WASHINGTON, May 23 - The next meeting of the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology & 21st Century Agriculture (AC21) organized by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, which addresses the issue of coexistence between the biotechnology and organic industries, is next Tuesday and Wednesday.
AC21 member and Center for Science in the Public Interest Project on Biotechnology Director Greg Jaffe said that he is “cautiously optimistic that we’ll have some sort of consensus,” or at least provide Vilsack with an outline of opinions and pros and cons of coexistence solutions.
“It’s not as big of a problem now as it may be in the future,” Jaffe said. “It is important to set policies at the national level to help farmers deal with this.”
The group is attempting to address four steps of Vilsack’s charge: Identifying the extent of the genetic contamination problem, establishing the best type of payment mechanism if it is needed, establishing the standards for that mechanism and identifying who pays within that mechanism in the event of crop contamination.
Another member of the AC21 panel, Indiana farmer and American Soybean Association President Alan Kemper, said efforts to improve coexistence need to be done “through incentives, not regulation.”
“I still don’t see the need for a compensation mechanism,” he said, noting that no data exists that demonstrates true economic loss to an operation from genetic drift. He said education efforts through the land-grant extension system would be better than establishing government mandates in the effort to strengthen coexistence.
Illinois farmer and AC21 member Leon Corzine echoed similar sentiments that “there just isn’t any data in regards to economic harm.” He suggested that USDA could help producers analyze costs and cost premiums of organic contracts.
“Coexistence is there,” he said. “There are always cases where neighbors don’t communicate, and we can always enhance that. The place for USDA is to help with contract language and the training of both parties in the contract.”
While he believes a majority of the AC21 panel is not in favor of a compensation mechanism, Corzine noted that there are still various issues to address, including the implication of any policy to worldwide markets and risk assessment in contract policies.
The subject of AC21’s progress came up during the biotechnology panel of the Consumer Federation Association’s National Food Policy Conference last week, where NCGA Pubic Policy Director Sarah Gallo maintained that “farmers can coexist.”
“As farmers plant for the market, we have growers with organic, conventional and GE all within the farm they own,” she said. “Maintaining the ability for growers to have that choice is very important to us.”
However, Consumers Union Food Policy Initiatives Director Jean Halloran reiterated a complaint from the organic perspective regarding coexistence in the marketplace, stating that “it’s increasingly difficult for organic growers of corn to obtain seed without GM (genetically modified) traits.”
After this month’s meeting, the next AC21 is scheduled for August of this year, where some members hope a draft document of recommendations for the Agriculture Secretary will be finalized.
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