GMOs: Devaluing the definition of “Organic”

  • Published on March 2nd, 2011

You must have seen this one coming.

When the USDA approved Monsanto’s gene-modified (GMO) alfalfa back in January, the Big Ag party line was that Organic producers had nothing to worry about. There was just not that much risk of contamination.

Now, barely two months later, stories like this one are being seeded in the mainstream media: A Growing Debate: How To Define ‘Organic’ Food

There once was a person from Crew
Who found a dead mouse in his stew…

That NPR story explains that some folks are being silly purists.  Folks like Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association who think Organic should be… Organic. American farmers have been following Organic standards for decades – how hard can it be?

Pretty hard, it turns out. They can’t sell food that hasn’t been contaminated, because it doesn’t exist anymore.

…most organic corn in the U.S. typically contains anywhere from half a percent to 2 percent GMOs, according to companies that sell such corn to organic dairies or poultry farmers. It has been that way since genetically engineered corn and soybeans became popular, more than a decade ago.

But does that matter? Tom Spohn, director of dairy operations for Horizon Organic, says it doesn’t keep the company from calling its milk organic.

“We just make sure we’re meeting the letter of the organic regulations to the T,” he says.

According to those regulations, if an organic farmer plants non-GMO seed and uses organic methods, the harvest is organic, even if a few stray genes blew in.

What are a few stray genes among friends?

… Said the waiter, “Don’t shout
or wave it about…”

The story goes on to warn that by focusing too much on the fact that, you know, our food is tainted, it will cause a ‘Perception problem” with consumers. (Why? Organic consumers have this quaint idea about purity and healthiness.)

NPR quotes Charles Benbrook, chief scientist for the Organic Center, as saying the anti-GMO campaign “could undermine the trust that increasing numbers of consumers have in organic food.” (Not the GMOs, of course… but the nasty campaign that points at them.)

“It would be a shame for the momentum behind the growth in the organic livestock industry to be siphoned off or diverted because of one-tenth of 1 percent contamination in a source of animal feed,” he says.

In fact, he says, if you insist on organic milk and eggs from animals that eat absolutely no GMO genes, you’ll have to get that food from Europe, “and that’s hardly a welcome solution for people who see in the organic food industry the best hope for positive change and innovation in the U.S. food system.”

(Who is Charles Benbrook? He’s only the guy that published the study that showed Monsanto’s Roundup-resistant GMO seeds were causing what everyone had predicted: Superweeds, leading to much heavier pesticide use.)

->Next page: You’ll never guess what comes next…

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.