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USDA Committee Report Leaves GE Contamination Burden on Farmers’ Shoulders
Statement of Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director
WASHINGTON - November 20 - “Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report produced by the USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture, also known as AC21. This committee met for over a year with the task of designing a compensation mechanism for farmers who are economically harmed by contamination from genetically engineered (GE) crops. The recommendations in the final report, released yesterday, completely miss the mark by putting forth an insurance compensation mechanism that would put the financial burden of contamination on organic and non-GE farmers, while letting the patent-holding biotechnology companies that create this technology avoid their responsibility.
“It is outrageous that those being most harmed by GE contamination are the ones that would be responsible for paying into an insurance program outlined in the report. The liable party for contamination should be the patent holder of the gene technology, not the farmer who grows its seed. The companies that profit from the technology should develop a fund from which contaminated farmers can be compensated. Yet during the committee’s meetings, there was virtually no discussion about the idea of a patent-holder funded compensation fund.
“Aside from the fact that organic and non-GE growers should not be responsible for their harm from GE contamination, there are growing concerns that a crop insurance mechanism is not feasible for organic growers. Often, organic growers are reimbursed for losses at conventional prices, instead of receiving the premium associated with their specialized production, and others do not even have access to crop insurance because there is less risk data associated with these crops.
“The report also recommends ‘joint coexistence plans’ between GE and non-GE farmers and suggests farmers who enter into the plans would get a reduced insurance premium. This would result in an uneven distribution of benefits, since organic and non-GE farmers would already be paying for most of the farm-level preventative measures to attempt to protect themselves from contamination, in addition to paying for extra insurance.
“The AC21 committee’s final recommendations will simply perpetuate the status quo, allowing GE gene flow to continue and farmers harmed by contamination to continue to pay for economic losses suffered from a technology they do not want or use. Instead of favoring the biotech industry, a more equitable solution for the growing problem of genetic contamination would be for the USDA to enact a moratorium on GE crop approvals until the agency develops a stronger stance on preventing contamination.”