Farmers' Guide to navigating the legal minefield of GMOs

PITTSBORO, North Carolina, November 22, 2004 (ENS): The commercial production of genetically modified organisms, (GMOs), "has created a legal minefield for American farmers and requires that farmers be particularly sure footed," says the "Farmers' Guide to GMOs," just released by the Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG) and Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA).

Co-author and attorney David Moeller of FLAG says that whether farmers grow genetically modified crops, conventional crops, or are certified organic, the use of GMOs in commercial agriculture can affect operations and have costly legal ramifications.

"After almost a decade of commercial production, we have reached that point," Moeller said, "where every farmer has a stake and has to be fully aware of the legal ramifications. No farmer should buy seed for next season without having a grasp of the information contained in this Guide."

Co-author Michael Sligh of RAFI, said, "The problems GMOs are creating for farmers are getting increasingly complex. We at RAFI felt it was time to invest in a collaborative effort to inform all farmers of the risks and legal liabilities involved and help them protect their self interests."

Contamination of organic or conventional crops is an ever-present risk. "In a world of widespread production of GMO crops, what one farmer plants may seriously affect all of his neighbors' crops. Certain crops, such as corn and canola, cross pollinate, causing genetic material to migrate," Moeller said.

"Farmers may be unable to market contaminated non-GMO crops, and GMO growers may face liability for unintentional contamination of their neighbors' crops."

Development and marketing of genetically engineered crops is concentrated in a few biotechnology companies - Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and Aventis - who control most of the technology and the resulting seed and chemical markets.

Moeller said farmers assume significant obligations and legal liabilities when they sign GMO contracts. "Common obligations include how and where to plant, including creating 'refuges' of non pest-resistant varieties; giving up the right to save seed; opening up their fields and all records, including filings usually subject to the Privacy Act, to inspections; and agreeing to specified remedies if the farmer violates the agreement."

FLAG is a nonprofit law center dedicated to providing legal services to family farmers and their rural communities to help keep family farmers on the land.

In most cases, saving seed is prohibited for GMOs and there are stiff penalties for saving seed from a GM crop.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court case limited a statutory seed saving exemption, and a Canadian case ruled that a farmer could not save seed from a crop contaminated with GMO technology. "Farmers may not save seed containing patented genes resulting from accidental cross pollination from a neighboring GMO group or any other source," Sligh said.

Farmers who sign a technology agreement have little recourse if the company asks to inspect their fields. Where there is no contract, farmers should seek legal counsel and require the company to show cause. In every case when samples are demanded, farmers should make sure an identical independent sample is taken and analyzed, Moeller said.

For conventional and organic farmers who want to keep their crops free of engineered genes, selection of uncontaminated seeds, planting at a distance from GMO crops, creating buffer areas, and meticulous cleaning of equipment and storage areas are all important.

Moeller counsels farmers to avoid making broad statements of non-GMO warranty and to emphasize efforts made to prevent contamination beginning, of course, with the statement that seed has been certified GMO free. Organic farmers risk losing their certification through contamination with transgenic characteristics.

Recent research on the costs and benefits of GMOs shows that pesticide use has increased on herbicide tolerant crops. Sligh says this is due primarily to farmers' reliance on a single herbicide - glyphosate, trademarked Roundup - that must be sprayed in increasing amounts to keep up with the shift in weed populations toward more difficult to control species and the development of resistance to certain weeds.

Read the Farmers' Guide to GMOs at: and

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