QMaine farmer Jim Gerritsen said: "If I decided to spray my house purple and I sprayed on a day that was windy, and my purple paint drifted onto your house and contaminated your siding and shingles, there isn't a court in the nation that wouldn't in two mi

Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen said: "If I decided to spray my house purple and I sprayed on a day that was windy, and my purple paint drifted onto your house and contaminated your siding and shingles, there isn't a court in the nation that wouldn't in two minutes find me guilty of irresponsibly damaging your property. But when it comes to agriculture, all of a sudden the tables are turned." He is referring to the spread of GM pollen across property lines, such as the experimental GM rice grown by Bayer near Louisiana State University, which contaminated 30 percent of US rice acreage within 5 years, and spread as far as Central America and Africa. In this case, Bayer paid $750 million in damages, but in most cases, the courts have refused to hold GM growers liable for infringing others' property rights. Do you support farmer's private property rights, and if so, how do you propose containing GM pollen?

AExpert Answer

As part of the agricultural biotechnology industry, we support the private property rights of farmers and believe they have the choice to plant crops that best meet their needs, whether they be organic, conventional or biotech. We advocate coexistence—the concurrent cultivation of conventional, organic and genetically engineered crops consistent with underlying consumer preferences and choices.

 

A broad range of production practices may be employed or accounted for in a successful coexistence scheme, and farmers regularly use several production practices and processes to achieve the desired results. These may include:

 

  • Farmer-to-farmer (neighbor-to-neighbor) communication;
  • Intimate knowledge of both neighboring crops and wild-plant communities for possible cross-pollination;
  • Rotation schemes of crops that reduce pollen exposure from volunteer plants;
  • Seed handling so there is no mixing during planting, harvesting and cleaning operations;
  • Temporal isolation for pollen release through staged planting times;
  • Field/plot selection and identification;
  • Isolation distances, based largely on each crop’s reproductive system (self- or cross- pollinated) and method of cross-pollination (e.g., wind- or insect-pollinated);
  • Buffer rows;
  • Continuous visual inspection of all genetic stocks and removal of any off types and weeds;
  • Field inspections multiple times, possibly by third parties; and
  • Post-harvest risk mitigation.

 

More on coexistence can be found in this report, prepared by the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA).

 

Additionally, in the winter of 2013, USDA asked the public to comment on successful partnerships, how agricultural coexistence in the United States can be strengthened and what USDA can do to enhance science-based stewardship practices. To see consumers’ feedback, click here.

 

Lastly, to see a report on coexistence released by the Advisory Committee on 21st Century Agriculture in 2012, click here.

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