GENET archive


9-Misc: PG Economics coexistence research paper skews facts tosupport dubious conclusions

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Coexistence research paper skews facts to support dubious
SOURCE: The Non-GMO Source, USA, by Ken Roseboro
DATE:   Jul 2004

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Coexistence research paper skews facts to support dubious conclusions
Pro-biotechnology researchers misrepresent findings of organic farmers'
survey to claim that GM and organic crops successfully coexist in the
United States.

A new research paper claiming genetically modified and organic crops now
coexist successfully in North America "without causing any economic or
marketing problems to non-GM or organic growers" is based on a
misrepresentation of facts from a 2002 survey of organic farmers that
actually documents how GM crops are negatively impacting organic farms in
the United States. As acreage in both GM and organic crops increases in
North America, there are concerns about how the two styles of agriculture
will coexist. Organic farmers are reporting increasing incidents of GM
crops contaminating their crops through wind-borne pollen or commingling
in grain handling, which results in economic damage to organic farmers
who cannot sell their tainted crops. Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack has said
that coexistence between GM and organic should be a "national priority,"
and coexistence initiatives have been launched in several US states.

Dubious claims

A recently released paper, titled "Coexistence in North American
Agriculture: Can GM Crops Be Grown with Conventional and Organic Crops?"
and published by UK-based PG Economics Ltd., claims coexistence between
GM and organic has been successful without causing problems to non-GM or
organic growers. The paper also states that claims by "anti-GM groups"
that GM and non-GM crops cannot coexist in North America are "greatly
exaggerated" and that coexistence measures have "been delivering
effective coexistence for nearly nine years."

Flipped survey findings upside down

However, a closer look reveals that the paper's conclusions are heavily
based on a 2002 survey by the Organic Farming Research Foundation that
shows the complete opposite: that GM crops are starting to cause economic
and operational hardships to organic farmers. The paper's authors, Graham
Brookes and Peter Barfoot, distorted some facts from the OFRF survey and
ignored others to arrive at their dubious conclusion that GM and organic
coexist successfully. The OFRF survey was the first to look at the
emerging problems associated with genetically modified organisms on
organic farms. The survey found that 8% of organic farmers incurred
direct costs or damages related to the presence of GMOs. In their paper,
Brookes and Barfoot flip the findings upside down, stating that "92
percent of all organic farmers had not incurred any direct, additional
costs due to GM crops being grown nearby."

Ignored facts

There are other examples of findings turned upside down. The OFRF survey
found that 27% of respondents have had a GMO test either requested or
required by an organic certifier or a buyer. Brookes and Barfoot state
"73 percent of organic growers said they had never been required to test
for the presence of biotech material in their crops." The survey states
that 48% of the survey respondents indicated that they have taken some
measures to protect their organic farms from GMO contamination. Brookes
and Barfoot change that to "52 percent of farmers said they didn't
consider it necessary to change the way they farm to protect their crops
from biotech material." While some facts from the OFRF survey were
misrepresented, others were ignored. Brookes and Barfoot ignored the fact
that 46% of the survey respondents rated the risk of exposure and
possible contamination of their organic farm products by GMOs as moderate
or greater, with 30% characterizing their farm's risk as high or very
high. Commenting on PG Economics' findings, Erica Walz, OFRF survey
coordinator, says, "They saw what they wanted to see and used what they
wanted to use."

70 to 80% reported impacts

The main problem with PG Economics' findings is that they ignored the
fact that the OFRF survey was nationwide and included organic farmers in
areas where GM corn and soybeans are not grown. In fact, the survey had
1,034 respondents, but only 100 to 150 produced corn or soybeans and were
at-risk from GM crops. Farmers who live in Midwestern states, where the
majority of GM corn and soybeans are grown, reported significant impacts.
"When you look at farmers in Corn Belt states, it's a totally different
picture," says Walz. In these states, 70 to 80% of respondents reported
negative impacts from GMOs, says Walz. In addition, up to 88% of organic
farmers in Midwestern states said they took some measure to protect their
farms from GMO contamination. Roger Lansink, an organic farmer in Iowa,
reports that several buyers of organic grains that he knows don't even
test for GMOs. "They are afraid they would have to reject loads of grain
because of positive tests," he says.

"Tip of the iceberg"

Finally, Brookes and Barfoot ignored the comments of OFRF executive
director Bob Scowcroft who said in a statement released with the survey,
"In 1998, GMO (genetically modified organism) contamination was not yet a
national issue. These new survey results based on the 2001 crop year
document that significant impacts have begun to occur within a very short
time frame. If this trend continues, what we're seeing now will prove to
be just the tip of the iceberg." Perhaps Brookes and Barfoot should
survey organic farmers in the Midwest and ask them how successfully their
farms coexist with GM crops. It is likely they would gain a very
different perspective than the one they promote in their paper.

Ken Roseboro is editor of The Non-GMO Source, a monthly newsletter based
in Fairfield, IA USA that helps food producers respond to the challenges
of genetically modified food. He can be reached at


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