Daily News Archive

Survey Documents Impacts of Genetically Modified Organisms on Organic Farms
(Beyond Pesticides, May 27, 2003)
In a nationwide survey conducted by the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), certified organic farmers have reported the first direct financial and related operational impacts associated with the threat of contamination by genetically modified organisms (GMOs). National standards for organic products, recently implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture exclude recombinant-DNA technologies from use in organic farming. In addition, there are a variety of strict tolerances for GMO contamination imposed on organic growers by foreign and domestic buyers.

Coping with the threat and consequences of GMO contamination is a recent development for organic farmers. "In 1998, when OFRF conducted our previous survey, GMO contamination was not yet a national issue," said OFRF Executive Director Bob Scowcroft. "These new survey results based on the 2001 crop year document that significant impacts have begun to occur within a very short time frame. If this trend continues, what we're seeing now will prove to be just the tip of the iceberg."

According to OFRF President Ron Rosmann, a diversified organic farmer from Harlan, Iowa, "This new data supports OFRF's call for a moratorium on the release of GMOs until there is a solid regulatory framework that prevents genetic pollution and assigns liability for the damages imposed by GMO contamination."
The OFRF survey, Sustaining Organic Farms in a Changing Organic Marketplace, included nine questions related to GMOs and organic farming. Highlights of the survey results are as follows:

* 17% of survey respondents indicated that they have had GMO testing conducted on some portion of their organic farm seed, inputs or farm products. 11% of those that had GMO testing conducted indicated that they received positive test results for GMO contamination on some portion of their organic seed, inputs or farm products.

* 8% of the respondents indicated that their organic farm operation has borne some direct costs or damages related to the presence of GMOs in agriculture. These costs include: payment for testing seed, inputs, or organic farm products for GMO contamination; loss of organic sales/markets due to actual contamination or perceived contamination risk; loss of sales due to presence of GMOS in organic product; or loss of organic certification due to presence of GMOs in organic products.

* 48% of the survey respondents indicated that they have taken some measures to protect their organic farms from GMO contamination. The greatest percentage, 24%, indicated that they have communicated with neighboring farmers about GMO risks to their farm.

* 19% indicated that they have increased the size of buffer zones to neighboring farms, 18% have
discontinued use of certain inputs at risk for GMO contamination, 15% have adjusted timing of crop planting, 13% have altered cropping patterns or crops produced, and 9% have changed cropping locations.

* 46% of the survey respondents rated the risk of exposure and possible contamination of their organic farm products by GMOs as moderate or greater, with 30% characterizing their farm's risk as high or very high.
Survey respondents identified contaminated seed stock as their primary concern as a possible source of GMO contamination of their organic farm products (identified as a moderate to high risk by 48% of respondents). This was followed by GMO pollen drift in the field (identified as a moderate to high risk by

*42% of respondents) and contaminated farm inputs, other than seed, (identified by 30% of respondents as a moderate to high risk). Such inputs might include seed inoculants or manures and composts from materials obtained from off the farm.

*Only 10% of survey respondents feel that a regulatory framework is in place to adequately protect their organic farm products from damages due to contamination from GMOs.

In spring 2002, OFRF mailed a 22-page survey to certified organic farmers throughout the U.S, with 1,034 farmers responding. The 4th National Organic Farmers' Survey, Sustaining Organic Farms in a Changing Organic Marketplace, is OFRF's first survey to focus specifically on organic farmers' experiences in the organic market. The survey was conducted with support from True North Foundation, Wallace Genetic Foundation, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, and contributors to OFRF's general program fund.

The OFRF survey included 8 sections: Farm profile; Production and product detail; Marketing your organic products; Organic market conditions, 2001; Information and services; Marketing orders and organic; GMOs and organic; and More about you and your farm (demographics). OFRF surveys collect and disseminate information on the demographics, production, marketing and research priorities of organic farmers in the U.S. The survey population is developed from producer certification lists voluntarily provided by organic certification agencies.

OFRF survey results relevant to GMOs and organic farms will be released this week at the Organic Trade Association's All Things Organic Conference and Trade Show in Austin, Texas. The complete results of OFRF's 4th National Organic Farmers' Survey: Sustaining Organic Farms in a Changing Organic Marketplace will be published in fall 2003.

For more information about the survey CONTACT: Bob Scowcroft, 831-426-6606 or Erica Walz, 435-826-4565 at the Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, California.