These hybrids are essentially manufactured to spec for various climates. If you allow a field of hybrids to pollinate itself one year and replant then essentially you lose out because you no longer have a vigorous hybrid crop (and if you’re buying from a seed producer you run the risk of being sued for IP infringement which contrary to popular belief does not only occur with GM varieties of crops).

    Crops dont pollinate willy nilly with whatever they can and then get replanted. Agriculture has moved beyond this.

    I can also guarantee that other scientists out there do look at conventional crops and landraces to find GMO contamination – a ‘hit’ will get you a paper published in Nature or Science, which is generally seen as a pretty big deal – the one paper that did make it into Nature on the subject was roundly criticized for problems with technique (as previously mentioned)

    Pretty sure also that Monsanto does quite a bit of testing for GM crops in non-GM fields as this is the basis of Monsanto IP enforcement – if the problem was anywhere near as widespread as you fear then essentially everyone who didnt buy a particular monsanto trait in a given year would be open to prosecution by Monsanto for stealing technology – well the more likely effect would be that such prosecution would be utterly impossible, and without the ability to retain IP rights over GM traits the whole business would probably shut down pretty swiftly (there isnt much point investing 100’s of millions of dollars in a product that nobody needs to pay for)

    Completely unrelated… but sorta ties in with Dan’s comments… I was out shopping the other week and saw a shampoo (or somesuch product) which claimed to be 67% organic. Standards must be slipping (as the no.1 ingredient was water I’d guess thats where most of the organic came from…)

  16. Ewan, do you have a record of Monsanto or anyone else testing conventional corn–besides the paper on Mexican landraces—to find the rate of contamination? Is anyone officially responsible for monitoring whether or not GM crops are cross-pollinating conventional corn? Is there a public record? How many farmers does Monsanto have prosecuted a year? Is a farmer prosecuted if his crop was cross-pollinated by GM corn that he did not plant?

  17. Deborah,
    I don’t have the resources in front of me to answer all of your questions but I can answer the last two.

    There are about 250,000 growers and over the past 10 years just 128 suits have been filed with only 8 of them going to court. That’s less than .05% of the grower population for the past decade.
    http://www.monsanto.com/seedpatentprotection/sales_vs_suits.asp

    It should also be noted that when we win a case we don’t keep the money, it’s put into the community in the form of scholarships and to the local 4H and FFA (Future Farmers of America).

    As to the last question it has never been, nor will it be Monsanto policy to exercise its patent rights where trace amounts of our patented traits are present in farmer’s fields as a result of inadvertent means.
    http://www.monsanto.com/monsanto/ag_products/stewardship/unintened_trace_presence.asp

    For more information about seed patents and lawsuits please check out this site: http://www.monsanto.com/seedpatentprotection/
    It addresses alot of the allegations and misconceptions about Monsanto and patent infringement.

  18. Mary A. Rieger, Michael Lamond, Christopher Preston, Stephen B. Powles, and Richard T. Roush (2002)
    Science 296: 2386-2388.

    Maximum feasible distance of windborne cross-pollination in Brassica napus: A ‘mass budget’ model

    Martin Hoyle, a, and James E. Cresswella
    Ecological monitoring (2009)

    Cite cross pollination rates for similar species within 3000m of less that 0.1% and that a distance of 1000m is lowest feasible to keep GM ‘contaminatio’n below 0.9% – use of varieties with different flowering times can reduce this spread by a further 50-90% dependant on the delay.

    Studies are on Canola not Corn, but findings said to be applicable to other crops.

    Pretty low numbers both for distances and for the incidence of cross pollination within these distances – to maintain GM free crops organic crops should be grown ~3000m+ from GM crops of the same species, or should be of a variety with a different flowering time to the neighbors farm – both of which I believe are suggestions from the Rodale institute for organic farmers anyway.

    Not sure on the numbers but Monsanto doesnt prosecute that many farmers per year (the numbers are readily available, and a lot of Monsanto PR folk can quote them pretty much verbatim if required) and any prosecutions are based on GM levels in the field being above adventitious levels (ie above what could plausibly have occured through cross pollination)

  19. If an organic or conventional crop is contaminated by pollen from a GM farm, is the GM farmer responsible for the pollen drift?

    I am concerned about seed stock contamination and the amount of GM transgenes I may be eating in conventional or organic food.

    In the US, is anyone officially responsible for monitoring whether or not GM crops are cross-pollinating conventional corn or canola? Does anyone officially sample conventional seed stocks for GM contamination rates.

    Now that you bring up canola, Ewen, what about these reports from Canada and the level of contamination:

  20. Sorry to have split that off. This is the level of contamination I wanted your feedback on:

    http://www.non-gm-farmers.com/news_print.asp?ID=828

    95% Canadian non-GM seed stocks contaminated
    07 November 2003

    Canada has not segregated GM from non-GM except for production of non-GM seed and organics. While every effort has been undertaken to prevent contamination, 95% of the non-GM seed is now contaminated. The Saskatchewan Organic growers are in the process of lodging a class action against Monsanto claiming it is not possible to grow uncontaminated produce, a requirement for organic certification.

    Friesen, Nelson and Van Acker in the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, studied certified canola seed stocks for contamination due to transgenes for herbicide tolerance to glyphosate, glufosinate or thifensulfuron [1]. Certified seed stocks were studied in field plots to which herbicides were applied. The results showed that 95% of 27 certified seed lots were contaminated with herbicide tolerance transgenes; with 52% of the seed lots exceeding the 0.25% maximum contamination standard set for certified seed. Some lots were tolerant to both glyphosate and glufosinate.

  21. .1% and .25% of seeds having transgenes in them doesnt pose too much of a worry in my mind – especially as the U of Mannitoba paper explicitly makes clear that practices used in the production of some seeds significantly removed the contaminating transgenes – in other words seed producers, treatment facilities, and wholesalers can prevent this contamination.

  22. You many not be worried. But the researchers find reason for concern. I think the study speaks for itself, starting with the abstract:

    http://agron.scijournals.org/cgi/reprint/95/5/1342

    The objective of this study was to survey pedigreed canola (Brassica napus L.) seedlots for contaminating herbicide resistance traits because of complaints from farmers regarding glyphosate [N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine]-resistant canola volunteers occurring unexpectedly in their fields at densities and in patterns that suggested that pollen-mediated gene flow from neighboring fields in previous years was not the source of contamination. Twenty-seven unique, commercial certified canola seedlot samples were collected. Glyphosate-resistant seedlot samples were not collected. Canola samples were planted in the field, and when the canola had two to four true leaves, glyphosate, glufosinate [2-amino-4-(hydroxymethylphosphinyl)butanoic acid], and thifensulfuron {methyl 3-[[[[(4-methoxy-6-methyl-1,3,5-triazin-2-yl)amino]carbonyl]amino]sulfonyl]-2-thiophenecarboxylate} herbicides were applied. Surviving canola plants were counted. Of the 27 seedlots, 14 had contamination levels above 0.25% and therefore failed the 99.75% cultivar purity guideline for certified canola seed. Three seedlots had glyphosate resistance contamination levels in excess of 2.0%. Unexpected contamination (even at 0.25%) can cause problems for producers that practice direct seeding and depend on glyphosate for nonselective, broad-spectrum weed control. To avoid unexpected problems and costs, it is important that farmers are cognizant of the high probability that pedigreed canola seedlots are cross-contaminated with the various herbicide resistance traits.
    ======================================
    and from the discussion:

    The planting of pedigreed canola seedlots that do not exceed the 0.25% contamination guideline for certified seed does not necessarily mean that there will be no agronomic concern the following year with regard to the unexpected presence of herbicide resistance traits in volunteer canola seedlings. Given some reasonable assumptions regarding canola seeding rates and thousand-seed weight (5.5 kg/ha, 4.0 g per thousand seeds), there are approximately 1.4 million seeds planted per hectare. At the 0.25% contamination level of a herbicide resistance trait in a seedlot, there will be 3500 resistant seeds planted per hectare. If one-half of these seeds result in mature canola plants, which is a typical establishment rate for a commercial canola crop in western Canada, then there will be 1750 resistant canola plants per hectare. Given a 2000 kg/ha crop yield and harvest losses of 6% (Gulden et al., 2003), there will be 120 kg/ha of seed remaining in the field. Resistant seeds will be 0.25% of this 120 kg/ha. [In the absence of selection and given equal fitness of susceptible and resistant individuals, a resistance trait will remain at the same frequency in a population over time (Jasieniuk et al., 1996).] Therefore, 300 g of resistant seed will shatter onto the soil per hectare, or 75000 resistant seeds per hectare. If one-tenth of these seeds successfully establish a seedling the following year, there will be one herbicide-resistant volunteer canola plant every 1.3 m2.
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    and the Conclusion:

    The results of this study indicate that the pedigreed canola seed production system in western Canada is cross-contaminated with the various herbicide resistance traits at a high level and that purchasing and planting a pedigreed conventional canola seedlot does not guarantee the absence of genetically engineered traits. For those producers that grow canola and practice direct seeding, it means that glyphosate no longer is a nonselective, broad-spectrum herbicide that can be used alone as a spring burn-off treatment. Because other herbicides have to be tank-mixed with glyphosate to achieve broad-spectrum vegetation control in the spring burn-off treatment, additional costs will be incurred.

  23. Deborah – the concerns raised by the article aren’t the same as the concerns raised by yourself and others about contamination. For farmers practicing pre-plant chemical burn off of fields this will mean they need to use either another herbicide, or some other weed removal method (possibly those used by organic farmers?) – the findings of this study will have utterly zero effect on organic farmers as organic farmers will not be using glyphosate as a spring burn-off treatment.

    In this case the producers of glyphosate have more to worry about than advocates of organic farming.

  24. I did not mean to imply that the implications are only for organic farmers. I am trying to point out the level of seed stock contamination and the implications of that. Organic farmers will be affected–and are–by pollen drift, super weeds, contaminated seed, Bt pesticide resistance, etc. I also have concern for conventional farmers as that is a large part of my food suppy. Further, my concern extends to the natural environment as well.

  25. The objective as stated above:

    “The objective of this study was to survey pedigreed canola (Brassica napus L.) seedlots for contaminating herbicide resistance traits because of complaints from farmers regarding glyphosate [N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine]-resistant canola volunteers occurring unexpectedly in their fields at densities and in patterns that suggested that pollen-mediated gene flow from neighboring fields in previous years was not the source of contamination.”

  26. Deborah – how can organic farmers be affected by ‘super weeds’ any more or less than they are by regular weeds? ‘Super weeds’ are only super in that they are resistant to a given herbicide. Given that organic farmers do not use these herbicides (if they did they’d also be party to helping to select for herbicide resistant weeds) there is no difference in an organic field between a glyphosate resistant and a non-glyphosate resistant weed.

    Bt resistance in insects affects organic farmers only so far as they use Bt as an insect control mechanism, assuming that organic farmers do not leave unsprayed refuge areas when using Bt toxins as an insect control method organic farming will exert a higher selection pressure for Bt toxin resistance than Bt crops which currently have to have (a 25%?) refuge areas planted without Bt toxin (so as to remove the selection pressure for Bt resistance)

    As we’ve already covered seed contamination and pollen drift there’s no need to revisit those 2 areas.

  27. It just seems to me like you are trying to talk around or dismiss any points, Ewan. You reinterpret the studies or issues to say why they are irrelevant. And it just isn’t working. The reason I revisited these topics is that you dismissed them earlier.
    +++++++++++++++++++
    Ewan Ross Says:

    March 16, 2009 at 3:40 pm
    Deborah – the concerns raised by the article aren’t the same as the concerns raised by yourself and others about contamination
    +++++++++++++++++++
    Ewan Ross Says:

    March 13, 2009 at 1:41 pm
    .1% and .25% of seeds having transgenes in them doesnt pose too much of a worry in my mind – especially as the U of Mannitoba paper explicitly makes clear that practices used in the production of some seeds significantly removed the contaminating transgenes – in other words seed producers, treatment facilities, and wholesalers can prevent this contamination.

    ==========================
    I think you misrepresented my point and then dismissed it. Like a straw man.

  28. Deborah – I dont mean to misrepresent your point – from your posts I had taken it that your main concerns were around the ability of organic farmers to provide organic food – in this area it is my belief, based on the available data, that GM products do not impact this ability.

    The U of Manitoba study shows that for the small level of contamination (which they cite as being controllable, just not from the seed suppliers of the lots that tested positive – its there in the report, not a reinterpretation) of seed lots found glyphosate may not be a viable pre planting burn off method by itself. It’s not a gamechanging situation, it doesnt affect organic farming at all and as it appeared to me this was your main concern (reading back through your posts this admittedly wasn’t great reading comprehension on my part) –
    However even in terms of altering farming practices for some farmers I personally dont see this as a problem. In terms of transgenes in food – I dont see the levels as being a problem – organic certification doesnt see these levels as a problem (90-95% organic as the bar?) and even in the case where this is viewed as a problem the study explicitly states that practices used by (at least)one of the seed suppliers used eliminated contamination entirely meaning that if organic farmers require a 100% GM free seedlot it is available and the inevitability of all crops being GM contaminated is simply false.

  29. I have some questions. If non-organic corn pollen (not ge corn) blows into an organic field would this corn be considered to be contaminated. It would seem to me that this would be just as likely to happen as Bt corn contaminating an organic crop. While I grow organically in my personal garden I have serious questions regarding organic certifications of most products. With that being said I would also like to know where I could find comments from Monsanto on the chances of non-ge corn being crossed with ge corn.
    If corn were so easy to cross pollinate then there should be very few varietys currently growing in the world. What are the chances that all corn could eventually be crossed with bt corn?
    Please do not take this as defending or approving of any side of this discussion. I am only asking to gain some insight on corn in general and this is not an attempt to create any form of hostile comments.
    Any information will greatly be appreciated.

    William

    • Good question William.

      The short answer is “no”, with some caveates.

      Under the National Organic Program (NOP), certification is process based. So long as the organic grower takes reasonable steps to ensure that the his corn does not come into contact with GM corn, they are in compliance. It goes beyond this where growers are required to submit site-specific plans that would account for things such as neighboring GM corn fields.

      The best explanation I have seen of this is in a letter USDA wrote to the National State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) who posed this very question. You can view the letter at

      http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3026407

  30. Thanks, so basically if the farmer takes proper precautions and a certification agent approves of these precautions and his crop is contaminated by some other non-organic crop(gmo or otherwise) then that crop is still considered approved under the national organic program. Then the use of the contaminated crop is decided between the farmer and potential buyers. This does confirm some of my beliefs on organic certifications. This reminds me of environmental impact statements. If a government agency comes up with a plan that may destroy half the planet, then that plan can be implemented as long as the environmental impact statement is properly constructed.
    The important thing here is that organically certified means that a farmer and an agent made a reasonable attempt to grow organically without regard to the final product being organic.

  31. Is there a longer answer, Brad? Is the organically planted corn now actually physically contaminated with genetically modified genes?

    • I don’t think there is a longer answer to this question Deborah, but I do agree their is a larger issue worth of discussion around the topic of gene transfer and pollen drift. This is important enought to warrant a seperate blog post. I think it would be a disservice to readers to address this in the comment section of the blog. Many readers don’t read through the blog posts.

      I will committ to getting a post up on this in the future. Please be patient.

  32. The pollen drift is very relevant to this topic–as to whether this is an “either/or” issue or an “all for one”–GM. Can the two coexist independent and separate of each other? In this environment, organic can continue to exist only if we keep redefining the term and diluting the standard–USDA/FDA is fond of that one. But then, it really isn’t “organic” anymore.

  33. Deborah,
    I don’t think Brad was suggesting that the issue isn’t relevent. In fact, he just says that it is a larger issue that deserves its own post all together. Like he said, many readers don’t read through the blog comments and you are probably not the only one concerned with pollen drift.

    I think your concern about organic certification is sincere. However, from your previous comments I am inclined to think that you have a significant doubt in the safety of GMO’s and even a miniscule “contamination” is unacceptable to you. If that’s the case, I think that your concerns extend beyond the reach of Monsanto. Monsanto is a seed company, we sell seeds. While there are some employees here that are well-versed in organic certification we certainly do not have any influence over what those regulations are.

  34. I’m not sure how much influence Monsanto has over our government. Most of us here are familiar with the Monsanto/FDAetc revolving door. But the intrusion of your patented dna definitely does influence organic standards.

    The diminishing of organic standards is not due to a willing acceptance or embrace of the gmo contamination into organics. Rather, it’s a reaction driven by the inability to prevent the genetic pollution that embeds itself wherever it lands. By nature, GM crops threaten organic standards and supersede the rights of people who do not wish to eat gmo’s and farmers who do not wish to grow gmo’s. But why does Monsanto have that right?

    Here, I will note a comment Brad made to Caylee who said she would prefer labeling for GM:

    March 3, 2009 at 3:50 pm
    Thanks Callie – Yes, you do have the option of choosing foods that are voluntarily labeled as not containing GM. A better option may be certified organic. Certified organic products are not produced using GM technology.
    _________________________

    But that isn’t really a way to completely preclude GM food from anyone’s diet. We don’t really know what we are getting when we buy organic anymore.

    How is it just that the rights of GM supplant the rights of organic?

  35. Deborah,
    I suggest you check out this article to learn more about the “revolving door”: Does Monsanto Have Undue Influence on Governments?

    As to your concerns with organic foods, I still think your beef is with USDA/FDA who regulate organic certification. Currently the USDA/FDA has determined that there is no difference between conventional and biotech crops.
    “The FDA has no information that the use of biotechnology creates a class of food that is different in quality, safety or any other attribute from food developed using conventional breeding techniques.”

    I would venture to guess then, and this is just my observation – I have never been involved with organic certification, that a small percentage of DNA or pollen of GMOs is no different than that of a conventional plant in the eyes of the regulatory agencies. Therefore, if you are concerned about that “contamination” pollen/DNA then organic could only be grown in a greenhouse or some other controlled area to be considered 100% organic which would surely put too much of a financial stress on the organic farmer and would certainly not be as environmentally friendly as organic currently is. Or would it be more fair if the situation was switched with conventional/biotech grown in such conditions? Given that the majority of crops grown today are bitoech that would also be a stress, not only on the environment, but on the ag industry as a while. I believe that the standards in place today exist because they’re supportive of the coexistance of biotech and organic, and as I stated in my post, I don’t think either industry can feed to world alone but that we need BOTH.

  36. Deborah,

    Are you aware that Al Gore’s former Chief of staff Charles Burson was formerly Monsanto’s General Counsel? There’s an inconvenient little truth you seldom hear from those who oppose biotech.

    You should do some research on the history of organic certification. Prior to the NOP there were literally dozens of standards all with varying degrees of oversite (including some with none). The consumer seldom had any idea what it meant when a product was labeled as “organic”.

    Organic is, and always has been, the certification of a process. It has never been a measure of purity. Putting GM pollen aside, if organic certification were based on purity, we would probably not allow organic production in the vicinity of major cities or industrial areas due to increased air pollution.

    If you want pure food, the closest you will ever get is from a hydroponic system where all the inputs are analyzed for purity and the air is filtered.

    Organic is based on the premise that natural inputs are preferable to synthetic ones. This premise is not based on science, it is based on philosophy.

    Organic Certification is not based on the premise that the “rights of supplant the rights of organic”. It is base on the premise that philosophies can coexist in a society.

  37. I realize organic certification is based on the process (which some might argue is based on principles. I have done some research on the evolution of organic standards and know that at least most advocates for organic–not those who think organic and GM is the perfect re-combination–do not want “certified organic” to include GM. I never said that “organic certification is…based on the premise that “the rights of [GM] supplant the rights of organic.” I said that this is the current condition and asked how that is just as in fair.

    I have some principles that agree with those of Al Gore and some that do not. I’m not sure what you think my views about organic standards have to do with Al Gore. (I believe I did mention the revolving door–I am aware of how pervasive it is even today) For the record, I did not become an environmentalist after recently being inspired by “An Inconvenient Truth.”

    My grievance against Monsanto on this issue is that your patented recombinant dna is in my organic food. Years ago, GMO’s crept into my diet without any warning or labels long before I even became aware of them. I don’t believe your safety testing was anywhere near adequate or that the risks can be comprehensively assessed at this point. I don’t believe an open-ended living experiment such as this should have been allowed and much less should go on unmonitored. You have taken a liberty with the people’s health and the environment that I believe you have no right to claim.

  38. I have no idea what your opinions are relative to Gore. You raised the issue of the “revolving door”. I was simply offering a bit of a broader perspective on this “phenomena” that has been so widely associate with Monsanto, and to which you were contributing.

    It is not “our” safety testing. We meet the requirements of the whatever country we sell or grow in – US, Japan, Korea, etc.

    Society as a whole, through our government (and those of other countries) have made determinations that have allowed GMOs to be planted and eaten. A vocal minority disagrees with these decisions. Fair enough, fight to change that if you will. I don’t support your efforts, but I respect them. Just don’t suggest that Monsanto has taken liberties.

  39. Who has provided the safety testing to the government?

    Society as a whole has not made the decision to accept gmo’s. Most in society did not even know what happened. How many still think they are not eating gmo’s–that percentage was just cited here somewhere–30 to 50 something percent? Government is a small fraction of society, and very rarely representative of the majority of people in my experience.

  40. Debra, I respect your right to hold and express your opinion that you don’t want GM in your organic food. But the latter part of your statements and their implications are patently false. As a scientist responsible for many of the environmental tests conducted on our biotech crops, I know that our products have met and exceeded standards of safety established by regulatory authorities. As a scientist and citizen of the US, I also believe that the regulatory system in place ensures the safety of our food, feed and environment to the an appropriate level – absolute safety is not possible.

    To state that something “crept” into anyone’s food is simply not true. Many of the general public may not be aware, but those empowered by our elected officials are watching, reviewing and asking tough questions of biotech crops. Interestingly and because of all this testing, biotech crops can rightly make the claim that they are more rigorously examined than any other traditionally bred crop. Also, we can demonstrate that levels of mycotoxins are lower in certain Bt corn foods and feed than in non biotech crops. Organic cannot make similar claims.

  41. I have read this blog from its beginnings because I was in a disucssion earlier today about organic food verus GMO or biotech food.

    As a farmers wife, I see my husband produce corn, soybeans and wheat and other farmers I know produce potatoes, green beans, asparagus and more.

    I am perplexed as to why people call the grain my husband harvests “GM / biotech corn or beans”. He is raising corn and beans using several farming practices. And he is planting seeds that have been developed through many processes including biotechnology. But the grain he raises is still corn and beans…just like the same corn and beans he raised long before he planted the biotech version.

    Except now, he doesn’t have to spray insecticides for bugs or use as many herbicides to kill weeds. As a wife and a mother, I want to feed my family the best products I can. The process that develops them is much less improtant to me…whether it is biotech, or conventional.

  42. Tom, would you consider creating a blog that explains in more detail than we normally can find online or elsewhere why you believe that “biotech crops can rightly make the claim that they are more rigorously examined than any other traditionally bred crop?” I have read that type of statement many times, but feel it often fails to address the concerns that I have about the safety of GM crops. How exactly are they rigorously examined, and how can you be certain you have examined all the things that need examining–that you even know what all of those things are.

    It would be really helpful if you (or someone there) could speak to the specific criticisms the safety studies have received, the gene theory and genomes, statistical significance, etc. And the safety of Roundup.

  43. Deborah, it might be useful to set up a blog on testing GM crops. Before doing so, I want emphasize a point Tami makes about the safety implications of the process by which seed are developed. Several scientific groups have stated that the process by which the crop has been developed pose no different risks. In other word, the product must be evaluated, not the process. If you or other reject this, then discussions about safety and risk assessment could be at cross purposes.

    The basic paradigm for evaluating the enviromental risks of GM crops was established in 4 publications (cited below). Since that time, much more detail has added to the literature in the form of publications on specific topics and refinements to the basid framework. Furthermore my statement that biotech crops are more rigorously tested than traditionally bred crops in all countries (except Canada) is fact. Most regulatory systems around the world created confusion by having the trigger for regulation being the process of genetic modification. As such, traditionally bred crops typically undergo no regulatory review for food/feed or environmental safety. That does NOT mean that these crops are not evaluated. They are; the system used in traditional breeding (selection and variety approvals) occurs. This system has a good track record of safety especially environmental safety.

    If possible, check out some of these references and let me know your questions especially specific criticisms you referred to earlier.

    National Research Council. 1989. Field Testing Genetically Modified Organism – Framwork for Decisions. National Academy Press. 170 pages.

    Tiedje, JM. et al. 1989. The planned introduction of genetically engineered organism: Ecological considerations and recommendations. Ecology, 70, 298-315.

    OECD. 1987. Recombinant DNA Safety Considerations. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Paris. 74 pages (http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/43/34/40986855.pdf)

    OECD. 1993. Safety Consideration for Biotechnology: Scale-up of Crop Plants. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Paris. 40 pages (also available on the web from OECD)

    There is also a good bibliography for food/feed safety, but this is not my area of expertise.

  44. Your sctions speak louder than your words and your actions are to sue farmers whose crops get contaminated by your genetic material. If forcing farmers who don’t want your seed out of business is not trying to force them out of business, I don’t now what is. You cannot control which way pollen drifts but you sure know how to make a profit when it does, by suing farmers who do not want to grow your crop.

  45. Dr Moore MD,

    Let me clear a few things up. It has never been, nor will it be Monsanto policy to exercise its patent rights where trace amounts of our patented traits are present in farmer’s fields as a result of inadvertent means.

    A famous case you might be thinking of is Percy Schmeiser. He claims that Monsanto sued him for GM pollen that drifted into his fields. In fact, 95 to 98 percent of his 1,000 acres of canola crop was made up of Roundup Ready plants – 95% percent of your crop cannot be pollinated by accident. If you want to find out more about his case check out the court documents:

    http://decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca/en/2001/2001fct256/2001fct256.html
    http://decisions.fca-caf.gc.ca/en/2002/2002fca309/2002fca309.html
    http://scc.lexum.umontreal.ca/en/2004/2004scc34/2004scc34.html

    For more information about seed patents and lawsuits please check out this site: http://www.monsanto.com/seedpatentprotection/
    It addresses a lot of the allegations and misconceptions about Monsanto and patent infringement.

  46. Imagine if governments supported artists to the point where they could graffiti a building and get the owner of the building to pay them for displaying their unwanted vandalism. Whats the difference with GM?
    Unlike Canada and US, Australia and Brazil signed the UPOV 91 International Agreement allowing an end point royalty system to collect payments for research which includes GM user fees.
    We find our storage and handler CBH is to sign an agreement with Monsanto outlining how CBH will be paid to test our non-GM canola and if a positive test is found, they are to charge us a “significant fine” as set by Monsanto. The positive test strips will then be given to Monsanto who has the legal right to deduct their user fee from our grain payments under the end point royalty system. We don’t have to wait to be sued, we will need to sue Monsanto and CBH to get our money back.
    How much contamination? The test strips are sensitive to 0.5% and a positive test can trigger this deduction.
    We asked for fair risk management to prevent this from occurring but it was denied as our government agreed to industry self management (Monsanto writes the rules) in exchange for alliances with our public plant breeders.

    We will be forced to pay for GM contamination we did not want and could not prevent. It is a blank cheque to Monsanto and of course farmers are angry about it! What do you expect?

  47. And Ewan, Your comment “And Farms don’t save seed.” Farmers do save almost all of our seeds for replanting.
    And your comment
    “Crops dont pollinate willy nilly with whatever they can and then get replanted. Agriculture has moved beyond this.”
    Nature has not moved beyond the ability to self pollinate and, due to the dominance of GM, 100% of the outcrossing of a GM and non-GM cross result in GM offspring.(see OGTR documents)

  48. Julie – I apologize, my understanding is that the majority of farms do not save seed but purchase hybrids (GM or not) each year as hybrids perform better (and generally require a yearly repurchase to maintain hybrid vigor and cover patents etc) – clearly some farmers do replant saved seeds and I was incorrect to suggest otherwise.

  49. I am so happy you have massaged your mind to convince yourself that you work for a company that does not poison the world or all of the innocent citizens that live on it. It’s time you have a moral awakening and stop hiding from disabled people like me with a stomach disability where GMO foods are and label them. You have poisoned our ecosystem and will eventually have a tobacco industry sized settlement. I look forward to participating in the class action lawsuit against monsanto.