Strategies to Minimize Risks of GMO Contamination
by James A. Riddle Organic
Independents, Winona, MN
More and more consumers are looking for organic foods. It
is the largest growing sector of the food industry, with growth
rates of 20-25% per year for the last 12 years. The new Federal
rules for organic production prohibit the use of genetically
modified organisms (GMOs) in organic production. Even though
organic farmers don't plant GMO seeds, crops can become contaminated
by GMO pollen drift, use of contaminated seeds, and/or sloppy
handling practices. Organic, transitional, and non-GMO crop
farmers need to know steps they can take to minimize risks
of GMO contamination. The following list outlines some strategies
that farmers can employ to minimize risks.
1. Know your seeds ┤ Prior to planting,
verify that non-GMO seeds will be used. Obtain statements
from seed companies concerning the non-GMO status of the varieties
to be planted. Have seeds tested for all applicable GMO "events".
Retain copies of test results and letters from seed suppliers.
Make sure not to use genetically engineered legume inoculants.
(e.g. Dormal Plus is a GMO.)
2. Know your farm ┤ Know your fields and
determine which have the lowest risk of GMO contamination.
Select isolated fields for wind and/or insect pollinated crops
(corn, canola). Know the prevailing wind direction. Establish
physical buffers, such as windbreaks and hedgerows.
3. Know your neighbors ┤ Establish good
lines of communication with neighbors, especially those who
directly adjoin organic fields. Notify them that you are an
organic farmer, and where your organic fields are located.
Get to know farmers who farm adjoining fields, even if they
rent the land. Post "Organic Farm" signs along field margins,
4. Know your neighbors┬ crops ┤ Gather
information from neighbors, seed dealers, and farm input suppliers
on the types of crops being grown in the vicinity. Know which
GMO events are being planted. If neighbors are growing Bt
crops, ask them to plant their "20% non-Bt refuges" in areas
that adjoin organic fields, to provide some buffer protection.
If possible, delay your planting dates so that your organic
crops do not pollinate at the same time as GMO crops.
5. Know your equipment ┤ Know what your
equipment is used for. This includes rented and borrowed equipment
and equipment used by custom operators. Know how to clean
all pieces of equipment, including planters, combines, wagons,
trucks, etc. Clean equipment prior to use in organic fields,
and keep records to document your equipment cleaning activities.
6. Know your harvest ┤ Submit samples prior
to harvest for GMO testing. If contamination is likely, collect
samples along a grid pattern, going from areas with the highest
risk to areas with low risk. Submit the samples separately,
in case part, but not all, of the field is contaminated. Make
sure samples are tested for all applicable GMO events. Keep
copies of test results.
7. Know your crop storage ┤ Carefully inspect
storage units prior to use. Dust from GMO crops can contaminate
organic crops. Thoroughly clean augers, bins, grain dryers,
rotary screen cleaners, etc., especially if they might have
previously been used for GMO crops.
8. Know your truckers ┤ Carefully inspect
and clean trucks and trailers prior to loading with organic
grain. Make sure that transport units, including overseas
shipping containers, are free of grain, dust, and other foreign
material. Keep records to document, including clean transportation
affidavits and bills of lading.
9. Know your records ┤ Document your efforts
to minimize GMO contamination. With good records, you will
have a better chance of limiting losses, identifying causes
of problems, and determining liability. Valid records of organic
yields and sales may help establish claims for losses, should
10. Know your buyers ┤ Know the contract
specifications under which the organic crop is being grown.
Know your buyer┬s sampling and testing protocols. Know the
market-driven GMO rejection levels (tolerances) for the crops
grown. Communicate with buyers and organic certifying agents
concerning GMO contamination issues.
Over the past 20 years, Jim Riddle
has been an organic farmer, gardener, inspector, educator,
policy analyst, author, and consumer. He was founding chair
of the Independent Organic Inspectors Association, (IOIA),
and co-author of the IFOAM/IOIA International Organic Inspection
Manual. He has helped train hundreds of organic inspectors
throughout the world. Jim is a member of the U.S. delegation
to Codex. He chairs the Minnesota Department of Agriculture┬s
Organic Advisory Task Force, and was instrumental in the passage
of Minnesota┬s landmark organic certification cost-share program.
Jim serves as vice-chair of the National Organic Standards
Board, which advises the USDA on organic agriculture policies