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Issue Position: Genetically Modified Organisms

Issue Position

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Genetically Modified Organisms: Coexisting in a Transgenic Iowa

As I reported in the May/June 2005 Catalyst, the Iowa General Assembly approved legislation in 2005 to prohibit local governments from regulating agricultural seed.

The bill was proposed by large agricultural and chemical corporations that want to ensure their ability to control what is planted and what we eat.

I thought the bill was unnecessary since there were no counties or cities in Iowa planning to regulate agricultural seed. Seeing that the bill would pass, I worked with several colleagues to get a bi-partisan commitment from senate leaders to establish a legislative study committee to explore issues of concern to growers of organic and identity preserved crops.

It was a real learning experience serving on the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) Study Committee. The committee held two meetings to review issues regarding the use of genetically modified organisms also referred to as "transgenic crops" in agricultural production.

The committee heard testimony from experts on a variety of topics including transgenic pollen drift, organic standards and possible ways to reduce conflicts between producers that grow transgenic and non-transgenic crops.

The committee learned about the following topics:

In 2005, 60% of all Iowa corn acres were planted to a biotech variety. For soybeans, the figure was higher -- 91% of all Iowa acres planted to a biotech variety.

Organic standards are process standards. In other words, if a producer follows all the rules to be certified as an organic farm and takes reasonable steps to avoid transgenic and pesticide contamination, then the agricultural products produced are considered organic.

USDA Organic Standards do not prohibit the adventitious or unintended presence of transgenic material from being present in your USDA certified organic food such as corn tortilla chips or tofu.

Products labeled with the USDA organic seal are allowed a certain level of contamination from both pesticides and transgenic materials.

There is no way to isolate a gene in nature. As a result, it is impossible to avoid some level of contamination from transgenic pollen drift. It was repeatedly stated by pro-bio-technology presenters that zero tolerance for transgenic contamination was impossible and unnecessary.

There is virtually no testing of non-transgenic crops or products in the U.S. for contamination.

While organic food sales are growing at about 20 percent per year, increasing foreign imports of organic produce and meat are taking away business from American farmers.

Iowa's organic food industry is growing. There are approximately 75 organic food processors, 400 organic farms and 80,000 certified organic acres in Iowa.

So can transgenic crop producers and organic crop producers co-exist? Several suggestions were made to address this question including the need for stricter grain handling regulations, the development of neighborhood cropping plans that would help minimize contamination and the establishment of an insurance or indemnity fund to reimburse producers for financial loses due to contamination.

Unfortunately, after hearing more than eight hours of testimony, the study committee members could not agree on any recommendations. While I was disappointed that we could not find common ground, I will be working with legislative colleagues this session to advance several proposals.

Some of these include efforts to promote more organic farming through the establishment of an organic farming center to help new and existing organic farmers be successful. The need for property tax incentives for certified organic farms and the development of insurance coverage to protect farmers from financial losses due to contamination of crops.

To learn more about the work of the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) Study Committee visit www.legis.state.ia.us or contact me at joe@joebolkcom.org or 319-337-6280.


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