Organic farmers worry about their neighbors' chemicals

ECHO, Minnesota, May 24, 2005, The Associated Press via At least one organic farmer in Minnesota is worried that genetically engineered material used by his neighbors could make its way into his crops, harming his chances for marketing his products.

In Minnesota, less than 1 percent of the land is devoted to organic production. But John Remmele said he believes organic crops are the way of the future.

"I guess I'm quite convinced that organic produce in the end is a lot better than having produce with different chemicals, different drugs in it," said Remmele, an organic corn producer in southern Minnesota. Most of the grain grown in Minnesota is genetically altered, with certain genes spliced in to combat insects or make the plant tolerant of some chemical pesticides.

Occasionally a bag of seed accidentally contains kernels which are from a genetically altered variety. In addition, pollen from an altered crop, often called GMO's for genetically modified organism, can drift onto the silks of an organic field.

"I think everyone's getting concerned about the fact that drift's probably in everyone's field. Even if it's only a few kernels in a field it's still there," Remmele said.

Organic farmers can reduce the risk by planting genetically sensitive crops like corn as far away as possible from neighboring fields. About 60 percent of the corn grown in the state is genetically altered. The U.S. Department of Agriculture prohibits genetically modified crops from being sold as "organic." The United States has not set a standard, but most parts of the world accept trace amounts of GMO material in organic grain, according to a report Monday by Minnesota Public Radio.

The European Union accepts organic grain as long as it contains less than one percent GMO material. That standard has been adopted by many U.S. food companies.

One of the largest organic grain buyers in Minnesota is Sunrich. Kate Leavitt, who manages Sunrich's international sales division, said the company checks every truckload of grain it receives for GMO material. The company buys about 6 million bushels of organic corn a year, and she said only a handful of trucks were rejected last year.

"We certainly do want to be able to offer product that meets the highest level of standards," Leavitt said. "But I think we can certainly argue that 99-point-some percent is certainly a very high standard."

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