OSGATA Comments on Coexistence

Organic seed is the most critical link to producing bona fide organic products. Contamination of organic seed by genetically engineered (GE) traits, not only compromises the livelihoods of seed growers and the viability of all organic farmers, but also the credibility of the USDA’s organic label in the eyes of the American consumer and the international marketplace. In other words, a lot is at stake when it comes to “coexistence.”

Following an invitation-only workshop on coexistence between differing agricultural sectors, USDA is accepting public comments on coexistence until Monday, May 11, 2015. Comments can be electronically submitted here.

OSGATA made the following recommendations to USDA:

1. Share the Duty of Maintaining Seeds Free of Contamination.

USDA should protect the interests of all farmers, including non-commodity and small-scale organic farmers. Measures to prevent contamination need to be adopted by farmers choosing to grow GE seed. USDA should establish and mandate such best practices for those that benefit from the growth of GE crops to prevent GE contamination within the organic and non-GE sectors.

2. Attach the Responsibility of GE Contamination to Ownership.

The responsibility for prevention of contamination from GE seeds and crops lies with the patent holder. Regardless of the expiration terms of patents, the GE manufacturer should be held responsible for all resulting GE contamination. Until the patent holders properly restrain their technology from causing harm to the commons, coexistence is not possible.

3. Acknowledge The Legal Ramifications for the Patented Contamination.

Inextricably linked to the issue of GE contamination of organic seed are the legal ramifications for farmers resulting from such unwanted contamination. GE contamination creates significant legal jeopardy to all farmers under U.S. patent law. Accordingly, patent infringement may be claimed against innocent, contaminated farmers by the GE patent holders when their patented technology trespasses onto the farmers’ property or seed, regardless of whether there is intent or even knowledge of possession.

4. Compensate Contaminated Farmers Fairly.

Farmers should not bear the responsibility, nor be held liable– financially or legally– for keeping unwanted GE pollen drift, seeds, or plant material out of their fields. Individual organic seed farmers, as well as organic seed companies, should not be hampered by the cost of GE contamination avoidance, including seed purity testing. Instead, according to polluter-pays principle, all seed purity tests and costs of valuable seed lost to testing, and other economic losses incurred through contamination mitigation strategies should be paid by the polluting biotechnology industry. Forcing organic farmers to purchase crop insurance to protect themselves from unwanted GE contamination is unjust and puts an unreasonable burden on organic farmers.

5. Enact a Moratorium on the Release and Testing of Any GE products.

Until the steps described here are fulfilled and implemented, a moratorium on the release and/or testing of any GE crops is critical. Publicized events involving contamination from unregulated GE wheat demonstrate that the USDA does not have effective regulatory authority, and is also potentially lacking staff with adequate knowledge regarding these new technologies, to thoroughly analyze the environmental, ecological, and agronomic impacts of current experimental and deregulated GE crops in the U.S.


Read OSGATA’s complete comments here.



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