USDA Report on Organic + Biotech

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(Hat tip to Southest Farm Press)

Cyndi Barmore authored a report for the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service titled The Unexplored Potential of Organic-Biotech Production. It was published on May 26, 2009, but I just heard about it now. Here’s the introduction:

The organic movement rejects biotechnology as inherently contradictory to its fundamental goal of promoting environmental protection in agriculture. European organic promoters in particular stress respect for nature over yield maximization, campaigning for a return to traditional production methods and inputs. [1] In reality, the divide between organics and biotechnology is an artificial construction maintained by ideology rather than science. A governmental decision to change organic regulations to permit the use of biotechnology could have far-reaching policy implications for global agriculture. Allowing producers to gain organic certification for biotech crops could encourage the development of a new type of environmentally sustainable agricultural production with greater benefits for the consumer.

The report talks about several biotech traits that could benefit organic growing systems, including salt and drought tolerance, insect and disease resistance, and other losses that biotechnology could address. Barmore also talks briefly about the history of the organic movement, and how many of its goals are in line with the goals of biotechnology. What does she conclude should be done about it?

Governments should change their regulations to allow producers to gain organic certification for biotech crops grown with organic methods. Such a system would better achieve the organic movement’s stated goals of environmental sustainability and the promotion of human health. At the very least, regulations should not include different standards for the unintentional addition of conventional and biotech ingredients in organic products. Doing so unnecessarily increases the stigma of biotechnology, stifling global technological development without scientific justification.

She argues that what is needed are governments to change organic to include biotech. The other option that is not mentioned is to incorporate organic growing methods into a new agricultural standard that also includes some genetically engineered crops. The best name I have heard for this is “Orgenic”.

Interestingly, the report makes no mention of Tomorrow’s Table by Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak, including in its references. Perhaps Barmore didn’t know about the book, but if so, it would have been good to include it so people who are curious could read about it in more depth.

Follow Karl Haro von Mogel:
Karl earned his Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at UW-Madison, with a minor in Life Science Communication. His dissertation was on both the genetics of sweet corn and plant genetics outreach. He recently moved back to his home state of California. His favorite produce might just be squash.