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
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
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,
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: www.flaginc.com