This column was adapted from one of Elbert van Donkersgoed's
weekly radio chats, called Corner Post, which are aired
weekly on CFCO Radio in Chatham and CKNX Radio in Wingham,
Ontario. Elbert is the Strategic Policy Advisor of
the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, which is
working hard to create a more satisfying and sustainable
model for farming in the province. If you'd like to
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June 3, 2003: Can genetically modified crops (GM
crops), conventional crops and organic crops co-exist on our
farms? With difficulty.
The growing presence of GM crops on our farms has added urgency
to the need for dialogue about the long-term co-existence
of different food production systems. As genetically modified
food co-mingles throughout the food chain, the freedom to
choose participation in unique food production will either
be challenged in the courts or become physically impossible.
The European Commission has researched scenarios for co-existence:
in April it held a roundtable for stakeholders. Last year
the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Initiative for Future
Agriculture Food Systems sponsored an event on strategies
The underlying issue is freedom of choice. Will consumers
and farmers be able to choose what they grow and eat - conventional,
organic or genetically modified?
Agriculture is a biological process, much of it happens in
wide, open spaces. In spite of adherence to prevention protocols
and best practices, on-farm co-mingling is almost inevitable.
Consider these causes: seed impurities, cross-pollination,
volunteer plants from previous crops, harvesting practices
and storage systems.
Much of the debate around the rising variety of food systems
is focused on health, safety and environmental issues. Co-existence
is not about the merits - or ills - of a particular farming
system. It is the practical question of how we share biological
resources. Co-mingling has economic consequences. Conventional
and organic farmers have to sell their crops at cheaper prices
if genetically modified seeds get into their fields. When
genetically modified crops show up in unexpected places, the
whole food chain is affected - think StarLink corn.
The issues around co-existence are not new to agriculture.
Protocols and strategies for seed production, identity preserved
crops and specialty crops are well known. Consider buffer
zones, pollen barriers, crop rotation, control of volunteers,
isolation distances, timing the flowering of crops to different
periods, separated storage facilities....
But the issues have become urgent. Genetically modified wheat
will be a marketing risk and a legal issue, if co-mingling
is not managed from day one of its approval for our fields.
Genetically modified crops require built-in safeguards, like
eliminating modified gene expression in pollen, making pollen
drift irrelevant or making a quick test for the modified gene
a necessary part of approvals. Governments must recognize
co-mingling as an insured peril in crop insurance programs
and define what it means for crops from one food system to
trespass into the fields of another. Divergent food systems
need to revisit their level of tolerance for each other.
Co-existence is a challenge in urgent need of a focused dialogue
Details of the European Union's Round Table on research
results relating to co-existence of GM and non-GM crops can
be found at www.europa.eu.int/comm
A summary of the event on Strategies for Coexistence of GMO,
Non-GMO, and Organic Crop Production sponsored by the Initiative
for Future Agriculture and Food Systems (IFAFS) program of
the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service,
U.S. Department of Agriculture, can be found at www.biotech.iastate.edu/IFAFS/coexistence.html#OVERVIEW.
- May 28, 2003: Peer
pressure supply management
- May 12, 2003: GMO
in food: The story we are not telling
- May 9, 2003: Walkerton
Inquiry Review: Public policy success equals clean drinking
water for all
- May 5, 2003: The
ethics of biotechnology: Discussion at the stakeholders'
conference goes beyond higher yields
- April 25, 2003: Conference
players agree: Quality, consistency will give edge to local
- April 18, 2003: Complex
land decisions must be based on values, not data
- April 9, 2003: The
emerging managed food chain
- April 3, 2003: Farmer
nominees for the Rural Red Tape Reduction Project
- March 28, 2003: Farm
- March 21, 2003: Myths
- March 7, 2003: Europe
Gets Innovative about Farm Subsidies
- February 21, 2003: Seven
ideas for Strong Rural Communities
- February 7, 2003: An
Action Plan for a Fresh Vision for Agriculture
- January 3, 2003: 2002
ag policy changes to have big impact in 2003
- December 13, 2002: Farmers
know ag’s “multiple-benefits”, but wonder
how to make them profitable
November 5, 2002: Intervening
in farm markets for the public good
- October 25, 2002: Standing
up to commodity agriculture
- September, 2002: Wishes
and dreams for Ontario agriculture
Corner Post can be heard weekly on CFCO Radio, Chatham and
CKNX Radio, Wingham, Ontario. Corner Post is archived on the
website of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario: www.christianfarmers.org.
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