Contamination Threatens Organic Seed

UCS concerned about mixing of conventional seed with biotech material. Compiled by staff

Published on: Feb 26, 2004

A new study conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists has found biotech content in seed supplies that have not been modified. The group warns that the find is an indication that companies need to do more to contain the new technology. Organic producers join in with the fears, saying it may be more difficult to ensure organic seed is biotech-free.

UCS had tests conducted by two commercial laboratories using duplicate seed samples from six traditional varieties of corn, soybeans and canola. One lab detected biotech DNA in 50% of the corn, 50% of the soybeans and 100% of the canola. The other lab found biotech content in 83% of the varieties in all three crops. However, levels of biotech content ranged from 0.05% to 1%.

"The evidence is mounting, as this survey by the Union of Concerned Scientists shows, that GE contamination is happening," says Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Association. She notes that organic producers take great care to offer customers a quality product with only the limited use of synthetic processing materials or ingredients. "Now, producers are faced with not only the problem of contamination in the field but, more fundamentally, even the inability to be sure they are choosing non- genetically engineered seed," DiMatteo says.

OTA supports the report's recommendation that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the organic agriculture community, land-grant universities, and plant breeders develop policies to protect and preserve existing organic seed stock.

Since 2000, the Organic Trade Association has called for a moratorium on the use of genetically engineered organisms in all agricultural production because of the possibility of contamination and other detrimental effects on the organic industry. At that time, OTA warned that the use of GE technology in agriculture had the potential to cause unintended effects on the environment and on human health.

"These findings are disturbing because they reveal one of the dangers of genetic engineering, namely the contamination of traditional seed varieties," DiMatteo says, adding, "Consumers and farmers need to begin to purchase organic seed now while there's an opportunity to help build and support a segregated organic seed supply."