QShould farmers be compensated for infecting their organic or non-gmo crops with GMO? Should you have to pay the damages to their farm?

Should farmers be compensated for infecting their organic or non-gmo crops with GMO? Should you have to pay the damages to their farm?

AExpert Answer

This is a question that has been seriously scrutinized and debated for a few years now. In 2011, the USDA formed an Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture to discuss issues of this type. The final report submitted by the committee, in November 2012, did not reach a definitive consensus on how compensation should be handled, if at all. However, it did make some recommendations in terms of stewardship practices and examining the use of crop insurance as a means to protect farmers’ commodity assets.


You can read the entire report here (pages 9–14 address compensation):




Interestingly enough, the USDA has created an extended period for public comment on the issue of coexistence between various farm production types and compensation, through March 4, 2014. All aspects of the agricultural industry believe that this subject merits discussion and a plan of action so that all parties are protected and receive fair market value for their crops.


My husband and I farm in Kansas. We grow both GMO and non-GMO crops. My understanding is that the National Organic Program does allow a presence of GMO traits within organic crops as long as the organic farmer has met the required qualifications and regulations to reach certification. To date, there has never been an instance in which an organic farm has lost its certification because of cross-pollination with GMOs. 


I have heard, however, that there have been some cases where grain has been rejected by a buyer because the amount of GMO traits exceeds the contractual agreement. The problem lies in identifying and determining how the field was, in fact, compromised. There are actually various ways in which this could occur, e.g., the seed purchased could have been mixed with biotech seed, or residue could remain in equipment or storage facilities that haven’t been properly cleaned.


When grain is taken to market, it is tested and measured for certain criteria. The USDA allows a set level of GMO traits to exist within an organic crop without losing its certification status. If a buyer should refuse to purchase organic grain because of a higher level of biotech presence, the organic farmer can still sell his crop into the conventional market.


Personally, we have neighbors who farm 100 percent organically. We have cornfields that are adjacent to one another. For example, with field corn, most organic farmers usually plant two to four weeks later than conventional farmers (because of a different weed control system), and, consequently, pollination periods don’t match up.


Organic and conventional farmers are all in the food production business together. We need to work together and respect each other’s farming practices. This entails communication, heightened awareness of weather conditions and being solution oriented to prevent problems from occurring in the first place.

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