The Center for Science in the Public Interest announced today in a press release that the U.S. Department of Agriculture should require that biotechnology companies, like Monsanto, mandate that farmers who purchase genetically engineered seeds take steps to limit GE crops’ unintended impact on neighboring farms. The nonprofit group says the USDA needs to do that and more to ensure that conventional and organic crops successfully coexist with their genetically engineered cousins.
Organic farmers and conventional farmers that don’t plant GE seeds are concerned about keeping biotech products out of their fields. If pollen flows from a GE to a non-GE crop, it may not pose a food safety hazard, but it can create financial losses for farmers, who often sell their crops at a premium price.
In a letter today to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Gregory Jaffe, CSPI’s biotechnology director and a member of the USDA’s Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture, wrote that the nonprofit group supports the advisory committee’s consensus report, which recommended, among other things, exploring crop insurance as a potential means of compensating farmers adversely impacted by GE crops. But Jaffe says that coexistence policies must be a top priority on the part of seed companies, agricultural extension departments, farmers, grain handlers, and others who play a hands-on role in America’s agricultural production. In February, USDA issued a fact sheet identifying the first set of activities it will undertake to address the coexistence recommendations from its advisory committee.
“The activities announced last month by USDA—such as conducting coexistence research and collecting case studies—are not likely to change the day-to-day practices of the farmers and others who influence whether different farm production methods coexist,” Jaffe wrote.
Many who oppose GM foods grown from GE seeds, are organic food enthusiasts and note that little research has been done on long-term health effects of consuming genetically altered ingredients. One study published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences notes that profiles are unique for each GM crop/food, underlining the necessity for a case-by-case evaluation of their safety, as is largely admitted and agreed by regulators. While at this time it is not possible to make comments concerning any general, similar toxic effect for all GM foods. However, in the three GM maize varieties that were studied, side effects linked to the consumption of these cereals were revealed, which were sex- and often dose-dependent. The authors of the study concluded that these GM maize varieties induce a state of hepatorenal toxicity. This can be due to the new pesticides (herbicide or insecticide) present specifically in each type of GM maize. These substances have never before been an integral part of the human or animal diet and therefore their health consequences for those who consume them, especially over long time periods are currently unknown.