Consider this scenario: An insect or a strong gust of wind carries pollen from your neighbor's cornfield and deposits it in yours. This is just a harmless act of nature, right? Well not if you're an organic farmer and your neighbor is growing genetically modified crops.
Such is the case these days for the many farmers attempting to fill the growing market for organic produce. These usually small and independent farmers are seeing their crops compromised by stray pollen from the industrialized mega farms next door, a trend that could threaten the entire organic foods industry. "Organic farmers are having an increasingly difficult time preventing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from migrating into their fields," writes Ben Lilliston in The Progressive. "And organic food companies are struggling to ensure the integrity of their products. For consumers who demand organic foods, the alarm bells are ringing."
Organic farmers can take certain precautions to keep their crops pure. Many maintain large buffer zones between their fields and others; they also must clean equipment such as combines and trucks if used on other fields, inspect processing facilities, and test frequently. All of these procedures can be expensive, and once a crop is determined to be contaminated, its value is dramatically reduced.
And much of the damage has already been done, says David Gould, an organic certification specialist. "For certain crops, it is absolutely pervasive," Gould says. "Virtually all of the seed corn in this country has at least a trace of GMO contamination and often more. Canola is as bad if not worse. Soy is very problematic, too."
This dilemma points to a much more serious question about the right of farmers to grow uncontaminated seed. After a Canadian farmer's organic crop was spoiled by drifting pollen from a neighbor's GMO canola, he was ordered to pay $105,000 for harvesting Monsanto's Round-up Ready canola without buying the seed. That case essentially sets a terrifying precedent: It would hold organic farmers liable for their neighbor's carelessness, according to two attorneys who analyzed the ruling. "If U.S. courts allowed biotech companies to sue organic farmers for selling their contaminated crops, organic farmers could be found liable to pay damages to the contaminating companies. In essence, this would amount to requiring organic farmers to pay for the nuisance caused by these biotech companies."