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Genetically engineered crop contamination threatens consumer choice, says OTA

(Friday, April 2, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Recent studies give a clear indication that those wishing to avoid genetically engineered (GE) foods are quickly finding their choices compromised. With evidence mounting of a GE food system out of control, the Organic Trade Association encourages the U.S Department of Agriculture to institute much stricter containment efforts and other new introduction regulations to prevent further GE contamination.

The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is, for the first time, proposing Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for the introduction of genetically engineered organisms. A public comment period is underway, and will end on April 13. The OTA supports creating an EIS for every class of genetically engineered organism and has submitted a detailed argument on behalf of the organization's members (for the complete comments, see http://www.ota.com/pp/otaposition/frc/aphiseis.html on the OTA Web site.

The move was prompted by the recent study "Biological Confinement of Genetically Engineered Organisms" released by the National Academy of Sciences. In the study, the authors indicate that GE contamination exists and biological confinement is necessary in order to stop its spread.

Since 2000, the Organic Trade Association has called for a moratorium on the use of genetically engineered organisms in all agricultural production because of the possibility of contamination and other detrimental effects on the organic industry, and ultimately consumer choice. The Association has long believed that GE contamination was possible and could have the potential to cause unintended effects on the environment. OTA has additional concerns about the use of crops genetically engineered for pharmaceutical purposes.

"The evidence is now conclusive, as this study and others show, that GE contamination is happening," said Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Association. She noted that organic producers take great care to offer customers a quality product with only the limited use of synthetic processing materials or ingredients. "Organic agriculture must be protected from contamination and damage from genetically engineered crops," said DiMatteo.

Potential Hazards to the Organic Agriculture Industry

GE contamination of conventional crops has been well documented. The contamination can occur from both seed and pollen drift from nearby fields, or the inadvertent planting of GE contaminated seed stock. Findings released in February by the Union for Concerned Scientists showed widespread contamination of conventional seed by GE materials. To help ensure ongoing availability of uncontaminated seeds that would be acceptable for organic farming, OTA urges the United States Department of Agriculture, and land-grant universities take immediate steps to reinvigorate the public plant breeding establishment.

Unintended biological evolution of GE plants is also a concern. For example, certain GE crops contain the insecticide gene for Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), designed to allow every cell of the plant to be insect resistant throughout the plant's lifespan. Studies suggest that these plants will eventually produce insect pests that are unaffected by Bt, rendering it useless as an insecticide for non-GE crops. Bt is an approved biological pest control used sparingly by organic farmers.

Consumers seeking products that contain no genetically engineered materials may be denied their choice because of inadvertent contamination. Among other recommendations, the OTA urges the USDA to place a ban on the outdoor growing of all GE corn, soy, wheat and rice, and all crops genetically engineered to contain the Bt toxin.

Some counties across the country are taking the threats of genetic engineering into their own hands. The citizens of California's Mendocino County recently passed ballot initiative "H," making it the first county in the U.S. to prohibit the propagation, cultivation, raising or growing of plants that have been produced through biotechnology. Organic and non-GMO conventional farmers in Mendocino say the new law will help protect their crops and seed stock from potential contamination from neighboring GE fields.

"Genetic engineering is not being regulated by our federal or state governments, and recent reports indicate that the co-existence of growing GE and organic crops is not possible," said Katrina Frey, sales director for Frey Vineyards Ltd., located in Redwood Valley, CA. "Measure H is a shot that farmers are going to hear throughout our land. I hope that the success of measure H inspires communities and counties across the US to rise up and take action."

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is a membership-based business association whose mission is to encourage global sustainability through promoting and protecting the growth of diverse organic trade. OTA's more than 1,300 members include growers, shippers, retailers, processors, certifiers, farmer associations, brokers, consultants and others. For further info, visit OTA's web site at www.ota.com.

SOURCE: Organic Trade Association