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Biotech coexistence group develops practices to keep peace among farmers

(Wednesday, April 2, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Mikkel Pates, Agweek: FARGO, N.D. - A biotech coexistence group funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant soon will start recommending farming practices designed to help to keep peace among farmers.

The group will vote on a set of "best management practices" designed to make life better to make biotech and nonbiotech neighbors in North Dakota.

Draft BMPs likely will be posted on a Web site and available for comment by the public in June, says Brad Brummond, a Walsh County (N.D.) Extension Service agricultural agent, who is grant coordinator and chairman of the group.

Formed last September, the group officially formed under a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant under the title "Aiding in the Co-existence of Sustainable and Biotech Agriculture by Minimizing Contamination." The grant is from USDA's the Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education program.

Formal phase over

While biotech, or transgenically "modified" crops are becoming commonplace, the issue of GM wheat commercialization is controversial become because some markets don't want it and many doubt whether it can be kept separate from organic and conventional wheat. The group's recommendations will not be limited to wheat, Brummond says.

The group includes about 20 representatives from both extremes, philosophical and commercial, as well as those in between. Brummond says the group's first meetings have been held from September to March. In those meetings, members first agreed on areas of interest and then split up into topic areas to collect information. That formal phase of the project is over, Brummond says.

When the recommended practices are written, a draft will be posted on a public Web site, scheduled to be developed before June.

"I think it's important that people have a chance to look at this Web site, a chance to comment on maybe things that we may have missed," Brummond says.

Hypothetical example

Brummond emphasizes that no practices have yet been formed. Asked to offer a hypothetical example of what a recommendation might look like, Brummond says one issue might be neighbor notification. Brummond says the group might vote that farmers growing biotech crops should notify all of their neighbors in a radius, perhaps five miles, of their intended plantings of biotech crops.

"We're also going to have a minority report," Brummond says. "Perhaps biotech farmers in the group might think this is a wrong way to approach the issue, that the organic and IP (identity-preserved) farmers may be the ones benefiting from segregation so it's up to them to notify it. Or maybe the organic farmers might not think (five miles) is a sufficient amount of notice. We haven't voted on anything."

Brummond says the group has talked about sorting the issues and doesn't want to reinvent the wheel on recommendations. Some may be patterned after recommendations adopted elsewhere.

He says frank conversations within the group have helped define differences. "I think there are relationships being built between groups," Brummond says. "I think we have accomplished that much."

Brummond says the next meeting of the group is June 25 in Fargo. "I think there's going to be a lot of give and take on these things."

Farmers who want to have a direct impact on the group can contact members. North Dakota farmers representing conventional growers are Richard Schlosser, Edgeley; and Roger Weinlaeder, Drayton. Biotech farmers can contact Greg Daws, Michigan, or Wallie Hardie, Fairmount. IP farmers can contact Robert Sinner, Casselton. Organic farmers in the group are Janet Jacobson, Wales, or Richard Gross, Napoleon.