Experts debunk calls to allow GMOs in organics
The Organic & Non-GMO Report, May 2010
Supporters of biotechnology have proposed integrating genetically modified organisms into organic agriculture. Spearheading this concept are Pamela Ronald, a professor of plant pathology at the University of California-Davis, and her husband Raoul Adamchak, an organic farmer at the UC-Davis’s certified organic farm. The two co-authored a book, Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food, which argues that combining both systems of agriculture—genetic engineering and organic techniques—offers the best solution to feeding the world in a sustainable way.
Tomorrow’s Table has been praised by GM crop supporters such as Bill Gates, and even by Stewart Brand, creator of the Whole Earth Catalog.
Working with vs. controlling nature
But several noted experts in organic agriculture dismiss the idea, saying the two approaches are fundamentally at odds. They say that genetically modified foods raise health and environmental concerns, narrow genetic diversity, reduce consumer choice, and don’t offer proven solutions to organic agriculture.
Dag Falck, organic program manager at Nature’s Path Foods, calls the proposed marriage of GMOs and organics a “non-starter for a conversation.”
“Organic is always looking to nature for answers; it is a very thought out and studied way of learning from and mimicking nature, while genetic engineering takes the approach that nature is deficient in some way, so we have to fix it. That mindset is not compatible with organic,” Falck says.
Fred Kirschenmann, distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable agriculture and long-time organic farmer, also sees a fundamental difference. “Organic is based on ecological principles—synergies with biological systems. Genetic engineering is based on industrial principles, of using technology to empower a high-input agricultural system.”
Jim Riddle, organic outreach coordinator at the University of Minnesota and past chairman of the National Organic Standards Board, says “Organic agriculture is based on the establishment of a harmonious relationship with the agricultural ecosystem by farming in harmony with nature. Genetic engineering is based on the exact opposite—an attempt to control nature at its most intimate level—the genetic code.”
Most organic experts point to health risks surrounding GM foods as a major reason why GMOs could never be integrated into organic agriculture.
Pamela Ronald has written that “there has not been a single case of illness associated with these (GM) crops.” This claim is often repeated by proponents of biotechnology but the reality is that no one knows if anyone has gotten sick eating GM foods because there is no monitoring to see if illnesses are linked to GM foods. “There is no data from independent, long-term studies on the human health impacts from eating GM crops,” says Tim LaSalle, chief executive officer of the Rodale Institute.
Others agree. “Right now, we clearly don’t know enough about GMOs to integrate them into anything,” says David Vetter, president of Grain Place Foods and organic farmer of 35 years.“GM crops are comprised of novel genetic constructs which have never been part of the human diet and may not be recognized by the intestinal system as digestible food, leading to the possible relationship between genetic engineering and a dramatic increase in food allergies, obesity, diabetes, and other food-related diseases,” Riddle says.
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