Speaking as a former organic farmer and USDA-contract organic inspector, the recent vote in Jackson County Oregon to ban genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) marks a huge setback for the organic community across America.
We were never in the business of denying our neighbors the right to use advanced technologies. We only stipulated that we would not use them, and then let customers decide if they agreed with our philosophy. And they have.
During the same time GMOs have been in use, organic sales grew exponentially, putting the lie to activist claims that GMOs threaten organic farms.
The organic industry in North America is now worth more than Major League Baseball, and publicly traded organic businesses compete on the New York Stock Exchange against conventional food companies, an indication of success, not victimhood.
For years we argued that the farming community should respect our right to be organic. But the vote in Jackson County – making it the third jurisdiction in America to ban a perfectly safe form of agricultural science – means we’ve switched to denying our neighbors their rights. And that goes against everything it has ever meant to be organic.
But hang on to your overalls. Things are about to go from bad to worse.
There are strict threshold levels for pesticides in foods, called MRLs (maximum residue levels), based on the known toxicity levels of each pesticide. For organic farming in America, the MRL is 5 percent of the regular MRL, meaning organic foods are supposed to be 95 percent more pure than regular food.
And, since no toxic effect has ever been observed from GMOs, there are no MRLs for GMOs. Okay so far?
Anti-GMO organic activists wish there was a maximum tolerance threshold for GMOs so they could justify claims that organic crops are being contaminated by GMOs above that level, something they can’t do now since, as mentioned, GMOs have been proven to be completely safe (even by the Europeans incidentally; see here and here).
Lo and behold, in response to all the GMO labelling and banning campaigns going on across the land, Republican Sen. Mike Pompeo is reaching out to pro-GMO Democrats to table a federal, voluntary GMO labelling bill that will replace all state and county GMO bills.
But this bill will include a threshold for GMOs, and you can rest assured that anti-GMO organic activists will pounce on that, and begin launching lawsuits against GMO farmers for “contaminating” organic crops on the basis that those organic crops can no longer be sold as GMO-free.
Just to be crystal clear here, there is no such thing as contamination of an organic crop by GMOs under current law in America. This is why no organic farmer has ever sued a neighbor for GMO contamination. There have, meanwhile, been countless lawsuits launched by organic farmers for pesticide contamination because under current law, pesticides can indeed contaminate an organic crop. The effect of Pompeo’s proposed GMO labelling law will be to put GMOs in the same category as pesticides when it comes to contaminating organic crops.
By attempting to preempt the myriad of local campaigns to ban or label GMOs, Pompeo risks playing right into the hands of the very people whose anti-technological efforts he seeks to stymie.
Meanwhile, as anti-GMO organic activists press on with no fewer than 84 GMO labeling or banning actions in 29 states, hoping to force politicians like Pompeo to cave in and give them what they wanted all along – a federal GMO labeling regime replete with a clearly-defined threshold for GMO “contamination” – a whopping 43 percent of the organic food sold in America tests positive for pesticide contamination!
But activists aren’t worried about that one bit, content in fact to sweep that embarrassing statistic under the rug.
My grandfather used to say you can’t sell a Ford by beating up on a Chev. It’s time for organic activists to start living up to their claim of being 95 percent more pure than regular food. If they don’t, the day might come when they won’t be able to sell any more “organic Fords,” especially if they keep trying to eliminate “GMO Chevs.”
Consumers have a funny way of turning on you when you bend the rules of fair play.
This is America. If we don’t live by the free market, we shouldn’t be surprised if the free market suddenly turns on us.
Mischa Popoff is a former organic farmer and USDA-contract organic inspector, and is the author of the critically acclaimed book, Is it Organic?