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Contradictions on Organic and Biotech

(15 June - Cropchoice News) -- A potential contradiction is taking shape on different sides of the Atlantic on organic foods and GMOs.

Yesterday here in the US, singer, activist, and head of Farm Aid Willie Nelson sent a letter to Dan Glickman calling for closing "loopholes" in proposed organic standards that might allow biotech crops to be called organic.

Along with many organic agriculture groups, Farm Aid is unhappy with ambiguities in the current draft standards, saying they "leave open the possibility for future inclusion of GMOs by leaving the final decision up to the Secretary of Agriculture, with no formal opportunity for public input. The rules, as drafted, also do not protect organic farmers from genetic drift."

While the US is still pondering an organic standard that may yet include biotech, UK food company Iceland, which has 760 stores, says that it has purchased about 40% of this year’s global organic vegetable crop to serve expanding demand for its GMO-free organic foods.

Saying it aims to "make organic a part of everyday eating". Iceland will offer organic at no markup over conventional food. Saying "We’ve become known as consumer champions," the move will cost Iceland $12 million in short-term lost profits. The company says "To ensure customers and farmers get the best deal, instead of hiking up prices to secure large profits like some food retailers, we will be reducing our profit margins."

Iceland’s organic strategy provoked a rapid response from other British grocers. According to Just-Food.Com, competitors Asda and Co-op will match Iceland’s same price organic option. Safeway and Sainsbury’s say they are committed to the organic market – Sainsbury’s has 30% share - but they will not match Iceland’s price parity.

Sainsbury’s has reportedly been buying up Caribbean sites for organic vegetable production. Only about 3% of UK acreage is organic, leading to a heavy dependence on imports. American food activists and organic agriculture groups fear weak organic standards might interfere with export markets to countries like the UK where organic is widely understood to be non-GMO.

SOURCE: Farm Aid, Just-Food.Com, Iceland Foods