Sowing the Seeds of Organic Integrity

Karen Adler's picture

At the recent EcoFarm Conference in California, I attended a session called “Keeping GMOs out of Organic Food and Farms.” The panel included representatives from an organic food company, an environmental advocacy group, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), and an organic dairy. At a time when the clamor for organic food is greater than ever, these activists, along with thousands of people involved in organic food and farming all over the world, are concerned about the growing threat of GMO (genetically modified organism) contamination.

One thing is clear: we are at a crucial tipping point regarding the future of organic juxtaposed against the genetic engineering of our food supply. And on the frontline are seeds—the very basis of life. As Vandana Shiva says, “Seed is created to renew, to multiply, to be shared, and to spread. Seed is life itself.”

Organic seed production is especially vulnerable to transgenic contamination and is also the most crucial link to reducing contamination. Organic seed, by definition, is free of genetically engineered (GE), or organisms, which are commonly known as GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Compromised organic seed integrity could have broad impacts on the viability of organic farms and the credibility of organic products. And with the ironic perversity that is the hallmark of the GMO juggernaut, organic farmers may actually be at risk for patent litigation in the face of contamination.

How are we going to meet these challenges? OFRF is proud to have provided funding for a landmark resource, Protecting Organic Seed Integrity: The Organic Farmer's Handbook to GE Avoidance and Testing , a new manual produced by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA). This important work lays out best practices to avoid genetic contamination to help farmers, seed handlers, and seed companies maintain genetic purity in organic seed and food crops.

The recommendations for avoidance and testing were developed through a thorough assessment of international literature, as well as input from organic farmers, seed company professionals, and seed breeders, along with implementation constraints in the field. The book outlines avoidance strategies and testing protocols. Specific practices are geared to crops currently at risk, but the process for determining best management practices is the same for other crops and will be helpful in assessing risk management for potential future GE releases, and even the impact of GE field trials. The Organic Farmer's Handbook to GE Avoidance and Testing also addresses economic burdens and liability concerns.

OSGATA has published the handbook as a free e-book

and it is also available for free through OFRF. OSGATA will conduct surveys of organic farmers and the organic seed industry throughout 2014 to determine acceptance and adoption of recommended protocols. We’ll be sharing the results with you as they come in.


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