Can GMO and Organic Crops Coexist?

ISU symposium Nov. 6 will explore coexistence of genetically modified and organic crops. Compiled by staff

Published on: Nov 1, 2004

Iowa State University's Bioethics Program will host a symposium on the coexistence of biotechnology and organic agriculture from 2 to 5:30 p.m., Sat., Nov. 6, in the gallery of the Memorial Union at Iowa State University in Ames. It is free and open to the public.

The meeting will provide information and discussion about the coexistence of organic agriculture and genetically modified (GMO) crops. A featured speaker and a panel will address the following questions:

  • How can GMO and organic crops be separated in the field and along the food distribution chain?
  • Where should liability fall in the event that the crops are not kept separate?
  • What management practices should be adopted to protect the interests of producers and consumers?

Brad Brummond, North Dakota State University Extension Service, will speak about best management practices for the coexistence of GMO and organic crops. Brummond, who specializes in coexistence issues, also will talk about his experiences in fostering discussion among many groups of producers.

Panel members include the following speakers

Don Duvick, an ISU affiliate professor of agronomy and former vice president for research at Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. Duvick is internationally known for his research and plant breeding achievements. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Laura Krouse is an organic producer and a biology instructor at Cornell College, Mount Vernon, Iowa. Krouse grows and sells seed for Abbe Hills open-pollinated corn, a variety grown and selected on the farm since 1903. Seed grown in 2001 tested positive for the presence of Bt toxin, indicating contamination from GMO crops. More than half of Krouse's seed business was lost because many customers were organic dairies that chop Abbe Hills' corn for silage. Krouse's farm will be certified organic in 2006.

Manjit Misra, professor of ag and biosystems engineering at ISU, directs the Biosafety Institute for Genetically Modified Agricultural Products (BIGMAP) and is also director of the Seed Science Center at ISU.

Misra has received the American Seed Trade Association's Distinguished Service Award. He is a member of the Scientific Advisory Council of the American Seed Research Foundation and on the boards of the Iowa Seed Association and Iowa Crop Improvement Association.

Ricardo Salvador is associate professor of agronomy and a member of the sustainable agriculture faculty at ISU. His research integrates systems analysis of crop productivity with assessments of the long-term viability of industrial agricultural practices. He teaches crop physiology, world food issues and sustainable ag. Salvador is coordinator of the agronomy department's global ag science and policy initiative, director of graduate education for the graduate program in sustainable ag, interim faculty director of the university honors program and a consultant on food and society for the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.

More GMO and organic crops are being grown

Production of both GMO and organic crops is expanding in Iowa. Because both types of agriculture will continue to be important to the people and economy of Iowa, it is crucial to discuss how different modes of production can continue to coexist and thrive, says Clark Wolf, director of the Bioethics Program at ISU.

"Among organic producers, there is concern that genetic exchange between organic crops and nearby GMO crops might make it impossible to gain the premium value organic products can command. Since gene flow is difficult to control, producers of GMO crops have a similar interest in the institutions governing crop coexistence and liability," says Wolf.

"Producers of organic foods have a special interest in preventing gene flow from GMO crops, but in the context of Iowa agriculture it may be impossible to prevent genetic exchange," says Kristen Hessler, ISU’s bioethics outreach coordinator. "This makes discussion among stakeholders imperative."

The event is co-sponsored by ISU’s agronomy department, graduate program in sustainable ag, office of biotechnology and Leopold Center for Sustainable Ag. Registration is not required. For more information contact Wolf (515) 294-3068 or Hessler (515) 294-7576.