When is 1% too Much? Industry Push for Tolerance of GMOs in Conventional Seed
(29 November - Cropchoice News) -- The seed industry is pushing USDA to agree to a national tolerance level to allow sale of conventional varieties of corn, cotton, soybeans, and canola that actually contain up to 1% GMOs. According to the American Seed Trade Association, loose standards on biotech seeds mixed in with conventional varieties are required to "prevent potential disruption in seed trade". Critics argue that setting a loose standard could hurt farmers by interfering with non-GMO premiums and provoke even more international problems for the USA's biotech crops.
The new push to allow 1% contamination in non-GMO varieties was prompted by seed company alarm when Starlink showed up in non-Starlink types sold by Garst. While nobody has pinpointed the exact source of Starlink positive tests of some farmer's non-Starlink harvests, the case made clear that through cross-pollination, bagging and handling errors, mixing in bins, or other mistakes, the seed industry is unable to contain biotech traits and keep conventional varieties pure - not only at harvest; but in the companies' seed production and distribution.
For growers, a 1% contamination level could very easily erase non-GMO premiums. Europe is pushing for a much lower .5% tolerance. The 1% level which might already be present in seed is potentially increased by cross-pollination and is above what many non-GMO grain buyers will accept - some want undetectable levels, or .1% or .5%. Under the proposed 1% rule, unless farmers bought certified non-GMO seed, they probably won't have enough information to be sure their non-GMO varieties will qualify for a premium.
Critics also say the standard could impact grain exports. Around the world, laws that require labels on GMOs in supermarket products are still unsettled. Some governments favor a 1% threshold for “Contains GMOs” labels on consumer products. This could lead to the strange situation of cornmeal, soy produts, or other consumer products grown from "conventional" varieties in the US being labeled as GMOs on foreign supermarket shelves.
The seed industry is working for international tolerance standards; but has not publicly identified other countries that might cooperate. According to the New York Times, industry says other ag exporters Canada, Australia, and Argentina may be willing to go along with 1% GMO tolerance in seed. But this might not solve the premium and threshold difficulties.
SOURCE: ASTA, New York Times