The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released their latest data collected from the organic farming sector in the end of Septembre. Their data was collected from a number of organic farmers during this year. The results have confirmed what many organic farmers have already been saying, that although organic sales are going up, the amount of organic farms is going down. Sadly, this pattern is a familiar one throughout the world and has been sparking a number of discussions throughout the organic communities.
A deeper look into the report will reveal the truth: it is GMO crops that are unfairly burdening the organic farmers throughout the United States. Through both cross-contamination that occurs on the fields and the post-harvest mixing of grain or seeds, GMO crops are contaminating organic and non-GMO crops. Unfortunately, the burden to protect the crops against this contamination is on the organic farmers which many believe to be unfair. In addition to having to pay for taking measures against contamination, organic farmers also lose when they aren’t able to sell the crops at full value either because the preventative measures fail.
It is clear that these are real problems being faced by the organic farmers, and not simply something assumed based on vague facts. These facts were gleaned from the farmers themselves in a survey conducted with the assistance of the Organic Farmers Agency for Responsible Marketing (OFARM). It revealed that one of every three farmers who responded stated that they have had to deal with GMO contamination on their land. Over half of these experienced rejection by their buyers because of the contamination and estimated median losses were $4,500 per rejection.
Food & Water Watch along with other organizations demanded that the USDA do their own survey of this topic,which they finally did this year. Out of the farmers who responded, 92% indicated that they had experienced a financial loss between the years 2011 and 2014 because of GMO contamination. The estimated loss per farmer in those years was $66,395, which totals about $6.1 million in losses in just four years. This loss is a staggering 77 times higher than the losses which were reported from 2006 to 2011.
As unbelievable as a loss of over 6 million dollars sounds, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The USDA survey left out important questions about the financial impact of pesticide drift that organic farmers are also dealing with which is a whole other ballpark. The lack of survey questions about pesticide drift shouldn’t be too much of a surprise considering the large numbers of herbicide-tolerant crops the USDA continues to approve which leads to more pesticide being used in fields.
Regarding drift issues, one farmer we surveyed wrote, “my only problem comes from drift when commercial chemical sprayers spray on a windy day and the spray drifts across the road or buffer strip to kill my alfalfa or other crops. I call the company and complain but they have never compensated me for my loss as of yet.” Regarding dicamba, another farmer wrote, “I’m more concerned with spray drift—especially with the effort to release Banvel-resistant soybeans. Everyone knows how volatile that chemical can be—not only to organic farmers but all farmers and home owners.” Even Roundup, considered to be less harmful and less prone to drift than 2,4-D and dicamba has been a huge problem for organic growers. One farmer wrote, “in the last 16 years I have had three instances where spray drift has affected my fields. All three times it was Roundup. It has totaled $65,000 and I have had to start the three-year transition process [for organic certification] all over.” Not only has spray drift negatively affected relationships between neighbors, it has resulted in organic farmers being forced to take some areas of their farm out of organic production completely.
These new reports from organic farmers about the real costs of GMOs make it clear once again that it’s past time for USDA to hold biotech and seed companies with GMO seed patents accountable for all losses associated with GMO contamination. But it also makes clear that the USDA’s commitment to herbicide-tolerant crops as the be-all end-all solution to weed control will continue to harm organic and non-GMO producers.
Feature image: credit to Flickr-jetsandzeppelins