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I know few friends who produce Bt Cotton without using chemical fertilizers and pesticides.Why this can not be called Organic Cotton? Why Organic food excludes GM Crop?

Submitted by: Ravichandran Vanchinathan


Expert response from Cannon Michael

President, Bowles Farming Company, Inc.

Friday, 07/11/2014 16:46

Well, this is a really good question and does make one wonder. The short answer is: "To meet the USDA organic regulations, farmers and processors must show they aren’t using GMOs and that they are protecting their products from contact with prohibited substances from farm to table." So while it is pretty easy to find out that GMOs are not allowed to be used in certified "organic" production systems, it is much harder to get information about why their use is prohibited.


I am a farmer, the sixth generation in my family to farm here in California. The land and our workers are our most valuable assets — as they are on any farm. I find it really interesting that there is this concept of "sustainability" that is gaining traction in the general public now, because my family’s focus on sustainability has been in place for decades. It is our responsibility as farmers to be caretakers for the land, to provide for our families and communities for generations to come. Each farm has to make the choices it feels are best suited for its operation and the people it serves. Our family has found biotech cotton best suits our farm, and it provides great contributions to sustainability in terms of water-holding capacity, reduced insect sprays, etc. But generally the public has a mistaken belief that organic equals sustainable. And although I have friends who grow organic cotton, I just don’t get why that's assumed to be sustainable and biotech isn't.


I have spent some time researching why there is a prohibition on GMOs in organics and can provide some background. In 2010, the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture put out a paper called "A Brief Overview of the History and Philosophy of Organic Agriculture," by George Kuepper. It explains that the National Organic Standard was drafted in 1997 by a newly created federal body called the National Organic Program (NOP). I think it is important to note that this was about the same time as farms like mine began to see the environmental benefits of GMO cotton. Initially, the proposed standard was silent about the ability to use GMOs in organic production. The proposal created a backlash from the organic community that caused GMOs to be defined as an “excluded method” that could not be used in organic operations.


The paper references some 275,000 comments submitted to the USDA, which sent "a clear and resounding message stating that the organic community would not accept genetic engineering in organic food." Let's just assume that all the 275,000 comments were against GMOs being included in organic product — which I am sure is not true. The population of the United States in 1997 was around 268 million; using some simple math, we can infer that the "clear and resounding message" was sent by 0.1 percent of the population — yes, there is a decimal point there. For whatever reason, the NOP caved and put the prohibition on the use of GMOs into the National Organic Standard. So now GMO crops grown with no synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers cannot be classified as organic. The prohibition is based not on science, the best way to improve the environment or common sense, but on fear or self-interest and an unyielding philosophy that inputs that are deemed unnatural cannot be organic. The anti-GMO factions (not my fellow farmers who use organic certification processes) do an excellent job of spreading misinformation about GMOs, as this article by Bruce Chassy on GMO fear mongering depicts, but they get awfully quiet when you ask them for some clear examples from farms like mine or peer-reviewed science to prove their claims.