SproutBarbara H. Peterson

Farm Wars

With the proliferation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), it becomes increasingly difficult to obtain GMO-free seed. With nearly all corn, soy, canola and cotton planted being GMO, and Monsanto’s drive for deregulation of more and more genetically engineered seed, the quest becomes even more difficult.

This begs the question that with the laxity in standards of the National Organics Program (NOP), how can we be assured that organic seeds and the crops grown from those seeds are really organic and free of GMOs? The answer is – we can’t. Not if we are counting on the NOP to guarantee the purity of our seed stock.

National Organic Standards Board

GMO ad hoc Subcommittee

Discussion Document

GMOs and Seed Purity

February 6, 2013

4.Securing a supply of GMO free seed is critical to the long-term ability of organic to meet consumers’ expectation of organic visa vis GMOs.

5.Current NOP policy does not require verification that seed is free of GMOs. However, if someone desires to have as thorough a process as possible to exclude GMOs, they may want to address their seed purity to the extent possible.

6.Despite the distinction between “excluded methods are not used” and “no traces of GMOs are present,” the expectations of some consumers confuse these claims (and some marketers encourage this confusion).


The NOP does not require testing unless there is a reason to believe contamination has occurred. There is a reason to believe it has occurred if most of the seed grown is GMO, yet no real testing is done. That is, unless the grower is diligent and does the testing him/herself. In the case of companies that grow both conventional and GMO crops, do you really think they will undergo any testing that might bring to light organic seed contamination? Not likely.

Forage Genetics, developer of GMO Alfalfa, deals in both conventional and GMO Alfalfa seed, and there is no guarantee that its conventional seed is not contaminated. In fact, the company states that contamination should be expected.

Conventional alfalfa varieties are produced in accordance with federal regulations and seed industry guidelines for alfalfa seed.  Varietal purity standards allow for low levels of off types (including GM traits such as Roundup Ready) in such seed. Additional quality specifications or variations are noted on individual bag tags.

Conventional Non-Detect alfalfa products are produced in accordance with federal regulations and seed industry guidelines for alfalfa seed.  Varietal purity standards allow for low levels of off types, however for this class of seed we verify that the seed meets specific non-detect standard for the Roundup Ready trait.

Roundup Ready alfalfa products are produced in accordance with federal regulations and seed industry guidelines for alfalfa seed.  Varietal purity standards allow for low levels of off types.  In addition, varieties are tested to ensure that trait purity (for the Roundup Ready trait) exceeds 90%.


Stricter organic standards are being considered, but as GMO planting spreads, the level of contamination of conventional and organic seed will rise accordingly, making it that much more difficult to obtain and grow GMO-free crops.

The NOSB may consider in the future a universal genetic purity standard for seed to be used in organic production systems. An example of the standard would be the presence or absence of GE content, and the standard is equally applicable to conventional and organic seed. For example, no GE seeds found in a 3,000 seed sample. “None found” in a 3,000 seed sample corresponds statistically to a 95% probability that the actual GE contamination level in the seed lot is between zero percent and 0.10%. The use of terms like “non – detect” or” none found in the sample” is consistent with this goal, and less confusing than the statistical expression summarizing what “none found” in a sample means relative to the level of certainty that the whole lot is not contaminated.


This is one very good reason why labeling GMOs simply will not cut it. Labeling does not address the rampant open air planting of GMOs for animal feed, fuel, and food crops, which causes widespread pollution of conventional and organic crops and their seed stock. Labeling also does not take into account that a label can hide much more than it reveals, as indicated in EU labeling laws.

Not all applications of genetic engineering oblige the manufacturers to label the ingredients on the end product. The reasons for these exceptions vary. 

Read the complete list of exemptions here:


It is time for each of us to support a ban on GMOs at the local level such as the ban instituted on the island of Hawaii.

Summary of Bill

Prohibition:  No open air cultivation, propagation or development of genetically engineered crops or plants.

Exemptions: crops or plants being cultivated, propagated or developed prior to the effective date of this article are exempted provided locations or facilities are registered within 90 days.

GMO papaya in current and future locations is exempt provided commercial locations or facilities are registered.

Administration:  Department of Research & Development, Agriculture Division.

Registration:  $100 annual registration fee beginning within 90 days of the effective date of article.

Penalties:  Violators fined $1000 per day, per location and responsible for costs of investigation, court and legal costs, and for damage to non-GE crops, plants, neighboring properties or water sources.


Although GMO papaya is exempt along with other grandfathered crops, the penalties and restrictions in place to curb their proliferation should make it increasingly apparent that planting GMOs are no longer cost-effective on the island of Hawaii.

Other initiatives are being considered to stop the spread of GMOs at the local level. Jackson County, Oregon has a bill on the ballot for May, 2014 to ban GMOs in that county. Josephine County, Oregon, has also drafted such a bill in defiance of Oregon’s pre-emptive Monsanto Protection Act.

Along with supporting a countywide bad, I can only hope that more people pressure the market to reject GMOs outright by banning them in the kitchen. We can work on turning the tide of GMO contamination if we simply refuse to buy them. The market will listen when it becomes apparent that if they make them, we won’t buy them. Period. Demand that your local grocer stock organic food from reliable companies. Be the squeaky wheel that gets the GMO-free grease.

©2013 Barbara H. Peterson

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