By Barbara H. Peterson

Farm Wars

The issue of crops that have been genetically modified (GM) contaminating surrounding crops is one that is growing in severity, and triggering lawsuits by farmers whose crops have been contaminated.

Farmers who grow GM crops might find themselves as defendants in a lawsuit filed by neighbors who complain about crop contamination. For instance, plaintiffs might allege that pollen from the defendant’s GM crops drifted over a property line (via wind, insects, etc.) and contaminated their non-GM crops…. 

How can a farmer who grows GM crops manage the risk of a potential crop contamination lawsuit? Last November, a conference was held in Minneapolis to consider strategies for the co-existence of GM, non-GM, and organic crop production. Participants included representatives of the USDA, agbiotech companies, and academia. One recommendation from the Minneapolis meeting was to define legal responsibilities for compromised crop production. It would be helpful to establish an acceptable standard of behavior for a farmer who grows GM crops, and to identify the duty owed by that farmer to a neighbor who grows non-GM crops. Setting such a standard should provide more certainty in determining whether crop contamination was due to negligence.

Since litigation is involved, here comes the insurance industry to the rescue. Hey, they might as well get in on the act and make a buck off of the carnage. Looks like a plum ripe for the picking. So instead of addressing the problem at its root – which is the fact that GM crop planting should be immediately stopped – another pariah industry might stand to make a killing off the backs of farmers who already pay too much for insurance premiums.

Another recommendation was to establish a pilot program for an indemnity fund to reimburse losses caused by genetic contamination of non-GM and organic corn by GM corn. Many existing insurance policies do not cover pollution-related damages, and insurers may argue that pollen drift is a type of pollution. An alternative recommendation of the Minneapolis conference participants was to modify federal crop insurance programs to provide cross-contamination coverage. Farmers could also ask agbiotech companies that sell GM seed to indemnify them against liability in the event of a lawsuit.

What we have here is an attempt to mitigate damages caused by an industry (GM) that cares nothing for life or the environment, by introducing another industry (insurance) into the mix that cares nothing for life or the environment, and no one will get a fair shake. One possible scenario is that farmers who are trapped in the GM crop cycle will have to buy additional insurance to cover lawsuits by farmers whose crops have been ruined by GM contamination, and farmers who have organic fields that stand to lose their businesses in the case of GM contamination, will be forced to buy additional insurance to cover their losses, and receive as reimbursement for the loss only a fraction of the actual amount, as anyone knows who has ever had to file an insurance claim. A win/win situation for the insurance companies, and a lose/lose situation for farmers caught in the trap.

The solution? Get rid of all GM crops! There is no co-existence. Get back to basics. I know that this is a tough nut to crack for those farmers caught in the cycle, but it can be done, and now is the time to learn how.

(C) 2010 Barbara H. Peterson  

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