Sunday, October 23, 2011


An aspect that has been ignored while debating on the issue of GM foods, is its impact on organic foods movement which provides people with an alternative life style with reasonable assurance of quality and safety of food they consume every day. Whether the GM foods are safe or not, their cultivation is fraught with dangers for farmers engaged in organic food production. The rigorous standards universally accepted for organic foods necessitate utmost care on the part of organic farms to ensure the crops they market are as natural as possible and no GM food can ever qualify to be called an organic food. It is in this context that alarms are being raised by protagonists of organic foods regarding real chances of their unique products getting contaminated with GM ingredients from fields growing GM crops. How this problem can be resolved is the million dollar question that defies any satisfactory answer. This issue has assumed serious dimension in a country like the US where cultivation of GM corn and soybean spans the entire country. It will be interesting to watch the development further to get a clue as to the best way to resolve the on-going confrontation between these two systems of food production, both playing their roles in meeting the food needs of American consumers.

It started last fall when a small group of CEOs from companies like Whole Foods and Stonyfield sat down for a private chat with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. They had come to personally plead their case: genetically engineered crops and their capacity to drift into and taint organic crops were no longer a small-scale problem. One fact was indisputable: genetically engineered crops are having a heyday. Since 1996, the U.S. acreage in GMO (for "genetically modified organism") soybeans has grown from 7 to 94 percent, with GMO corn skyrocketing from 1 to 88 percent of cultivation. Now the USDA was considering a petition for approval of "Roundup Ready" alfalfa, engineered by Monsanto to be herbicide- and pesticide-tolerant. Alfalfa holds a special status in the organic community. As a key feed for cows, it's inextricably linked to milk, often considered the gateway product for families new to organic foods. "We were not there to cry out our baby-blue eyes over ethics," says Stonyfield's Gary Hirshberg. After all, the $29 billion-a-year organic industry is now one of the fastest-growing sectors of U.S. agriculture and a rising source of jobs; its failure could have a real impact on food, farmers, and rural communities as well as consumers nationwide. "We were there to talk about money." Inside the Beltway, a new term in the national agricultural debate was catching on: "coexistence." Vilsack, a former Iowa governor and farmer advocate, was its champion, trying to find common ground between what have become the two fastest-growing—and incompatible—trends in food. "It's emotional for the organic guys, it's emotional for the agriculture-production guys, and it's emotional for me," Vilsack confided to The Daily Beast. "They should work together instead of trying to beat each other up. It's nuts." But the chance of yet another GMO crop drifting into and tainting the heart of their industry was too much for the organics leaders. "This is a pivotal issue for the 21st century," says Hirshberg, who has to buy soy for his yogurts from Canada, now that 92 percent of soy in the U.S. is genetically modified. "It's about an explosion of toxic chemicals accompanied by the deregulation of these crops, and there are many more crops in the pipeline."

How these two incompatible system can flourish in the same country is difficult to predict and whether one of them has to be annihilated for the other to grow is also a critical question. That GM foods are not accepted world wide is well known and almost all countries, even when safety clearances are given mandate the industry to differentiate GM foods through appropriate label declaration. The US may be an exception for the time being but this country whose president promised more transparency in food labeling during his campaign has gone back on his words, possibly under pressure from the GM food lobby! Public outrage on this score is being manifested by massive consumer rage and it is a question of time before this country succumbs to people's wishes.


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