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Organic farmers reject call to self-insure against GM contamination

Organic growers and food safety advocates are condemning an advisory report to the Agriculture Department claiming its recommendations would be costly for farmers who want to protect their conventional crops from being contaminated by genetically modified varieties.

The USDA is studying how biotech agriculture could best “coexist” with organic and conventional farming, but critics slammed a recommendation that farmers self-insure against unwanted GM contamination.

“This proposal allows USDA and the agricultural biotechnology industry to abdicate responsibility for preventing GE contamination while making the victims of GE pollution pay for damages resulting from transgenic contamination,” the National Organic Coalition said in a statement.

The USDA report said all American farmers have the right to make the best choices for their own farms, whether that’s GM crops or organic ones.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the USDA would review the report, adding it “required compromises to find common ground.”

The committee said its members could not agree about the extent to which a systemic problem exists and whether there is enough data to warrant a compensation mechanism to address it. While the committee acknowledged there are unintended GE materials found in commercial products, members differed in their assessment of the significance of the unintended presence.

It recommended the USDA evaluate data to better understand actual economic losses by GE contamination and that any compensation program be modelled on existing crop insurance. The committee also called for more research into mitigating contamination and development of coexistence agreements between neighbouring farmers should be developed.

In criticizing the report, the organic growers said the committee “failed to make a single recommendation holding the patent holders of genetic engineering technologies responsible and liable for damages” caused by biotech seed use.

“We urgently need meaningful regulatory change that institutionalizes mandatory GE contamination prevention practices,” the National Organic Coalition said. “USDA needs to stop dragging its heels, get serious and focus on making this happen.”

The 23-person committee was drawn from academia, the American Farm Bureau, corn, wheat and soybean industry organizations, the organic industry, grain companies and others.

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