Ag Policy Blog
Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor

Tuesday 03/04/14

Organic Groups Aggressively Push Back on Coexistence Strategy

The organic industry made sure USDA's comment period for coexistence cropping strategies ended with a rush of critical consumers filing comments and sending social media posts rejecting the idea of biotech-organic coexistence.

People expressed their desire for more regulations and restrictions on biotech crop production. Groups released a survey that drew significant press to report on the issue as well.

The coexistence strategy has been advocated by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack since shortly after he took over USDA in 2009. He argued early on that open discussion within the entire agricultural industry would begin to develop some trust for compromise among farmers and groups.

Food & Water Watch and the Organic Farmers' Agency for Relationship Marketing released a survey reporting strong skepticism of coexistence strategies for biotech and organic producers. The study stated one-third of the farmers who responded had problems with contamination from biotech crops. At least some of the farmers have had their own crops rejected by buyers because of such cross pollination.

Those producers also wanted biotech companies or farmers who use those crops to pay for economic losses.

The survey was in response to USDA's Federal Register notice asking for commentary about the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture, known as AC21. USDA asked the public for recommendations on coexistence after the organic community had criticized the AC21's earlier stewardship recommendations for segregating biotech and organic fields and crops.

Nearly 1,200 of the comments posted on regulations.gov came in last five days before the public comment period closed Tuesday night. The website cited 3,448 total comments were filed. The majority of the commentary declared the AC21 plan was inadequate or the comments were negative toward biotechnology. A high percentage of the comments also were form letters sent through websites that support organic production.

Starting last week, groups such as Organic Consumers Association laid the groundwork by challenging USDA's arguments on coexistence.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., an organic farmer, also filed comment stating he was concerned AC21's framework for regulating biotech crops "is not adequately protecting health, safety, markets and choice in the review of genetically engineered crops." Tester wrote that he supports requiring biotech companies to compensate farmers for contamination. He also supports labeling foods containing ingredients from biotech crops.

The push by organic supporters got a lot of press from a broad array of media organizations and groups, leading to an even broader presence in social media such as Twitter.

While organic groups aggressive pushed supporters to express their views and released a study backing their cause, that wasn't the same for major agricultural lobbies or commodity groups whose members rely heavily on biotech crops. They didn't issue any releases in recent days on coexistence, nor was it a major topic at the Commodity Classic meeting last week.

The AC21 report and more background information from USDA can be found at http://www.usda.gov/…

Follow me on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

Posted at 9:23PM CST 03/04/14 by Chris Clayton
Comments (1)
"Form Letters" Self explanatory.
Posted by Bonnie Dukowitz at 7:45PM CST 03/05/14
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