VIROQUA, Wis., July 26, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- USDA Under Secretary Greg Ibach recently made comments before the House Agriculture Subcommittee suggesting it is time to discuss the possible allowance of gene editing methods within organic production.
Ibach's words are in line with the Trump administration's stance. Organic standards currently prohibit the use of genetic engineering (GE) and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but USDA Secretary Perdue has been very friendly toward biotechnology companies and products.
"The USDA would be hard-pressed to find the resources to track allowed GE technologies and products in the organic sector, assuming they could summon the will," observes Cornucopia's director of domestic policy Marie Burcham, JD.
Because biotechnology companies hold patents on their seeds, four seed companies now own more than 60% of the global proprietary seed sales.
This runs counter to the spirit of organic agriculture. As noted by our allies at the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), organic seed promotes biodiversity, democratizes collective resources, celebrates seed quality over quantity, and preserves agrarian tradition.
Since one of the hallmarks of organic agriculture is the prohibition of genetic engineering, allowing for the certification of GMO crops would further erode consumer confidence in the organic label. In a 2017 survey conducted by Natural Grocers, 70% of respondents said they buy organic to avoid GMOs.
Although advocates of GMOs claim that these crops will help farmers respond more quickly to environmental and pest threats, it takes years of testing to ensure the crops will perform as expected.
In addition, the FDA does not perform testing to ensure the safety of these plants to the environment and humanity; instead they rely almost entirely on manufacturer claims of safety.
The alternative to this technology is selective breeding—an important and deeply underfunded tool for organic farmers. Farmers can also improve yields in challenging conditions by promoting plant and wildlife biodiversity and soil health. These practices result in higher nutrient levels in food, better pest management, and overall superior environmental sustainability.
While the USDA ponders the use of gene editing to help farmers, funding for organic plant breeding continues to lag far behind that of conventional plant breeding.
Cornucopia Operations Director Melody Morrell wonders, "Who would benefit most if regulators agreed to allow gene editing in organic production–organic farmers or biotech companies? Would the organic label even survive?"
Contact Marie Burcham, JD: [email protected]
SOURCE The Cornucopia Institute