The Heavy Price Tag of GMO Contamination

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Jane Arnold

Sep 29, 2015, 1:40:32 AM9/29/15

September 22nd, 2015
The Heavy Price Tag of GMO Contamination

By Genna Reed

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its newest data on
the organic sector, featuring results from a survey of organic farmers
conducted earlier this year. The survey results confirm what organic
farmers have been saying in recent years – while overall organic sales
went up, the number of organic farms in the U.S. went down. It’s a pattern
that’s sadly familiar in the world of conventional agriculture and one
that is sparking serious discussion in the organic community.

Buried fairly deep in the report is another result that makes it very
clear that GMO crops are putting an unfair burden on organic farms across
the country. GMO crops can contaminate non-GMO and organic crops through
cross-pollination on the field or through seed or grain mixing
post-harvest. And because the USDA organic standards require that organic
farmers take preventative measures to minimize the risk of contamination,
organic farmers end up bearing the burden of trying to avoid GMO presence
from crops planted by their neighbors. But if their buffers or delayed
planting regimens are unsuccessful at preventing GMO presence on their
farm, they also bear the financial burden if they can’t sell their crop
for a premium since there are no programs currently in place to compensate
them for their losses.

We know that these losses aren’t abstract threats, but actual problems
suffered by organic farmers, because in 2013 we asked farmers themselves.
We worked with the Organic Farmers Agency for Responsible Marketing
(OFARM) to conduct our own survey of organic farmers, and one out of three
respondents indicated that they had dealt with GMO contamination on their
farm. Of those with contamination, over half had been rejected by their
buyers for that reason with a median loss of $4,500 per rejection.

Food & Water Watch and other organizations called on the USDA to collect
its own data on this topic, and this year it finally did. Results from the
newest USDA survey indicate that of the farmers who chose to answer the
question, 92 had experienced monetary loss between 2011 and 2014 averaging
approximately $66,395 per farmer during that timeframe. Overall, GMO
presence cost organic farmers at least $6.1 million over four years. This
figure is 77 times that reported during the 2006 to 2011 timeframe—a
staggering increase.

Six million dollars might sound like a lot, but that burden is only the
tip of the iceberg when it comes to the financial harm GMO production can
impose on organic producers. This survey question conspicuously did not
take into consideration any financial impacts associated with pesticide
drift, which is becoming more and more common as the USDA continues to
approve a bevy of herbicide-tolerant crops.

Regarding drift issues, one farmer we surveyed wrote, “my only problem
comes from drift when commercial chemical sprayers spray on a windy day
and the spray drifts across the road or buffer strip to kill my alfalfa or
other crops. I call the company and complain but they have never
compensated me for my loss as of yet.” Regarding dicamba, another farmer
wrote, “I’m more concerned with spray drift—especially with the effort to
release Banvel-resistant soybeans. Everyone knows how volatile that
chemical can be—not only to organic farmers but all farmers and home
owners.” Even Roundup, considered to be less harmful and less prone to
drift than 2,4-D and dicamba has been a huge problem for organic growers.
One farmer wrote, “in the last 16 years I have had three instances where
spray drift has affected my fields. All three times it was Roundup. It has
totaled $65,000 and I have had to start the three-year transition process
[for organic certification] all over.” Not only has spray drift negatively
affected relationships between neighbors, it has resulted in organic
farmers being forced to take some areas of their farm out of organic
production completely.

These new reports from organic farmers about the real costs of GMOs make
it clear once again that it’s past time for USDA to hold biotech and seed
companies with GMO seed patents accountable for all losses associated with
GMO contamination. But it also makes clear that the USDA’s commitment to
herbicide-tolerant crops as the be-all end-all solution to weed control
will continue to harm organic and non-GMO producers.

Tell the USDA to conduct a full environmental review of Monsanto’s newest
dicamba-tolerant corn variety, including an analysis on its drift risk to

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