As GMO Labeling Vote Looms, Inconvenient Truths Are Ignored

U.S. organic standards prohibit GE methods. USDA defines organic production as a system that responds to site-specific conditions “by integrating cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity” (USDA-AMS, 2000, p. 80640). The standards address the methods, practices, and substances used in producing and handling crops, livestock, and processed products, and are largely process-based—they apply to the way the product is created, not to measurable properties of the product itself.

USDA organic regulations allow the use of natural substances and prohibit the use of synthetic substances in organic production unless they have been evaluated and placed on the national list of allowed synthetic and prohibited natural substances (USDA-AMS, 2000, pp. 80656-80658).

USDA explicitly excludes from organic production and processing the use of recombinant DNA and other GE processes that “genetically modify organisms or influence their growth and development by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes and are not considered compatible with organic production” (USDA-AMS, 2000, p. 80639). Products engineered by cell fusion, micro- encapsulation, macroencapsulation, and recombinant DNA technology—including when it is used for gene deletion, gene doubling, introduction of a foreign gene, or changing the positions of genes—are among the exclusions (USDA-AMS, 2000, p. 80639).

Traditional breeding for genetic variation, conju- gation, fermentation, hybridization, in vitro fertilization, and tissue culture are allowed (USDA-AMS, 2000, p. 80639).

Producers must provide each year to their USDA-accredited certifier a documented plan that describes the substances and practices that will be used, including physical barriers to prevent contact of organic crops with the products of genetically modified organisms.

While the USDA organic regulation did establish a tolerance level for accidental pesticide residues, set at 5 percent of the U.S. residue tolerance level for conventional crops, a tolerance level for GE materials was not established.

USDA indicated that there was not a sufficient consensus for a threshold and that baseline data on testing methods and on the efficacy of practices to mitigate accidental GE presence were not sufficient to develop a threshold at that time (USDA-AMS, 2000, p. 80632).

USDA recently reaffirmed that the presence of detectable GE residue in an organic product would not constitute a violation of the organic regulation, although detection could trigger an investigation by the certifying agent to determine if a violation occurred (USDA-AMS, 2011).

Any certified organic operation found to use genetically modified organisms may face loss of certification and incur financial penalties. Even if the accidental presence of trace amounts of GE material does not violate the organic standard, it may diminish the value of the organic product based on tolerance levels set by private buyers.

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